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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Deciphering Rome's Walls: Neo-Fascist Iconography

If you've been in Rome 15 minutes, you've already seen, and lamented, the vast amount of graffiti that adorns the city.  Much of it--notably the ubiquitous "tags" (initials, signatures) of graffiti "artists" (we're not talking about the colorful, design-based lettering that lines the train and Metro tracks)--is close to worthless, lacking in the "redeeming social value" that was the US legal standard applied to pornography in the 1960s.  That said, the stuff is there, and one can either a) try to ignore it or b) take an interest in aspects of it--separate the wheat from the chaff--using the walls of Rome as a window on contemporary culture. 

Note the highly stylized fasci,
below right. 
Some of this reading of contemporary Italian culture requires a knowledge of Italian and a Roman friend or two, and RST can't supply either on the blog.  But there's one area--the iconography of neo-Fascism--where a little help goes a long way. 

Mussolini's Fascist movement (roughly 1919-1945, with Fascism officially in power from 1922 to 1943) made use of Roman symbols.  One of the most signifcant was the Fascio Littorio (the bundled sheaves of wheat, with protruding axe, symbolizing power over life and death), first used as a Fascist symbol in 1919.  The poster above left, using a drawing to advertise the Monday after Easter, features three small, highly stylized fasci.

The Latin/Roman influence,
apparent in the typography of a
Fascist building
Fascism also often used a "V" - the Roman way of writing (in ancient times in stone) a "U" - on its buildings and posters, and the "V" was employed by the Triple Alliance (Germany, Italy, and Japan) during World War II.  On the facade of a Fascist-era building in EUR known as the "square coliseum," an inscription begins, "VN (UN) POPOLO...."  ("a people...."). 

During the Fascist years, the "M" (for Mussolini, and hence for Fascism) was everywhere; indeed, in the 1930s a Fascist administration building in the new town of Latina (in the reclaimed marsh land southeast of Rome) was constructed in the shape of an "M."  The building still stands today.

A prominent flattened "S" on
a 1939 poster ("Squadristi"). 
A contemporary flattened "S,"
referencing the Fascist era.
Certain other letters or modes of lettering--the squared off C is one example--may also represent a neo-Fascist hand at work.   Another letter that was widely used and was highly symbolic of Fascism is the flattened, modernist-looking "S" (above, right and left). 

A Celtic cross
The postwar (and especially post-1970) neo-Fascist movement used, and uses, all these symbols, sometimes in modified form, and you'll see them all on the walls of Rome.  You'll also see one symbol that was NOT used by Mussolini's Fascists.  The Celtic Cross was first used by a French Fascist party in the 1930s, then adopted by Italian neo-Fascists in Italy and elsewhere in the 1970s.  The iron cross at left is flanked by two letters of significance for Fascism: the "M" and the "V."

A Fascist "M" and a
highly stylized Fascio Littorio
In several places we've encountered the word "Militia," followed by a figure we at first could not decipher (right).

A Fascist-era poster, 1936
The Militia "M" is adapted from a typeface used by Mussolini's regime (left).  And the curious end figure, we concluded, was a highly stylized version of the Fascio Littorio (compare with those above and below). 

Mayor Alemanno, attacked as a Zionist
We learned more about that "M" with the arrests a few days ago (December 13) of the leader of the "Militia," Maurizio Boccacci, and four others identified with the group.  They were charged with spreading racial hatred, inciting violence, and engaging in acts against the Jewish community and against Rome's Mayor, Gianni Alemanno (right). 

A "pietra d'inciampo," a
memorial paving block
Another 11 persons are under investigation for similar offenses, including supporting fascism.   Specifically, the Militia members were accused of having defaced the walls of the capital with Nazi writings and with having defaced "pietre d'inciampo"-- engraved memorial paving stones in brass (resembling special sanpietrini)--that were designed by a German artist and installed beginning in 2010 in front of the homes of Jews deported from Rome to Nazi concentration camps during World War II. 

The Militia denies the Holocaust
On one wall, signed with the Militia "M," the group attacked the upcoming (January 27) anniversary of the Day of Remembrance for Victims of Nazism, known here as "il Giorno della Memoria"--essentially a day for recalling the horrors of the Holocaust and remembering its victims.  "27/1 non c'é memoria!" translates "January 27: there is nothing to remember!", probably a denial that the Holocaust ever took place. 

On another wall, the words "Pacifici continui a meritare il fosforo bianco" refers to Riccardo Pacifici, the president of the Jewish community in Rome; Pacifici "continues to deserve the white phosphorus," a reference to the lethal compound widely used in warfare since World War I.  Several Militia writings appeared in Monti, a tourist area near the Coliseum.  One of them said "Israele non esiste" ("Israel doesn't exist").  And on Via Tasso, the street that housed the SS prison from which political prisoners were removed to be executed in 1944 (and now houses a museum to honor those prisoners), someone had written, "via Tasso uguale bugia" ("Via Tasso is a lie").  Elsewhere, the anti-semitic Militia attacked Alemanno as a "Sionista" (a Zionist) [above right]. 

Boccacci, 54, is known to authorities for his extreme right-wing views and for a long history of participation in rightist militant groups, dating to the 1970s.  He defines himself as a "soldato fascista senza compromessi" ("a fascist soldier without compromise") and has said, "I admire what Hitler did.  The Jews were enemies that opposed his plans."  Of the Militia members thus far identified, two were 54 years old, two 26, and one 43.  Two, including Boccacci, were residents of Albano Laziale (a town in the Alban Hills close to Rome), two of Rome, and one of Ascoli Piceno (about 150 miles northeast of Rome).  Until recently, the group was headquartered in a gymnasium in the north Rome suburban quartiere of Vigne Nuove, just beyond Monte Sacro. 

With thanks to MV for assistance with this post,

Buon deciphering!


Judith Works said...


Misera e stupenda città said...

And one must not forget the 'legitimate' neo-Fascist group, Forza Nuova, nor their ilk at Casa Pound (and further into the Blocco Studentesco etc). What is particularly disturbing is that these all receive significant funding and support, when not explicitly then of course implicitly