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Friday, October 5, 2012

Sites of Anti-Fascism: Trionfale, Garbatella, and San Lorenzo

Post Office on Via Marmorata, 1940 photo
Regular readers of these pages are familiar with the remaining reminders of the Fascist era in Rome, of which the Foro Mussolini/Foro Italico, the grand complex of EUR, Luigi Moretti’s House of the Italian Fascist Youth (l'ex GIL in Trastevere), the Ostiense Post Office on Via Marmorata, the University of Rome, the Via dell’Impero, and what was once the Ministry of Corporations (improbably on Via Veneto) are only the most prominent (see links at end). 

Public Housing in Trionfale

Less well known are the sites of resistance to Fascism.  They were all, at the time, areas of the city populated by and identified with the city’s working class, students, and youth.  Two—the near-in “suburbs” of Trionfale and Garbatella—were the sites of major public housing developments built or completed under Fascist auspices.  

Garbatella is one of the itineraries in our new book, Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler; see below for more information.

One of Mario Mafai's "demolition" paintings, late 1930s
Significantly, these “projects” (to use the American term) housed many families that had been driven from the central city when their living quarters were razed to make way for the broad avenues favored by Mussolini and other Fascists.  Artist Mario Mafai, whose own family was forced from the Monti quarter by the demolitions (in Italian, sventramento/tearing down), did a series of paintings on the subject. 

The Red Hotel, Garbatella
In Garbatella, four of the largest buildings, including the famous and still-standing Albergo bianco (white hotel) and Albergo rosso (Red hotel) now and then served as detention centers for communists and others deemed dangerous to the state.  When Hitler made his one and only visit to Rome in 1938, potential dissidents were rounded up and brought to the “hotels,” where they were placed under police guard.  The hotels also housed ex-prisoners returning to Rome after incarceration elsewhere.  In addition, living conditions in the hotels contributed to anti-fascism.   Residents not only resented being forced out of their former neighborhoods, but also disliked having to leave their own furniture behind for the iron tables and chairs provided by the complexes. 
Anti-fascist graffiti on Garbatella's old marketplace,
2009 (now being renovated)
Moreover, the great majority of the men living in the new housing in Garbatella were proletarians--ordinary, poorly paid workers struggling to keep their jobs and feed their families under the difficult conditions of the worldwide Great Depression.  These workers were especially vocal, and most likely to incur the wrath and intervention of the police, as May 1—Europe’s labor day—approached.   In 1943, with Fascism disintegrating  and the city occupied by the Nazis,  some 270 of the most disaffected—from the working-class neighborhoods of Ostiense, Testaccio and San Saba, as well as Garbatella--formed a resistance organization with like-minded anti-fascists.  Even today Garbatella is known as Rome's most socially progressive neighborhood

San Lorenzo
But it was another working-class quartiere, this one to the north of the Centro, and close in, that caused the Fascists the most trouble.  San Lorenzo was a dense neighborhood of narrow streets, just the sort of place that the Fascists imagined was full of left-wing troublemakers.  In this case they were right.   In 1921, the year before the March on Rome, the Fascist Party congress came to the city, and some 30,000 blackshirts roamed the working-class sections of the city, bashing heads—especially in San Lorenzo—in what proved a deadly effort to keep dissidents in line. 

The following year, according to historian Paul Baxa, the arrival in the city of the remains of Enrico Toti, a hero of the Great War, killed on the Carso and a Fascist icon, brought another confrontation in San Lorenzo.  As the procession with Toti’s body moved along Via Tiburtina, through the heart of the district to the nearby Verano cemetery, anti-Fascists fired from windows and alleys.  Five months later, in the epic March on Rome, a unit of Fascisti, heading west and south on Via Tiburtina and warned to stay out of San Lorenzo, entered the area anyway and again faced fire from San Lorenzo’s socialists, communists, and anarchists.   

The center of the University of Rome, built,
so the story goes, on the ruins of San Lorenzo. The
sign in the foreground advertises the Rome version
of the "Occupy" movement (October 2011)
After the second of these events, an angry Mussolini announced in the newspaper Il Popolo that “all obstacles [to Fascism] will eventually come down.”  Not even Mussolini could tear down all of San Lorenzo, but he came close, or so the story goes.  In the 1930s the regime tore down most of San Lorenzo that lay to the northwest of Via Tiburtina for its new University.   Although Mussolini was capable of such venality, we’re just a bit skeptical, if only because our early-20th century map of the area destined to house the university shows it to be nearly empty of buildings. 

Another site, not visual but oral, is the resistance anthem, Bella Ciao.

Links to other posts include Foro Mussolini/Foro Italico, Case Popolare (on Fascism's housing projects), L'ex GIL (the Moretti youth center), the via Marmorata post office, and the University of Rome (Gio' Ponti's mathematics building). Via Veneto's Fascist corporate buildings are on Itinerary 5 in RST:  The Nazis and Fascists in Central Rome.

And for more on Garbatella and Fascist architecture in Rome, see our new print AND eBook,  Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler.  Along with the tour of Garbatella that includes the Red Hotel and the old marketplae, Modern Rome features three other walks: 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 classic 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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