EUR and the Fascist Colosseum

Palace of Italian Civilisation (c) Marianne Kell, 2022

A second and final entry on Rome before we move on to other things. I might squeeze one out at a later date on Italian urban planning more generally, but for now I think this is enough.

Hipster boyfriend long had a quest in mind to track down the abbey which produces the only Italian trappiste beer. He mentioned it a few years back, and we found it online, via a webshop called Holy Art selling among other things priest robes and statues of Mary. We dabbled with the idea of placing an order, but the shipping costs were extortionate, and we felt it would be overly decadent to have them ship from Italy a few bottles of beer since we can easily buy perfectly good Belgian or English trappistes within a 3 mile radius of our house.

When we decided that we must go to Rome, it dawned on us that we could visit the abbey, Tre Fontane, and buy the beer from their shop to bring home. Luckily for us, Tre Fontane is well-connected to Rome city and located close to the blue metro line (Linea B). To get there, we simply had to jump on the metro at Termini and then pass through the EUR district on foot.

We got off the metro at EUR Fermi, the third of the three EUR metro stops (EUR Palasport and EUR Magliana the other two). It was a fairly long walk around administrative buildings, post office and bank headquarters that seem to characterise EUR Fermi, around a somewhat creepy near-deserted funfair, uphill through a surprisingly luscious and verdant park (given it was wedged between dual carriageways) and then back down toward the road. We crossed the busy dual carriageway, and then noticed a brown sign directing us to Tre Fontane behind a high wall.  The moment we entered the gates, we found a long, tree-lined avenue leading to the abbey. Although the dual carriageway was right alongside us, the high stone wall and the trees prove surprisingly effective at blocking out traffic noise and it felt strangely still and quiet.

Tre Fontane abbey, Rome. (c) Marianne Kell, 2022

We entered the abbey grounds and the feeling of calm and tranquillity prevailed. The monastery consisted quite simply of a church and crypt, a chapel, and not one but two shops (clearly these monks have their house in order) arranged around a courtyard. Inside one of the shops was a room for chocolate tasting, as well as a small café-bakery and an impressively stocked bar. We succeeded in buying our trappistes, a eucalyptus-flavoured one and a selection of others. After debating whether or not to buy chocolate too (we decided against it as it was already hot outside and we didn’t fancy carrying a dripping bag of melted chocolate around), we boxed up our haul of trappistes and left the calm little oasis to head back up the hill to EUR.

What is EUR?

The architecture of EUR is quite striking, I have to say. It feels imposing, somewhat Orwellian (to use a stereotypically British adjective) and I would imagine it would be the perfect backdrop for a re-make of the film adaptation of 1984.

EUR itself is a rather odd suburb of Rome city. The acronymn EUR stands for Esposizione Universale Roma, and its construction was originally intended for a special Expo in 1940 (in the same vein as the World Expos still taking place now, such as Dubai Expo 2020 and Milan Expo 2015). Obviously, as Italy entered World War II in 1942, this did not turn out as planned and the exhibition never took place.

The concept of the suburb was concocted by Mussolini to celebrate 20 years of fascism. The suburb itself is the biggest example of urban planning and architecture from the fascist period in Italy ,and it is as austere and pompous as one might expect from a projection of fascist vision. The style is highly rationalist, all straight lines, colonnades, marble, and travertine cladding and the idea underpinning the design was to heavily draw upon classical Roman city planning.  Piazza Guglielmo Marconi for example is centred around an obelisk typical of the Roman ones you find dotted around the squares of Rome historical city centre. The chief architect and urban planner for EUR was Marcello Piacentini, the official architect of the fascist regime in the typical stripped-down neoclassical style which was also prevalent in Nazi Germany.

Palace of Italian Civilisation, (c) Marianne Kell, 2022

The Palace of Italian Civilisation (pictured above), or Squared Colosseum (or as L called it, the Fascist Colosseum) is the marble centrepiece of the district and looks like a mash-up of Roman temples and various administrative buildings from the Roman age. Designed by three architects of the fascist era, Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto La Padula, and Mario Romano, it was supposed to represent Italian history from Roman times and, in true fascist style, connecting this with the superiority of the Italian race. L explained that the inscription at the top was taken from a speech by Mussolini, and referred to Italy as a nation of thinkers, poets, artists, scientists, heroes, and so on. The sculptures on podiums around the structure itself represent these qualities, cared from Carrara marble.

The actual Roman colosseum. (c) Marianne Kell, 2022

Knowing very little about the period of fascism in Italy beyond the basics, I was unsure whether Mussolini drew upon myths of origin as the Nazi Party used as the basis of their disgusting and scary race laws. L explained that there was a weird picking-and-choosing of elements drawn from Roman history, and weaving in elements of Roman culture to justify or strengthen their horrible fascist beliefs. The symbolism and iconography around EUR was in many ways a reflection of this.

The Palace of Civilisation itself I found horrifying and fascinating in equal measure. It was so unbelievably stark, placed atop a hill overlooking the entire district. The white marble juxtaposes sharply with the green treelined avenues and parks dotted around EUR, which despite the austere rationalist architecture, leaves a weirdly pleasant feeling of coolness and airiness in a city that gets extraordinarily hot and humid in summer.

EURPalas was also architecturally intriguing. The Palasport is a stadium that was completed later, in 1960 for the Rome Olympics. It has a pleasingly 1960s style aesthetic, spaceship-like and a bit Buckminster Fuller-esque. Although it underwent major renovations in the early 2000s and is nowadays still used as a basketball arena and concert venue, it still retains the typical 1960s form. The artificial lake, also constructed for the 1960 Olympics, is still intact.

In general, the EUR district was a surprising contrast to the historical city centre of Rome. We went there on a Thursday morning, and the area was extremely quiet so we had plenty of time and space to wander around the district. Definitely worth doing, if only to enjoy the contrast with the rest of the city which is absolutely stuffed full of ancient Roman ruins.

Rome: MAXXI and Archiboobs

Photo by Pepe Nero at Unsplash

Spring in Rome. A city for which I already had high expectations, and still it managed to surpass every single one of them. After having had Covid for a couple of weeks right before we flew and receiving the all clear just 48 hours before our flight was due to take off, it was not a certainty that we would make it. But, Covid clear albeit with tight lungs (both) and a mild cough (me), we landed in Roma Ciampino as planned.

We packed it in high, we did. L, that super smart Italian communist who also happens to be my lover, put together an incredible and stimulating itinerary planned out and for seven days straight we walked, and walked and walked around this mesmerising city. Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s Basilica, EUR, Tre Fontana Monastery, Pyramide of Cestius, Gramsci’s grave, the Forii and Colosseum, Campidoglio, Piazza del Popolo, the Jewish quarter and main Synagogue of Rome and attached fascinating museum Tempio Maggiore (I knew very little about the ancient and sizeable Jewish community of Rome), exploring Tiber island, the belvedere at Gianicolo and Piazzale di Garibaldi, San Lorenzo and a walk around Roma La Sapienza (the biggest university campus I’ve ever seen, and it took us almost half a day to walk around its perimeter as we got off at the wrong metro stop), evening strolls around Travestere neighbourhood, and a very pleasant evening with a comrade of L in the formerly working-class (historically housing mostly factory workers by the look of it) Pigneto neighbourhood, popping into feminist bookshops and super chill café-bars for aperitivo.

Not to mention stuffing our faces with the most delicious Roman food, which was entirely thanks to L’s meticulous research in his Gambero Rosso guide and recommendations from his friends with Roman connections. We did not manage to eat the classic Lazio carbonara or amatriciana, but we did eat lots of both Roman and Romano-Jewish artichoke dishes (including a pasta with lamb and artichoke that I could happily eat every day for the rest of my life), fried courgette flowers, cheese from Lazio region, bona fide porchetta, and a beautifully simple but mindblowing pasta with cherry tomato and toasted almonds which L has since been trying to crack at home. And it goes without saying, incredible street food including Roman pizza by the slice mile and suppli (both al telefono and romano). L almost cried with delight about being in his homeland of filled croissant for breakfast (impossible to find in the UK generally which is an ongoing source of disappointment and frustration for him – although we recently discovered their ubiquity in Glasgow which incidentally has a huge and dynamic Italian diaspora going back several generations), so naturally he insisted that we eat cornetti alla crema every morning from the Sicilian bakery next door to our accommodation.

Overall it was a good thing we covered over 20km on foot each day, otherwise I would have definitely turned into a cornetto alla crema myself.

Anyway. This is not intended to be a travel blog nor a food blog, and I am not particularly skilled about writing about either of these things. So, back to the point: MAXXI, Rome’s museum of contemporary art. We saw GOOD NEWS: Women in Architecture – the fascinating and extremely well-curated exhibition tracing the trajectory of women in architecture throughout the ages, key achievements and their struggle in a (still) highly male dominated profession. Certainly, the recent Guardian exposé about the culture of misogyny, sexism, racism, sexual misconduct, bullying and an overall toxic culture at UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture going back decades paints a depressing picture of this world. I would highly doubt that Bartlett is the exception.

While, as L pointed out, the GOOD NEWS: Women In Architecture exhibition did begin with an introductory atrium filled with the photographs and display models of Italian male architects which was a bit of an odd choice given that the whole point was celebrating 85 greatly overshadowed female designers, urban planners, academics, and architects, the exhibition itself was brilliantly curated.

Important to note though: while I’ve referred to the exhibition centred on female architects to highlight what the exhibition is about, a central question posed by the exhibition is why do we collectively still feel the need to attach “female-“ to architect / design etc? We would never refer to a “male architect” in such a way: “MAXXI was designed by female architect Zara Hadid but the Reichstag was designed by the architect Norman Foster.” As the Danish architect Dorte Mandrup was quoted in the exhibition: “I am not a female architect, I am an architect.”


Overall, the exhibition, which also lightly touched on intersectionality as well and highlighted the work of Norma Merrick Sklarek, the first Black woman to be officially commissioned as an architect by New York City, had an positive and optimistic tone. However, to me it shows that while we have come a long way in terms of gender equality in the urbanism field, we still have a hell of a way to go.

So yes, while it is maybe a depressing reflection of how the world around us is configured still requires such an exhibition to highlight the important contribution of women in the field, at the same time I suppose somehow the profile needs to be raised and the point needs to be made that we should really go beyond treating the contribution of women as a parallel, and inferred lesser, than that of male counterparts.

And, as L pointed out, the English translations were actually a lot better than the Italian original. To avoid making architect in the female form, which to an immature mind reads “architette” i.e. “archiboob,” they had translated it in weird and long ways, something like architectrice. All the more reason just to use one common form, right?