Rome Travel Guide

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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Enter, Monumentally: Fascist-Era Doors and Entryways

Rome has some really big doors and entranceways; you'll see them all over the city.  Some are so big that they seem almost silly, architectural caricatures of a sort, structural affectations.  Some front public structures, others residential buildings--especially apartment houses.  Most of them were designed and built during the Fascist regime's later years--after about 1935, when the regime expanded its imperial presence in North Africa with the invasion of Ethiopia, and when architects working with Fascist support turned from sleek, horizontal structures with a rationalist aesthetic to monumental forms that sought to capture the grandeur and the sheer enormity of ancient Rome. 

Giò Ponti's entrance to the University
of Rome's Math Department

You'll find a nice collection of big doors at the University of Rome (La Sapienza), built by the Fascists in the late 1930s after a portion of the troubling, leftist quartiere of San Lorenzo was levelled to make way.  Giò Ponti, an architect and designer who did everything from buildings to dessert plates (we own a set), created the enormous entrance to the Mathematics Building at the University.  (If you're intrigued, see our complete post on this building, with contemporary photos.)

Entrance to EUR's Museo della Civiltà Romana

At EUR, the quintessential example of Fascist monumentality, you'll find the portone (big door) at right, welcoming teenagers on a field trip to the Museo della Civiltà Romana.  This door also graced the cover of our newest book, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler (see at left, above).  For more information on the new book, see end of post.

The non-state examples are just as cool.  We found one in the upper reaches of Trastevere, just beyond the hordes, on what we remember as Via Goffredo Mammeli (left). 

We came upon the one we like best (below right) in our current neighborhood, just west off Via Tuscolana, a couple of blocks from the railroad station. 

What's going on with the big doors and doorways?  What's the message?  One is that material--concrete, steel, glass, whatever--is plentiful; that we're in the midst of a society rich with resources.  Another, along similar lines, is that something special has been done for and presented to those who work or visit or live in these buildings--something beyond the ordinary. 

A third has to do with humility--the humility of those who pass through these gates of momentality, feeling grateful but also just "small," and hence intimidated, not quite victims, yet rendered passive by those who created the building and built the entrance.  Think of the Scarecrow and the Lion and the Tin Woodman, cowering in the cavernous space where the Wizard did his magic in the The Wizard of Oz, made in 1939.  The ordinary people of Rome, experiencing Fascism. 


For more on EUR and Fascist architecture, see our new print AND eBook,  Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler.  Modern Rome features tours of the "garden" suburb of Garbatella; the 20th-century suburb of EUR, designed by the Fascists; the 21st-century music and art center of Flaminio, along with Mussolini's Foro Italico, also the site of the 1960 summer Olympics; and a stairways walk in Trastevere.

This 4-walk book is available in all print and eBook formats The eBook is $1.99 through and all other eBook sellers.  See the various formats at

Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler now is also available in print, at, Barnes and Noble, independent bookstores, and other retailers; retail price $5.99.

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