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fascismo abbandonato t h e c h i l d r e n ’ s c o l o n i e o f M u s s o l i n i ’ s I ta ly

dewi lewis publishing

fascismo abbandonato a road trip to find Fascism’s modernist treasures This work began life as a road trip. Artist Dan Dubowitz and architect Patrick Duerden set out to find the ‘colonie’, the modernist camps built by the Fascists in Italy in the 1920s and 30s to cultivate discipline and loyalty among the children of the urban poor. Many of these colonie, some of Europe’s best modernist buildings, have been abandoned since the 1940s and are now wastelands. Dubowitz and Duerden’s exploration of these modern ruins reveals their concerns about the ‘very long and dark shadow that Fascism casts across Modernity’. ¶ All societies are highly selective in the historic buildings and structures that they choose to preserve. Selection is often based more on ‘cultural significance’ than architectural merit. For political and symbolic reasons some old buildings are treasured while others are abandoned. The Taliban destroy ancient Buddhas and UK ministers fail to protect iconic modernist housing from redevelopment. If you can read the history of any society in its buildings, then conservation policy provides the sub-plot. ¶ Germany has often chosen to celebrate the work of the Bauhaus School – the fact that it was closed down by the Nazis gives it a political legacy – Italy, on the other hand, has a less comfortable relationship with modernism. Its most accomplished modernist buildings were built by the Fascists. From 1925 to 1940 Mussolini embarked on a highly creative and energetic programme of public works. Buildings were designed by Italy’s most innovative architects to express the dynamism and discipline of the Fascist regime. ¶ The architectural language of the colonie is both international – it speaks of the liberating clean lines and dynamic forms of early futurism and modernism – and nationalistic, particularly when it alludes to the power of the Roman Empire. There are elements of these colonie which are so profoundly evocative of the prescriptive and coercive qualities of the regime, that it is hard to separate the architecture from the politics. Dubowitz and Duerden are sensitive to a growing anxiety among some Italians that the regeneration of the colonie and other Fascist buildings might inspire the political rehabilitation of their patrons. ¶ Right-wing politician, Gianni Alemanno, was elected Mayor of Rome on a platform that included a commitment to demolish Richard Meier’s recently completed museum designed to house the Ara Pacis, an ancient Roman altar. Like Mussolini, Alemanno is interested in the arenas where political and cultural life overlap. He has made it clear that he considers the display and interpretation of Italy’s antiquities and monuments to be political questions. Architectural heritage is a political battleground. ¶ Dubowitz’s images and Duerden’s text provide an intuitive reaction to both historical and contemporary debates. The work evokes contradictory thoughts about key debates of our time; childhood, pedagogies, morality, identity, militarism and nationalism. It confronts the question as to whether architecture can be politically neutral. Should design be understood as a reflection of political values or as a crucial source of ideological legitimation? Most importantly Fascismo Abbandonato addresses the ongoing debate about the contribution of modernism to the genuine progress of humanity. penny lewis

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fascism abandoned In 2005, when Dan Dubowitz and I set out to look for the abandoned modernist architecture of Fascist Italy it was the apparent contradictions between modernism – the architecture of ‘progress’ – and Fascism – the ‘counter-revolution’ – that made the subject of interest to me. Today the international importance of Italian architecture of the Fascist regime (1922-45) is hardly acknowledged. Anti-fascism was written into Italy’s 1948 post-war constitution and remains a founding principle; consequently Fascist architecture has been dismissed by a society unable to attribute cultural value to it. The regime’s building programmes were prodigious and internationally acclaimed, yet now, with a few well-known exceptions, the buildings are generally forgotten; their architects often condemned to obscurity. Key works such as the Stazione Termini railway station in Rome have been altered beyond recognition. Others have become derelict, including a disproportionately large number of colonie di infanzia ‘holiday’ camps constructed for the Fascist youth organisations. There are a number of reasons why this latter group of buildings has survived. The overarchingly Fascist programmes for which they were designed often made their adaptation for new uses impractical as well as unconscionable, whilst the remoteness of the locations in which many were built has made them easier to ignore than to demolish. ¶ Modernism had a particular appeal to Benito Mussolini, il Duce. He sought to affirm the identity of the new Italy in contrast to the backward looking and liberal pre-Fascist past. Every revolution, he declared, creates new forms, new myths, and new rites. Under Mussolini there were official Fascist styles of greeting (the Roman salute), walking (the passo romano), eating (sparingly), writing, speaking and thinking. Fascist style emphasised conciseness and vigour, in contrast to lax and lazy forms of democratic and liberal expression. ¶ The futurists who enthusiastically supported Mussolini’s regime exalted the technological achievements of the new machine age such as the white telephones beloved of Fascist cinema, the Littorine railway trains of the Ferrovie dello Stato, and the Savoia-Marchetti seaplanes. Futurist architects such as Angiolo Mazzoni and Clemente Busiri-Vici designed buildings that were similarly stripped back and streamlined. Their passion for symbols of the machine age was driven by a fanatical belief in the transformative power of an aesthetic. They designed buildings that looked like machines in the belief that the Fascist utopia could be brought into being by such architectural manifestations. ¶ The Fascist regime was not however unequivocal in its rejection of the past. Historicism retained cultural currency as Fascist ideologues co-opted history to support their new imperial ambition. In Mazzoni’s architecture, machine metaphors were therefore juxtaposed with allusions to Roman antiquity. The ubiquitous fascio, the axe bound in a bundle of rods that was the ancient symbol of the rule of law, became a symbolic architectural element that might appear in the form of a stair tower, a window, a door handle or a column. ¶ Meanwhile a younger generation of architects, the rationalists, reacted to what

they saw as an emphasis on stylistic alliteration. International in outlook, the Milanese “Gruppo Sette” and their counterparts in Turin propounded an ideology that would transform society through design and bring about il Duce’s new Italy. Playing down the notion of a break with history, the rationalists evoked the spirit of the past to assert the legitimacy of the new in a manner and in a language that bore a striking resemblance to the political language of the Fascist regime. The rationalists could claim Le Corbusier as a second source for this approach. A great epoch has begun. There exists a new spirit, Le Corbusier proclaimed. Rome’s business was to conquer the world and to govern it…. If it is brutal, so much the worse, or so much the better. These words were published in Vers Une Architecture in 1923, the year that Mussolini came to power. Whilst Le Corbusier may not have been unquestioning in his Fascist sympathies, the paternal overtones, the latent fear and the utopian delusions expressed by the leader of architectural modernism found full expression under Fascism. ¶ Mussolini announced his support for rationalist architecture in 1934, and after intense lobbying Le Corbusier was invited to Italy in the same year. By some fateful miscalculation his visit coincided with Mussolini’s first meeting with Adolf Hitler and the great architect left without meeting il Duce. Mussolini later admitted that he was unmoved by art or architecture, and could not understand why Hitler insisted on visiting the Uffizi Gallery in Florence on his second visit to Italy in 1938. ¶ The result of il Duce’s ambivalence towards the arts was that Fascist architecture was remarkably pluralistic, juxtaposing the essentially incompatible positions of modernism and traditionalism. Architectural debate in Italy became a battleground over which protagonists from both camps, led by Ugo Ojetti on the one hand and Marcello Piacentini on the other, fought to demonstrate their fascistissime credentials. However, the arguments were never about political or social intentions. There was no questioning of the rectitude of the regime’s social programmes; vitriol was expended on debate about what form best represented Fascism, and never strayed into what constituted Fascism itself. ¶ The regime created the idea of the new Italian, l’uomo nuovo del tempo di Mussolini. The elite soldier of the new Roman Empire was to be ardent, determined and indomitable. In order to transform Italians in this way, the Fascists embarked on an immense project for a new social state not intended for welfare but for war. Engineering, science and medicine provided models for a massive programme for bonifica umana or human reclamation, which paralleled other bonifica schemes for national improvement of which the best known was bonifica agricola, the programme for the reclamation of agricultural land. The term bonifica implied contempt for the unreformed, and the Fascists used similarly disparaging language to describe the lives of millions of Italians as they did to describe the environmental conditions of the malaria-ridden swamps of the Pontine Marshes. Under the auspices of bonifica umana, the Fascists reorganised and extended existing provisions for education, health 6 | 7

and social care according to industrial principles and on an industrial scale. The regime brought medicine, hygiene, fitness and dentistry to the masses where in other countries good health remained the preserve of the wealthy. ¶ Paramilitary youth organisations, the Opera Nazionale Balilla (ONB) and (after 1937) the Gioventù Italiana del Littorio (GIL) were established as a central pier of this programme to manipulate Italian children into active support for Fascism. Both organisations were important architectural patrons, erecting colonie di infanzia on the Adriatic and Tirrenian coasts. Billed as health spas and holiday camps, the colonie brought together modern architecture, fresh air and discipline in a way designed to fascistise the body and soul of Italian youth. They were far removed from the stagnant towns of Italy’s past and away from traditional structures of family and community. Even in the context of massive public works programmes, the building of colonie offered unprecedented opportunities for ambitious architects. The colonia became a distinctive Fascist building type that evolved under the directives of the ONB and the GIL. The marching, synchronised exercise and gymnastics, flag-raising, saluting and swearing of allegiance to the regime that comprised the dramatic daily programme of the colonie inspired architectural features including towers, ramps and elevated platforms for the parading troupes of Balilla. In contrast to this spectacle, official regulations declared that luxuries were anti-educational and anti-social and accordingly the colonie provided only the most basic of accommodation. Dormitories were intimidating, open plan and stark; each might accommodate several hundred children. Italian parents routinely admonished recalcitrant children with the threat ti mando in colonia! (Behave, or I’ll send you to the colonia!). For a generation of Italians the experience of Fascism was a formative one, and many are still affected by it today. ¶ As Fascism passes from living memory, the Fascist regime may appear to many young Italians as an unexceptional part of their history. Italy’s current generation of right-wing politicians is reviewing the architectural achievements of the Fascist era. This represents a major setback for those who would extricate their country’s modern architectural heritage from the opprobrium of its historical political association. Looking at Fascist architecture from my perspective outside Italy, the abandoned colonie appear to me to be a metaphor for the legacy of the regime in the national collective consciousness; a legacy that is complex, difficult and painful to contemplate, but which is too important to be forgotten. The future of the colonie hangs on the resolution of this dilemma. Fascism has not been consigned to history. It cannot be exorcised either by the obliteration of its monuments or by the packaging of them as heritage. patrick duerden

fascismo abbandonato a road trip to find Fascism’s modernist treasures Penny Lewis


fascism abandoned Patrick Duerden


Colonie 1. Colonia Marina PNF Genova 2. Colonia Marina “Rosa Maltoni Mussolini” 3. Chiesa di Santa Rosa, Centro Servizi del Calambrone 4. Area Centro Servizi del Calambrone 5. Colonia Elioterapica Fluviale “Maria Pia di Savoia” 6. Colonia Montana di Rovegno 7. Colonia Fluviale “Roberto Farinacci” 8. Colonia Marina delle Montecatini 9. Colonia Marina della Federazione Fascista di Novara 10. Colonia Marina “Amos Maramotti” 11. Colonia Marina “Costanzo Ciano” di Varese 12. Colonia Marina “XXVIII Ottobre” 13. Colonia Marina “Principi di Piemonte”

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p.10 p.16 p.26 p.28 p.38 p.44 p.50 p.56 p.68 p.80 p.88 p.100 p.108

the colonie as political instrument Arne Winkelmann








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colonia marina pnf genova 10 | 11

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colonia marina “rosa maltoni mussolini� 16 | 17

An aeroplane approaching Pisa airport passes at about 1000 feet over Tirrenia. If you look down, you get a fleeting glimpse of the beach and, here and there, derelict buildings amongst the encroachment of holiday chalets and swimming pools that now form a continuous ribbon along the once deserted Tuscan coast. Seen from above these buildings were designed to resemble giant aeroplanes, boats or huge machine parts; futurist symbols of aspiration towards modernity. But this is not obvious today to the casual observer; instead there are collapsed roofs lost amongst the forest of umbrella pines. The repainted orange walls of one half of the symmetrical Colonia Rosa Maltoni Mussolini (1925–35) stand out. This is the architectural masterpiece of the futurist Angiolo Mazzoni, who became well known as the chief engineer of the Ferrovie dello Stato (Italian State Railways). In what was then remote from the dusty and often deprived conditions of the city, the sand, the modern architecture, the pines, and the mountains of Tuscany in

the far distance would have seemed to the children who came here a vivid evocation of the new Italy the regime was creating. Today, the coastal strip is shorn of this meaning; in their own way the Emilia Romagna and Tuscan coasts are as suburban as Surbiton. The painted half of the colonia has recently been converted to holiday apartments. The orange colour is a recreation of the building’s original appearance; on the unpainted half, faded patches of the original paint are here and there apparent. Amazingly, some of the furniture designed by Mazzoni is still in the unpainted part of the building. The design of the furniture was reminiscent of the work of the Viennese secessionist Joseph Hoffman; a reminder perhaps of the cultural eclecticism of the early twentieth century in architecture and politics alike.

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Males Ages Figli della lupa




Balilla moschettieri




Avanguardisti moschettieri


Giovani Fascisti


Females Ages Figlie della lupa


Piccole Italiane


Giovani Italiane


Giovani Fasciste


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chiesa di santa rosa, centro servizi del calambrone 26 | 27

area centro servizi del calambrone 28 | 29

The Fascist regime was preoccupied not with reality but with an imagined future dictated by il Duce and unfettered by the inconvenience of worldly matters. Tirrenia was reclaimed from the coastal wilderness north of Livorno, and a new town of colonie established on Mussolini’s orders, with roads and tramways, a huge open-air cinema, medical facilities, laundries and the administrative structure to service them. Nearby, film studios were established by Mussolini’s friend Giovacchino Forzano. Here Sophia Loren later lived in a Fascist-era modernist villa, and spaghetti westerns were filmed. By the 1970s the Forzano studios had been abandoned, and in the 1980s the architect Aldo Rossi proposed the site’s redevelopment as a holiday complex. His architectural approach drew on the compositional techniques of the futurists, but gone were the engine symbols and the towering fasces; Rossi’s historicising architectural language of domes, towers and arches was entirely different. In the end though, only the golf club that Rossi designed for Pisorno was realised.

In 2000 the disparate owners of this vast futurist linear city in ruins came together and set up a development company to regenerate it. A masterplan was drawn up by Pisa architect Beniamino Cristofani; the abandoned colonie are now being converted into holiday apartments.

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The logical result of fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life. Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, tr. Harry Zohn, New York, 1969, p. 234

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The state syllabus for elementary schools required that the first word to be learnt after mastering the vowels was EIA! the Fascist war cry. Whilst in arithmetic the first lesson taught was that: DEO = DUCE

Paolo Sorcinelli and Daniela Calanca (ed.), Identikit del Novecento: conflitti, trasformazioni sociali, stili di vita, Rome, 2004

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colonia elioterapica fluviale “maria pia di savoia� 38 | 39

Not all colonie were located on the coast. After a day spent looking for the Colonia Maria Pia di Savoia in Vercelli we were ready to abandon our efforts, but by now our snooping around the outskirts of town had attracted the attention of the Polizia. Things looked awkward, but we convinced our interrogator. Yes, he knew where the colonia was, and he would escort us there. But first, would we care to see Vercelli’s Fascist wall paintings? VIVA IL DUCE in two metre high letters? Although their removal was a legal requirement after the fall of the regime, a surprisingly large number of Fascist political slogans survive on walls across Italy. The Colonia Maria Pia di Savoia was built in 1936 as a non-residential Colonia Elioterapica (sun therapy colony) and designed by the technical office of the municipality. Remarkably it is still in use. Part of the building is the Alpini veterans’ association, whilst a gymnastic club and an archery club occupy other areas.

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colonia montana di rovegno 44 | 45

The 10 commandments of fascism 1. Know that the fascist, and in particular the soldier, must never believe in perpetual peace. 2. Punishments are always deserved. 3. The nation is served even by standing guard over a can of petrol. 4. A comrade must be a brother: – because he lives with you; – because he has the same faith as you. 5. You were not given arms so that they could fall into disuse, but to train you for war. 6. Do not ever say “the government will pay” because it is you who pays; the government is what you have willed and why you have put on a uniform. 7. Discipline is the soul of armies; without it there are no soldiers only confusion and defeat. 8. Mussolini is always right! 9. For a volunteer there are no extenuating circumstances when he disobeys. 10. One thing must be dear to you above all else: the life of il Duce.

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“Decalogo Del Milite Fascita Del 1928” of Renato Ricci adopted by the Opera Nazionale Balilla

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colonia fluviale “roberto farinacci� 50 | 51

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colonia marina delle montecatini 56 | 57

The Colonia Marina Montecatini was designed by Eugenio Faludi with the technical office of the SocietĂ Montecatini, and built in 1939. The brief required accommodation for five hundred Balilla. A huge tower with ramps for gymnastic displays rose 55 metres above ground level. The arch at the gates was designed as a miniature version of the arch Adalberto Libera planned but never built for the abandoned Esposizione Universale di Roma (1942). The tower of Colonia Marina Montecatini was rebuilt to less than half its original height in the late 1940s after the original construction was destroyed by the Nazis at the end of the war. The building remained in use as a hostel until recently.

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For Fascism, the state is an absolute, before which individuals and groups are relative. Individuals and groups are ‘thinkable’ in so far as they are in the state. Giovanni Gentile and Benito Mussolini, La Dottrina del fascismo, Milan, 1932

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Everything in them, from their abstract lines and volumes to their ground plans, which trace the itineraries of communal life, from the breadth and type of door and window frames and the design of railings, from plaster to floorings, colours and materials; everything combines – canteens and washrooms, dormitory and gymnasia – to make up the plastic form and visual image with which these children will identify the memories of periods spent in the Colonie. Having come from poor or very modest homes, the majority of these boys and girls will feel disposed here, for the first time, to accept the influence of taste; they will be stimulated, for the first time, to appreciate architectural form seen not just from the outside, but adapted for living within. Mario Labò and Attilio Podestà, L’architettura delle colonie marine italiane, In Casabella, no. 167/168, 1941

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colonia marina della federazione fascista di novara 68 | 69

By car and on foot, we searched the coastal strip from Rimini to Ravenna looking for abandoned colonie. The Italian seaside is simultaneously classy and crass, kitsch and couture. Whereas English seaside is all cheaply cheerful, fish and chips and candy floss, Italian seaside is well-heeled, neat and clean, but with Gucci gilt vulgarity. The Italians’ love affair with the beach happened after 1945, the beaches having been made accessible by the regime’s draining of the coastal marshes and building of the road infrastructure to serve the colonie. Colonia Novarese (1934) was designed by Giuseppe Peverelli and built in the staggeringly short time of just 126 days. Peverelli was an engineer influential in the Fascist hierarchy, and appointed Minister of Communications in 1943. He was arrested and put on trial in 1945, but acquitted. An unrepentant Fascist, he subsequently emigrated to Argentina. The functions of the Colonia Novarese were combined in a single structure like a miniature version of the Lingotto Fiat factory in Turin, but with the addition of strip windows.

The tower, the principal feature of the front of the building, was entirely clad in glass and modelled as a gigantic illuminated fascio. The structure was coldly functional, intended as a demonstration of the resolution of the Fascist will. The building’s streamlined silhouette lent it more than a passing resemblance to a warship; sufficiently so to encourage strafing attacks by Allied aircraft during the Second World War. In dereliction, Colonia Novarese has become a focus for delinquent activity. The core of the building is burnt out. In the darkened void at its heart stands an empty plinth, inscribed Duce, which once carried Mussolini’s statue. Now it is a focus for nihilistic neo-fascist graffiti.

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Balilla Creed I believe in Rome the Eternal, the mother of my country, and in Italy her eldest daughter, who was born in her virginal bosom by the grace of God; who suffered through the barbarian invasions, was crucified and buried, who descended to the grave and was raised from the dead in the 19th century; who ascended into heaven in her glory in 1918 and 1922; who is seated on the right hand of her mother Rome; who for this reason shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the genius of Mussolini, in our Holy Father Fascism, in the communion of the martyrs, in the conversion of Italians and in the resurrection of the Empire. Libro fascista del Balilla (1936), In Years of Change: European History, 1890-1945, R. Wolfson (ed.), London 1978

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colonia marina “amos maramotti� 80 | 81

Colonia Amos Maramotti (Colonia Reggiana) (1934) in Riccione (Ravenna) was designed by Costantino Costantini, who also designed the famous Mussolini Dux obelisk in the Foro Italico in Rome. It was named after a student ‘martyr’ to the Fascist cause killed in a clash with communists in 1924. Its plan, a repetition of offset slab forms orientated towards sea and sun, and with projecting stair towers, was intended to represent an array of fasces. But the repetition of forms also implied the mechanisation of construction and the possibility of infinite extension. It was these functional aspects, rather than the representational one, which attracted rationalist acclaim for the building. Abandoned, it has become a repository for municipal detritus. Exploring the building we clambered over piles of children’s clothes in decayed cardboard cartons and mounds of mildewed cinema seats. Under this could be seen the terrazzo floor with its design of thousands of interlocking Fs; an echo of the repeating plan of the building. Fascism was everywhere under our feet.

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colonia marina “costanzo ciano� di varese 88 | 89

The most extraordinary monument left by the Fascist youth programme is the Colonia Costanzo Ciano (1937-9) in Milano Marittima. The work of Mario Loreti, it was occupied for only a single summer (in 1939, the year of its completion) and dynamited by the Nazis in 1945. The huge Piranesian ramps, today overgrown with fig trees, were intended for synchronised displays of marching Balilla. In 2005 homeless people were living in the lower parts of the building, whilst on the flat roofs, orchids and other wild flowers were in bloom. The building is in a state of collapse; whilst we were there a section of the floor caved in without warning. One explanation may be that perhaps the concrete was originally mixed with seawater. The ferrous reinforcement is exposed and scaled with rust; the folly of the Fascist utopia revealed by the intervention of reality, time, dereliction and decay. We learnt from the squatters that while it still stands the status of the Colonia Costanzo Ciano as a national monument renders its vast prime beachfront site worthless. But its condition has been declared as beyond repair and the building is to be razed to the ground. The site will then be worth in excess of 50 million Euros.

Italy has been turned into a great prison where children are taught to adore their chains. Lauro De Bosis, Story of my Death, London, 1933

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Credere Obbedire Combattere Believe Obey Fight Fascist political slogan

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The present spectacle of Italy, the state of her spiritual powers announces the imminent dawn of the modern spirit. Her shining purity and force illuminate the paths which had been obscured by the cowardly and the profiteers. Le Corbusier, Stile futurista 1, no. 2, August 1934, p. 13

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colonia marina “xxviii ottobre” 100 | 101

Colonia Marina XXVIII Ottobre (1932) on the Adriatic Coast at Cattolica (Rimini) was built to designs by Clemente Busiri-Vici. It was intended for the male children of expatriate Italians, and the well-known ScottishItalian sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi attended ONB summer camps here. The remarkable dormitory buildings are presented in the dynamic form of locomotives and steamships, suggesting that the children were not supposed to feel that they had arrived at any destination. The would-be colonists of the new Roman Empire were to be in continual transit. Two of the original four dormitories survive. By some bizarre but inspired twist of fate they have been converted into aquaria. Young and efficient sporty types have taken over, and the ghosts of the black shirts, the Balilla and the Figli della Lupa are gone, replaced by manta rays and shoals of angelfish.

I had a black shirt, sailor’s hat, white trousers…. You were allowed to keep the uniform. I remember too you had a shaved head. It was wonderful. When you are very young you don’t articulate experience. Eduardo Paolozzi, Wonderful World, In Cities of Childhood, London 1988

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In June 1941, Galeazzo Ciano admitted “the regime has made a mistake; for twenty years it has neglected these young men, and has had them in mind only to deck them out in uniforms, hats and capes, and herd them against their will into the squares to make a lot of noise.� Galeazzo Ciano, Diary 1939-43, New York, 1947

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colonia marina “principi di piemonte� 108 | 109

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the colonie as political instrument The first Italian holiday camps for children (colonie) were established by charitable Christian organisations like the Opera Don Bosco or the Opera Bonomelli in the late 19th century. The main purpose of the colonie at the time was to improve child health. Medical problems thought to be caused by poor light, air and malnutrition were treated at the colonie with sun bathing, physical exercise and fortifying meals. ¶ In the 1920s the programme of colonie was taken over by the new Fascist state and expanded. The treatment continued and was in effect extended but it had a new raison d’être in three distinct ways. Firstly, the Fascist doctrine was concerned with Volkskörper, (German: concept of the body of the nation). Under the new regime the strength and health of individuals were no longer as important as the physical superiority of a new generation. ¶ Secondly, the national Balilla youth organisation (Opera Nazionale Balilla), which was replaced in 1937 by the GIL (Gioventù Italiana del Littorio), had a clear paramilitary dimension. The children wore uniforms, were equipped with a wooden rifle, and were organised into military hierarchies. They practised parade ground exercises and carried out a series of military rituals such as flag-raising and pledging an oath of allegiance, and were taught to idolise their leaders. The colonie contributed to Balilla education and aimed to transform them into soldiers, physically and morally. The Fascist government nationalised all the colonie that were private or run by the Church, ensuring that no other organisation could exercise any influence on children. ¶ Thirdly, the colonie were used for ideological indoctrination and for developing in children an emotional bond with the Fascist regime. To this end two strategies were pursued: daily political instruction was part of the children’s education and an emotional attachment to the “father figure” of il Duce was developed. Above all, the emotional attachment to the regime and in particular to Mussolini during the children’s stay at the summer camps was perceived very positively by many children afterwards, even idealised into a “wonderful world” as touched on in the memoirs of sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi (Cities of Childhood, 1988, p. 10). ¶ It is also noteworthy that, during the 1920s, major industrialists in Italy saw in the colonie the potential of shaping their next workforce by instilling in the children of their workers discipline and a bond with their company. FIAT, Olivetti, Piaggio and Montecatini, amongst others, built and managed the colonie with the intention of raising a healthy, efficient and loyal workforce. As a country that was late to industrialise, Italy was evoking at this time the paternalistic corporate culture that many other European nations had experienced some decades before. ¶ Moreover, the term “colonia” was intended as an extension of the Lebensraum (German: space-to-live) concept. Although the term “colonia marina” existed long before the 1920s, it acquired a new-found meaning under Fascism. Following the First World War, a programme of colonisation became a cornerstone of Fascism; an aggressive expansion policy that led to both the annexing of colonies outside Italy

and the creation of new cities at home, the ‘Città Fondazione’. The colonisation of the largely uninhabitable Adriatic and Tirrenian coastal marshlands through the colonie building programme was a significant step for the Fascists in realising Lebensraum for Italy. The Fascist regime effectively generated “new land” for its population by way of an expansion within Italy. The Calambrone linear city comprises a series of children’s colonie stretching down the coastal strip in front of Pisa towards Livorno (see Colonia “Rosa Maltoni Mussolini” and Centro Servizi). In the early 1930s expansion of the colonie programme led to accelerated construction of new summer camps on the coasts (colonie marine), in the mountains (colonie montane) and of day colonie in the countryside or at the periphery of cities (colonie elioterapiche). ¶ Most of the colonie were built in the rationalist style. Generally in the design of these rationalist buildings attention was focused on structural and spatial qualities, while ideological implications were rarely discussed. The colonie designs are very close in style to both ‘Razionalismo’, the expression of totalitarianism, and the International style, the expression of liberal democracy, but this was rarely debated at the time. The avant-garde modern design of the colonie was an integral part of the political propaganda. There are some structural analogies between the organisation of the floor plans and the military hierarchy of the Balilla. The Balilla were organised into units that followed the historical model of the ancient Roman army. The smallest unit was the squad with 11 children. Three squads made a manipolo, three manopoli made one century comprising 100 children; another three centuries formed a cohort, and three cohorts formed the largest unit with 900 people, the legion. In the colonie, the children slept in dormitories usually with 11 to 33 beds, with the structure of a squad or manipolo. On each floor of a colonie building wing, dormitories were then often re-organised into groups of three. Many colonie had the capacity of a cohort; while among the largest colonie, Novarese in Rimini or the Colonia “XXVIII Ottobre” in Cattolica, for example, there was the capacity to accommodate a legion. The spatial organisation of the dormitories into military units reflected the simplicity of barrack construction and was characteristic of troop accommodation. ¶ Another aspect that emerged from the similarity of the colonie dormitories to barracks was the efficient running of an operation on a massive scale. The architectural historian Michele Anderle speaks of “mechanisation of man” during Fascism, where an individual plays only an anonymous function within a larger machine. This image can be transferred to the structural organisation of the colonie. The colonie were clearly divided into functional sections: the service areas such as kitchen, laundry and administration offices were separated from the children’s areas and there were segregated dormitories for girls and boys (if it was not a colonia exclusively reserved for boys or girls). Aspects of the daily life of the guests, such as sleeping, eating and washing were shared and collectivised. 116 | 117

In order to get the children both assembled and then dispersed quickly, buildings were provided with wide ramps, often in spiral or curved form, as at the Montecatini and Varese colonie. Functional differentiation, clear geometries and partially panopticon space allowed for close monitoring of activity in the summer camps. The resemblance to machine parts in the designs for the colonie “Roberto Farinacci” in Cremona, or “Maria Pia di Savoia” in Vercelli is evidence of the themes of mechanisation and automation in colonie design. ¶ This mechanical motif plays an important role in the symbolic function of the architecture. In the Colonie “XXVIII Ottobre” in Cattolica and “Amos Maramotti” in Riccione the ship theme is dominant: the large buildings’ shapes clearly evoke hulls, semicircular stairways are prows, handrails and ramps recall railings and gangways. Portholes and flagpoles emphasise the nautical theme. The ship metaphor is a focal typology in the architecture of modernity. It is the dawn of a new era, of a social utopia and euphoria with technology and progress. Furthermore there is an additional image at play here, that of the warship. The Colonia “XXVIII Ottobre” evokes the sense of a small fleet of warships around a central building; the image is based on a contemporary postcard known as the “anchored flagship”. The compact form of the four dormitories elicits the image of naval speedboats or torpedo boats rather than cruise ships. Even the stair tower of Colonia Novarese resembles a gun turret or a command bridge, which rises far above the deck into the air. With the sight of Balilla in navy uniforms, the image of a generation in readiness for a war, a naval war, is complete. ¶ The architecture of the colonie also served the Fascist regime as a political icon. Fascist symbols, emblems and propaganda motifs were widely represented in the buildings. The enclosed parade grounds were designed to display the rows of marching Balilla looking up at a pulpit or balcony, which were usually part of a larger plain wall surface. These walls displayed prominent inscriptions of the colonia’s name, the year the colonia was founded, counting from the birth of the Fascist era, in Roman numerals with the addition of EF for “Epoca Fascista” (Example XII EF = 1933), and fasces, the Roman symbol comprising a bundle of white birch rods and an axe which was the national emblem for Italy in the Fascist era. ¶ All these architectural elements, the balcony, the parade ground, the ramps, the military and spatial organisations crowned with fasces and roman inscriptions came together to make the perfect Fascist scene for propaganda. The fasces theme is evident as an architectural element in several ways: as a separate structure, such as stairwells or as fluting round towers or as a general plan in the Colonia “Rosa Maltoni Mussolini” in Tirrenia. Fasces motifs often appeared in groups of three as an icon on balconies and over entrances. Design of the colonie also functioned to keep political symbols and emblems omnipresent so that young visitors would always see to whom they should be grateful for their stay and to whom they were to

be devoted. From these examples it is evident that even in the vocabulary of modern design there are moments of manipulation and of deliberate opacity. The architecture of modernity, supposedly universal and unburdened by historical references, is readily subjected to totalitarianism’s influence. The resulting buildings glorify war and violence, and were used in an effort to subject an entire generation to pledging allegiance to the Fascist regime. arne winkelmann œ

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bibliography Balducci, Valter and Smaranda Bica (ed.), Architecture and Society of the Holiday camps: History and perspectives. ¸ Timisoara: Orizonturi Universitare; Mirton, 2007

Cutini, Valerio, and Roberto Pierini, Le Colonie marine della Toscana. Pisa: Edizione ETS, 1993 de Bosis, Lauro, Story of my Death. London: Faber & Faber, 1933

Balducci, Valter (ed.), Architetture per le colonie di vacanza: Esperienze europee. Florence, 2005

Domus, no. 659, 3/1983, pp. 2–29

Ben-Ghiat Ruth, Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922–1945. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001

Frisoni, Giorgio, Elizabetta Gavazza, Mariagrazia Orsolini and Massimo Simini, Ursprung und Geschichte der Colonie, In Bauwelt, no. 30, 1992, pp. 1692–1705

Binchy, Daniel A., Church and State in Fascist Italy. London: Oxford University Press, 1941 Colonie a mare: Il patrimonio delle colonie sulla costa romagnola quale risorsa urbana e ambientale. Bologna: Grafis, 1986 Confurius, Gerrit, Rationalismus im Faschismus, In Bauwelt, H. 7/8 1986, pp. 248–253

Gentile, Emilio, The Struggle for Modernity: Nationalism, Futurism, and Fascism. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2003 Giuseppe Vaccaro. Colonia marina a Cesenatico 1936–38. Rome: Clear, 1994

Koon, Tracey H., Believe, Obey, Fight: Political Socialization of Youth in Fascist Italy: 1922–43; Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1985 Labò, Mario, and Attilio Podesta, Colonie: marine, montane, elioterapiche. Milan: Domus, 1942 Niglio, Olimpia (ed.), Il nuovo Calambrone. Milan: Electa, 2006 Schleimer, Ute, Die Opera Nazionale Balilla bzw. Gioventù Italiana del Littorio und die Hitlerjugend – eine vergleichende Darstellung. Münster: Waxmann, 2004 Vacances et Loisiers, “L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui” no. 7, 1939 Wall, Alex, and Stefano de Martino (ed.), Cities of Childhood. Italian Colonie of the 1930s. London: Architectural Association, 1988

colonia marina pnf genova

A seaside colonia south of Genoa. Sited on the beach, the tower has been derelict for decades and remains in the ownership of the city of Chiavari. There is a breathtaking view of the colonia from the international train to/from Genoa as it passes the site. There appears to be strong and long-standing resentment locally at the failure of successive Chiavari mayors to stabilise or meaningfully reuse this futurist icon for the region. The inside has lost much of its character but the exterior is largely untouched.

Colonia Marina PNF Genova 1931 Colonia Fara Via Preti, Chiavari GE, Liguria Camillo Nardi Greco (1887–1968)

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colonia marina “rosa maltoni mussolini”

Colonia Marina “Rosa Maltoni Mussolini” 1931 Colonia “Villa Rosa” Colonia Marina dei Ferrovieri Colonia Marina Postelegrafonici Colonia Pontificia Fiorentina Colonia O.D.A. “Regina del Mare” Viale del Tirreno, Calambrone PI, Tuscany Angiolo Mazzoni (1894–1979)

A seaside colonia on the edge of Livorno, it fronts onto the beach. When the postal and railway ministry was split, the colonia was divided in half down the centre of the main entrance and through the ornamental fountain. Thanks to the involvement of the Comune in Pisa the colonia is now being restored. The postal ministry’s half has been developed as holiday apartments and is now remade bright orange once again. The other half remains abandoned for the time being in the care of the original caretaker’s son, who grew up on the site and continues to live with his father in the original entrance lodge.

Angiolo Mazzoni was a supremely talented architect, and a highly influential figure under the regime. His wife was the daughter of Mussolini’s Minister of Communications, Galeazzo Ciano, and as chief architect for the Ministry of Communications and for the State Railways he designed hundreds of buildings, including large numbers of post offices and railway stations. Mazzoni designed the Colonia Rosa Maltoni Mussolini down to the smallest details; door handles modelled as fasces and characteristic wood and aluminium furniture, examples of which survive.

colonia marina “rosa maltoni mussolini�

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colonia marina “rosa maltoni mussolini�

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area centro servizi del calambrone

colonia elioterapica fluviale “maria pia di savoia”

Area Centro Servizi del Calambrone

Colonia Elioterapica Fluviale “Maria Pia di Savoia”



Viale del Tirreno, Calambrone PI, Tuscany

Colonia “Elena di Savoia”

Ghino Venturi

Corso Rigola, Vercelli VC, Piedmont Uffici Tecnici Comunali

This is the centralised reception area for the vast linear complex of colonie on the Tirrenian coast, just north of Livorno. Children would alight from the new train line here and be processed before going off to one of the many colonie. The area included a reception room with a sculpture of Minerva above it. Nearby is an outdoor cinema as part of this centralising of facilities. For years it was lost, hidden in overgrown forest, and has now been restored. The complex forms the centrepiece for a new public square as part of an ambitious regeneration scheme. Work on some of the buildings and demolition of others is now underway.

An inland non-residential ‘elioterapia’ (sun therapy) colonia on the banks of a wide sandy river between Milan and Turin. It has been in continuous use since it was built, yet remains lost in time. Situated up a long road on the outskirts of town, the building is in parts untouched and derelict, and in others an animated, cherished and core community resource. Active gymnastics, archery and Alpine Veterans’ clubs all inhabit different sections of the colonia independently, and proudly exhibit photos of their organisations’ roots in the pre-war period.

colonia montana di rovegno

A mountain colonia, beyond the remote hill town of Rovegno above Genoa. The village still has 1930s murals and road signs directing drivers through the forest. The colonia is a vast monolith in an unexpected clearing of dense forest with panoramic views of the Apennines. There is an extensive network of paths, well-worn by porcini collectors and wild boar hunters, that converge at the colonia clearing.

Colonia Montana di Rovegno 1934 Località Colonia, Rovegno GE, Liguria Camillo Nardi Greco (1887–1968)

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colonia fluviale “roberto farinacci”

Colonia Fluviale “Roberto Farinacci” 1938 Colonia Padane Via del Sale, Cremona CR, Lombardy Carlo Gaudenzi (1898–1969)

An inland ‘sun therapy’ colonia, on the outskirts of Cremona on the banks of the river Po. It is set in well-kept and popular public gardens. Most of the structures are derelict, but one part is in use seasonally as a summer nightclub and the swimming pool is now filled with turtles. It is an intimate and human scale building.

colonia marina delle montecatini

Colonia Marina delle Montecatini 1938 Colonia Monopoli di Stato Viale Giacomo Matteotti, Cervia RA, Emilia-Romagna Eugenio Faludi / Ufficio tecnico Montecatini (1899–1981)

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A seaside colonia near Cervia, initially out of town, now occupying an entire urban block of prime beachfront real estate. The tower, some 7 storeys higher than it is now, was bombed by the retreating German army in WW2. The state tobacco monopoly company sold the long unused colonia recently, but it remains undeveloped.

colonia marina della federazione fascista di novara

Colonia Marina della Federazione Fascista di Novara 1934 Colonia Novarese Viale Principe di Piemonte, Rimini RN, Emilia-Romagna Giuseppe Peverelli (1893–1969)

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A seaside colonia in Riccione, now separated from the beach by the road. The building bears a strong relationship to the Lingotto FIAT factory in Turin with its spiral ramps. This building is the most austere and intimidating of the colonia. The building appeared to still have the bomb damage from when it was hit by allied troops mistaking it for a ship at the end of the war. In 2008 construction was underway to convert the colonia into a hotel.

colonia marina “amos maramotti”

Colonia Marina “Amos Maramotti” 1934 Colonia Marina Reggiana Centro Vacanze Reggio Emilia Viale Gabriele d’Annunzio, Riccione RN, Emilia-Romagna Costantino Costantini (1904–1982)

A seaside colonia in Riccione on the beachfront with nautical details. Seen from an aeroplane the colonia forms a series of repeated ‘fascia’, the Fascist symbol, and there are interlocking ‘f’s in the terrazzo floor. The upper floors are derelict and used by the comune as a municipal store, incidentally creating surreal scenes of hundreds of surplus sea buoys and cinema seats. The ground floor is used by sailing and beach clubs.

colonia marina “costanzo ciano” di varese

Colonia Marina “Costanzo Ciano” di Varese 1937–39 Colonia Varese Viale Giacomo Matteotti, Cervia RA, Emilia-Romagna Mario Loreti (1889–1968)

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A seaside colonia near Cervia, on a vast beachfront site, it was occupied as a colonia for only a single summer in 1939. Overgrown with mature marine pines, it is the most wild and decayed of the remaining colonie, yet one of the most spectacular, and with little prospect of surviving. In 2006 there were Walt Disney cartoons in the triple height dormitories and wild orchids growing high up on the structure. There are series of freshly drilled holes in the primary columns, suggesting that the building may soon be demolished.

colonia marina “xxviii ottobre”

A seaside colonia in Cattolica for the children of Italians living or working abroad. Part demolished and part restored, two of the train/boat dormitories that have been retained have aquariums that venture underneath them without using the dormitory spaces. The site is a well-visited seaside attraction and in its extensive signage and literature omits any meaningful reference to the buildings’ history and origins. The sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi wrote of his childhood experiences here as wonderful at the time.

Colonia Marina “XXVIII Ottobre” 1932–34 Le Navi Via Germania, Cattolica RN, Emilia-Romagna Clemente Busiri-Vici (1887–1965)

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colonia marina “principi di piemonte”

Colonia Marina “Principi di Piemonte” 1936–37 Colonia Marina di Padova Strada della Droma, Venezia – Lido Alberoni VE, Veneto Daniele Calabi (1906-1964)

In Venice, on the Lido, this seaside colonia is open to the beach nestled behind sand dunes. It is derelict, but relatively intact having been renovated in the 1960s and a new dormitory and dining hall added in the 1970s. The colonia still has its original kitchen and ‘Richard Ginori’ crockery service. The original parade ground around which the Colonia was once oriented is now more like an arboretum.

This project started as a collaboration with Patrick Duerden. We were interested in finding out what architectural ruins remained from Italy’s Fascist era. Our search for colonie began as a result of Patrick having had an inspiring conversation whilst at dinner with Tom Muirhead, during which Tom had drawn a map of Italy and sketched a series of colonie which he had explored in the 1980s. In Spring 2006, with Tom’s map as a guide, we embarked on the first of our several road trips in search of colonie. On this trip we chanced to meet Beniamino Cristofani, Pisan architect and masterplanner for the redevelopment of Calambrone and its numerous colonie. Since then rarely has a month or two passed without me finding an excuse to either meet up with him in Calambrone or Pisa to discuss the project, or to take a closer look at one of these colonie. These outings with Beniamino have, alongside the ongoing dialogue with Patrick, shaped the project and exhibitions. In 2008 a first exhibition of Fascismo Abbandonato was held as a work in progress at the Weissenhof Gallery in Stuttgart. At a lecture during the show Patrick, Beniamino and I were joined by Dr Arne Winkelmann whose knowledge and insight into the colonie further widened the debate. Arne’s unique collection of postcards from the colonie era, some seen in this book, are a visionary way to present a history of the colonie.

This edition first published in the United Kingdom in 2010 by Dewi Lewis Publishing 8 Broomfield Road, Heaton Moor Stockport sk4 4nd, England in conjunction with Civic Works Ltd isbn: 978-1-904587-80-4 All rights reserved

© 2010 Texts: Dan Dubowitz, Patrick Duerden, Penny Lewis, Dr. Arne Winkelmann and Civic Works Ltd. Photographs: Dan Dubowitz Archive material pp. 122-124 RIBA Library Photographs Collection Other archive material: Dr. Arne Winkelmann This edition: Dewi Lewis Publishing / Civic Works Ltd. Book Design: Alan Ward @ Print: Editoriale Bortolazzi Stei, Verona Print Manager: Alessandra Agostini

Patrick and I owe a great deal not only to our collaborators but also to many people, too numerous to name individually, who have supported this project along the way. I would however like to thank: Ros Stoddart for her support and phenomenal patience; Penny Lewis for bringing to bear her considerable rigour and insight; and Laura Gusmitta for her fine translation and endless enthusiasm, thoroughness and determination. Alan Ward is an astonishingly talented designer and it has been a privilege and pleasure to work with him on this book. I would also like to thank Dewi Lewis for his invaluable advice in directing this project through production. Last and by no means least thank you Jenny for your companionship and support. Dan Dubowitz, 2010 The touring exhibition of Fascismo Abbandonato was first shown at the Fermynwoods Contemporary Art by Ros Stoddart, MayJuly 2009. The tour includes the Weissenhof Gallery, Stuttgart; H2 Centre for Contemporary Art, Augsburg; SMS Centre for Contemporary Art, Pisa, 2009-2010; and the British School at Rome, May 2010. Exhibition prints: Mark Foxwell, Genesis Imaging


Dan Dubowitz Civic Works Ltd


A large format photographic book of the abandoned modernist holiday camps of Mussolini’s fascist era.