You get so accustomed to the buildings here being in various stages of decrepitude that you become rather lax in looking at them. You see, but you do not observe. The particular example that comes to mind concerns a seemingly amorphous glob of concrete or stone or something hard above the door of the building just across the street from us. I say “seemingly amorphous,” because Lino suddenly recognized its morph the other day.
“Oh look,” he said. “That was a house where a gerarch lived.” Unlike the usual formula, this was not a reference to someone from his past. But it was certainly from the past. Specifically, from the year beginning October 29, 1926 and ending October 28, 1927, otherwise known as “Anno V,” or Year 5, of the Fascist era.
One of many representations of the fasces and axe. The birch rods bound together represent strength in unity (easy to break separately, impossible to break when together), and the axe represents the power of capital punishment which the Roman magistrate, preceded by a “lictor” bearing the fasces, held over the Roman citizens. The fasces and lictors date from the first kings of Rome (beginning in 753 BC) and may have been adopted from an Etruscan custom. In this and many other aspects the Fascist Party showed its desire to recover the power and glory of ancient Rome.
The clump of material, now that I look closer, retains the outlines of the fasces with the axe-blade which was the primary symbol of the National Fascist Party.
As for the gerarchs, there were 12 ranks ranging from the Secretary of the party to a humble “capo nucleo,” or head of a unit. I haven’t pursued the subject any further than this, though I’m guessing that it was not the Secretary of the party who lived out here on the fringe of civilization.
Over time, I’ve noticed (with Lino’s help, usually) a few other traces of the period between 1921 and 1943. Pictures follow with what bits of elucidation I can provide.
The fasces and axe as carved on the tomb of Marcus Calpurnius Rufus in Ephesus. He was the son of an important imperial priest during the reign of the emperor Tiberius and a high-ranking senator under the emperor Claudius.
The gymnasium of a former school in Dorsoduro; the central door is surmounted by an eagle that seems to consider itself not just any ordinary eagle. The eagle was one of the most potent symbols of Rome, hence its importance to Mussolini.
Someone saw fit to remove the fasces which were once clutched in its talons. Lino regrets that. Making no political statements, he says simply that “That’s part of our history too.”
It would have looked something like this.
The covered walkways of the “Fabbriche Vecchie” and “Fabbriche Nuove” at Rialto bordering Campo San Giacomo de Rialto (the open space facing the Grand Canal) is a trove of stenciled and fading Fascist graffiti. One of the more legible ones reads “W Roma Intangibile” (Evviva, or long live, intangible Rome). This phrase was first used by the King of Italy, Umberto I, on Sept. 20, 1886 (more about this after the photographs). The important thing to grasp here are the repeated references to Rome, the Fascist Party’s lodestone, pole star, and general fixation. Benito Mussolini saw himself as the founder of a “New Rome.”
I can make out the “W Roma” but am only guessing at “Intangibile” beneath it.
At the top I can make out the by-now usual “Roma Intangibile,” and beneath the white oval there is “A Roma ci siamo e ci resteremo” (We are in Rome and there we will remain).
Clinging desperately to the plaster is the unconquerable “W Roma Intangibile.”
I have stared my eyes out on this one and cannot deny or explain that it says “W Nicolo Contarini.” (Long live Nicolo Contarini.)
Nicolo Contarini was the doge of Venice during the hideous plague of 1630. But I don’t think that has anything to do with this graffito. According to Wikipedia (translated by me), he was “universally considered a man who was upright and just…distinguished for his capacity to manage the public administration with extreme ability and honesty. During the clashes under his predecessor, even though disapproving the doge (Corner), he never showed himself to be an extremist, and this made him win the affection even of his adversaries.” If for some reason I’ve read this fading inscription incorrectly, I’m still glad to have had an excuse to discover a man who deserves to be remembered.
Here is what I have managed to learn about “Roma intangibile.” The expression seems to have resulted from a mashup of events and remarks. We begin with the “Capture of Rome” (“Breccia di Porta Pia“), on September 20, 1870. It was the final event of the Risorgimento; the Papal States were defeated, and the way was open to the unification of Italy under its first king, Vittorio Emmanuele II.
In 1875, Umberto I (King of Italy from 1878-1900) referred to Rome as the “unbreakable seal of Italian unity.” In 1886, he used the term “Rome, an intangible conquest.” (This deserves much explanation and exegesis, which is beyond me. Just stay with me here.) It is at that point that the principle of “Intangible Rome” entered history.
The phrase caught on; in fact, it became so popular that in 1895 a certain Carlo Bartezaghi, an enterprising industrialist from Milan, created a bronze medal showing the she-wolf (symbol of Rome) and the motto “Roma Intangibile.” He led people to believe that it was an ancient object and managed to fool a number of numismatic experts for a while, but that’s beside our point. The term became part of the popular lexicon.
In 1900, Vittorio Emmanuele III, in his first proclamation to the Italian people, recalled “…the unity of the Fatherland that is epitomized in the name of Roma intangibile, symbol of greatness and pledge of integrity for Italy.”
Fading monuments have such a melancholy aspect, not so much because they’re fading but because they used to matter, sometimes a lot, and now they’re fading.
I’m fresh out of pictures of Rome, tangible or otherwise, so I’ll have to stay in intangible Venice.