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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fascism's Architectural Legacy: The Colonie di Vacanza

Camp "Fascismo Novarese," in Miraare di Rimini. 
Original photo by Dan Dubowitz, c. 2005
 In the 1930s and early 1940s, Mussolini's Fascist regime constructed 23 colonie di vacanza--literally vacation or holiday camps, but perhaps better translated as summer camps.  Reflecting the imperially-driven Fascist enthusiasm for the sea, only 2 camps were in mountain areas, while 21 were located on the Tyrrehenian Sea or the Adriatic, including several in Riccione, 2 in Tirrenia, 3 in Calabrone, and 3 in Marina di Massa.  The location of the camps also meant they were far removed from the families and communities of those who attended, and far removed, too, from the decaying small towns that threatened Fascism's efforts to present the country as progressive and modern.  Each of the camps housed between 450 and 900 young men. 

On the beach at the "Dalmine" camp, in Riccione
The camps were created under the auspices of la Gioventu Italiana dell' Littorio (the GIL, which translates as Italian Fascist Youth), and the campers were mostly Italian boys and young men between the ages of 9 and 20, mostly members of a variety of Fascist-organized youth groups, and the children of the urban poor were heavily represented.  The boys were there to be trained, hardened, and organized into young people loyal and committed to the Fascist cause: ready to "Credere, Obbedire, Combattere" (Believe, Obey, Fight).  As one might expect, there was much marching, flag-raising, and saluting; lots of sports, including gymnastics; and, of course, plenty of fresh air.  At least one camp had a small theater. 

The ramps at this camp helped create the Fascist spectacle.
 But there was also a fantastical element to camp life, meant to inspire and mesmerize.  Several of the camps featured large and elaborate open stairways (photo left).  At the "Fascismo Novarese" camp (900 beds) near Rimini, the stairway was a way of making the movement of the young men into a spectacle of Fascism.  At the "Costanzo Ciano" camp in Cervia, designed by Mario Loreti and built between 1937 and 1939, "the huge Piranesian ramps" (according to one authority) "today overgrown with fig trees, were intended for synchronized displays of marching Balilla"  (a Fascist youth organization).  Think of the Busby Berkeley films of the 1930s, the synchronized dancers helping Americans to believe in the idea of melding the individual into the group, the virtue of collective action, the body as a machine contributing to the greater good. 

A playful building at camp "Roberto Farinacci"
A young man attending the colonia "XXVIII Ottobre" (1932), in Rimini, a camp intended to house the male children of expatriate Italians, recalled another kind of summer camp magic:  "In the restaurant there were people dancing the tango in bathing suits, like in a Fellini film.  A marvelous world."   One imagines this young man impressed, too, as he approached the dormitories, which resembled locomotives and steamships.  On the most elemental level, it was expected that every camper would come away with enthusiasm for Fascism's boundless future, gleaned from living in specially designed buildings and spaces that captured Fascism's energy and dynamism.  A postcard for the "Ciano" camp, featuring a large triumphal arch, presents Fascism's imperial ambitions and its efforts to link the ambitious Italian nation with its imperial Roman heritage. 

A dormitory at the "Rosa Maltoni Mussolini"
camp, at Tirrenia, designed by Mazzoni.
Photo by Dan Dubowitz
Most of the camps were designed in a the rationalist style pioneered by the Bauhaus, and often by skilled and creative architects and engineers.  The camp "Rosa Maltoni Mussolini," at Tirrenia, near Pisa (1925-35) was designed by Angiolo Mazzoni, who also created the grand side aisles of Rome's Termini Station and the lovely towers to its rear.  The dormitories--even those dressed with Mazzoni-designed furniture--were stark and plain, perhaps reflecting Mussolini's revulsion at the materialism and acquisitiveness of Italy's bourgeoisie.

The typical stay was only 15 days, a tolerable period, one would imagine, no matter what the conditions.  Nonetheless, the disciplinary reputation of the camps led some parents to use attendance as a threat for misbehaving.  The phrase "ti mando in colonia" circulated widely: "behave, or I'll send you to camp." 

Camp "Vittorio Emanuele II"  (1934-38) in Calambrone.
Photo by Dan Dubowitz, c. 2005
 We first became aware of the colonie di vacanza (sometimes referred to as colonie di infanzia) in May, when we trekked to The British School of Rome, on via Antonio Gramsci, for a show of Dan Dubowitz photographs, "Fascismo Abbandonato," with commentary by Dubowitz and his co-worker, architect Patrick Duerden.  The extraordinary photographs reveal, and the title of the show--Fascism Abandoned--reflects, that most of the colonie structures have long been abandoned, many beyond hope of repair--and now, some occupied by squatters--an unfortunate end for distinguished modernist works of architecture.  (You can see more of Dubowitz's photos on this website.)   According to Dubowitz and Duerden, these buildings were abandoned soon after the war, primarily because of the fear that to restore and reuse buildings so deeply identified with Fascism might have contributed to its resurgence. 


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