The Stadio and the Sons of the She-Wolf:

Context and Controversy Surrounding Rome's Stadio dei Marmi


Taylor Hartley


SIP Supervisor: Dr. Christine Hahn, Professor of Art History


A paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Arts at Kalamazoo College.





This paper will study in-depth the history behind and aesthetics of the Foro Italico stadium complex in Rome (built in the 1930s), with a particular focus on the Stadio dei Marmi, or Stadium of Marbles. Originally called the Foro Mussolini, the Foro Italico is a huge relic of Italian Fascism, the remains of Benito Mussolini's "sports city" that was intended to promote athleticism and flaunt the power of Fascism. With the exception of the Olympic Stadium, which has been rebuilt several times, the complex remains largely intact today. This paper discusses the Stadio dei Marmi as a representation of the struggles for unity in Italy and the new Fascist ideals of masculinity and meditates on the survival of the Fascist monument. Additionally, the postscript briefly discusses the statues of the Stadio dei Marmi as centerpieces of the gay kitsch and Camp movements of the 1980s.

Introduction: Welcome to the Foro Italico

            The World Cup stadium in Rome, the site of all major soccer matches, is a shining modern dome that lies in the midst of now-ancient relics of Fascism. To enter the stadium, one must walk under a massive obelisk of creamy Carrara marble proclaiming MVSSOLINI DVX (fig. 1). On either side of the obelisk are ruddy red buildings with fiercely rectangular windows and huge white statues in recessed niches (fig. 2). After walking under the towering monument to Benito Mussolini (1922-1943), the soccer fan or tourist enters the gate and walks over a seemingly endless walkway of black and white mosaics. To the careful observer, these mosaics are a sprawling scene of propaganda, praising the Fascist defeat of Ethiopia in 1936 and the strength and honor of the Italian people. Their sharp, geometric style instills a sense of foreboding that is exacerbated by the shadow of Mussolini's monument. Even the casual passerby cannot help but see the words DVCE DVCE DVCE (a Latinization of Mussolini's title, il Duce) and the slogan MOLTI NEMICI, MOLTO ONORE (many enemies, much honor) emblazoned on the ground (fig. 3, 4). From the dry, weathered Fountain of the Sphere in the center (fig. 5), one can go forward into the 1990 World Cup stadium, a massive modern soccer stadium with a white crown of crisscrossed pipes. Turning left sends the visitor into the old and modern tennis courts amidst a smattering of towering statues. To the right lies a vast oval of powerful white statues surrounding a track and field stadium. This is the Stadio dei Marmi, or Stadium of Marbles. On a quiet day in winter, the complex feels grey and eerie; the Fascist relics stand seemingly abandoned around the new soccer stadium. The massive complex of buildings and stadiums is haunted by the memory of Fascism and simultaneously unsettles and charms the visitor with its moldering totalitarian ruins.

            This complex was called the Foro Mussolini, or Mussolini Forum, when the architect Enrico del Debbio began work on it in 1928.[1] Today, the complex of Fascist buildings and monuments is called the Foro Italico, or Italian Forum, and houses the Olympic headquarters for Italy (fig. 2), as well as the World Cup Stadium (previously the Olympic stadium), and the site of all major tennis matches in Rome. At the Foro Italico, the ruins of a long dead government are buzzing with life. Some of the areas of the Foro Italico have been updated, most notably the Olympic Stadium and the tennis courts, but one area remains remarkably untouched. This is the Stadio dei Marmi (fig. 6), opened in 1932 and used for Fascist party rallies and youth group activities.[2]

The Stadio dei Marmi is a strange and wondrous place. It is a track and field stadium set into the ground, surrounded by sixty towering male statues. Today, in 2014, the pure ivory of the Cararra marble is marred by the effects of time and the elements. They are covered with black spots and moss like so many of the ancient Roman monuments that cover the city. The stadium looks like a modern ruin. Even though the stadium looks abandoned, it is not unused. Even on a rainy day in December, runners, tourists, families, and dog walkers can be found at the Stadio dei Marmi. Some are in awe of the mighty statues that tower above the track, and others ignore them completely, focused on their run. The atmosphere at the Stadio dei Marmi is one of both beauty and contradiction. The beauty comes from the architect Enrico del Debbio's masterful design. The contradiction comes from the Roman citizens, blithely running or walking their dogs amidst a massive propaganda program from Fascist Italy, a hated dark spot in the country's short history as a unified nation.

The real star of the Stadio dei Marmi is the ring of statues that gives the stadium its name. Each statue is enormous. Too give an idea of scale, a person who is five feet five inches tall, comes face to face with each statue's massive feet. Without a telephoto lens it is impossible to photograph the statues face on. All but a few photographs taken in the process of research for this paper are at an extreme angle, almost looking up the nose of each statue. There is no shortage of opportunities to feel small in the city of Rome, surrounded by the remains of the most powerful empire of the ancient world, but standing under one of the huge men in the Stadio dei Marmi could be one of the most frightening. While face to foot with one of the statues, one can easily read the inscription on each base. With the exception of five, each statue has the name of a city inscribed on the base. Each statue is an example of idealized muscular athleticism. Most of the men depicted in these statues are shown in the midst of athletic activities like tennis, skiing, discus, boxing, or sailing. At first glance they all seem to be similar. They are all made of the same material, and there are so many that it is easy to assume they are all the same man repeated sixty times in different positions. It only takes a few focused looks at the statues themselves to realize that they are not similar at all. Each face and body is unique. Some of the men are overly muscled and hyper masculine, others are smooth, lithe, and androgynous. The effect is so intriguing that it draws the visitor in and coaxes them to look at each statue in turn. The statue of Bergamo (fig. 7) is dynamic, with his head thrown back and his body arched. The statue of Siracusa (fig. 8) nearby is static, with his arms resting by his side and his gaze directed out into space. The Stadio dei Marmi is truly a statue lover's dream.

Most sources on the Foro Italico gloss over the Stadio dei Marmi, outlining only its dates of design and its uses as a center of the movement to increase youth athleticism. There is always a mention of the statues in these sources, but it is limited to their number and the fact that they represent certain important cities throughout Italy. It is impossible to comprehend the place from the brief mention most sources give it. It is so surprising to get there and realize that the sources gave you no understanding of what the place is actually like. I have endeavored to shed a bit more light on this strange and amazing place that has survived the fall of the government that produced it. This paper will examine the Stadio dei Marmi from many angles: as a representation of the struggle for unity in Italy, as a symbol of the Fascist athletic movement and the new concept of the perfect male form, as a product of Mussolini's vast public works program in Rome, and as a piece of public art that has managed to survive the tumult of the second half of the 20th century.

Introduction to the Foro Mussolini and Stadio dei Marmi

The Foro Mussolini and the Esposizione Universale Romano (EUR) neighborhood were two of Mussolini's biggest public works in the city of Rome.[3] The Foro Mussolini was the first big public complex built under Mussolini. Building began in 1928 and was not fully finished until 1939 with the completion of the Duke of Aosta Bridge across the Tiber. It was mean to be a "sports city" and a modern version of the ancient Roman Forum.[4] The tennis courts, Olympic Stadium, Stadio dei Marmi, and Olympic Headquarters were all built as a part of the Foro Mussolini, along with a whole host of other things. An indoor swimming pool, Mussolini's private gymnasium, a youth hostel, a fencing academy, and a home for frail and sick youth were also a part of the complex of buildings built between 1928 and 1939.[5]

Foro Mussolini as Propaganda

 The whole Foro Mussolini complex was a massive propaganda project, filled with pro-Fascist images that praised Mussolini and the Fascist regime's acts of war. Mussolini intended Fascism not to be a political party, but a way of life. His regime propagated Fascism through every facet possible, through magazines, design, youth culture, cinema, and through violent coercion.[6] The Foro Mussolini is an extension of this Fascist culture that in the eyes of writer Massimo Bontempelli was not a political ideology but  "…a whole orientation of life, public and private: a total and perfected order that is at once practical as well as theoretical, intellectual, and moral, application and spirit."[7] Mussolini sought to fascistizzare (to "fascisticize") every aspect of Italian life,[8] and the Foro Mussolini is no exception. The complex is huge, and it dominates the landscape. It takes an apolitical part of life, sport and fitness, and turns it into a politically charged space. Everywhere one looks in the remains of the Foro Mussolini there is a message of Fascist superiority. A portion of the mosaics of the Piazzale dell'Impero at the entrance is devoted to the praise of the invasion of Ethiopia in 1936 (fig. 9). The mosaics are cramped with fasces (fig. 10), the symbol of the Fascist party (see Classical Symbolism in the Foro Mussolini). The mosaics add politics and war into the Foro Mussolini and relate a seemingly apolitical part of life to violent conquest.

Fascist propaganda was extremely concerned with the cult of the leader, and the Foro Mussolini was no exception. Every part of the complex has the stamp of the Duce on it, from the massive obelisk at the entrance to the mosaics with their repetitions of DVCE DVCE DVCE. Stylized Ms with fasces appear throughout the mosaics as well (fig. 11). Even though an image of Benito Mussolini is not depicted anywhere in the Foro Mussolini, unlike much of the printed propaganda of the time,[9] he is present in the whole stadium. Wherever a visitor goes in the Foro Mussolini, the specter of the Duce haunts him. The whole complex was a part of massive public works programs in Rome and was a way for Mussolini and the Fascists to claim Rome as their own.



Classical Symbolism in the Foro Mussolini

The public works program that included the Foro Mussolini was an extension of Mussolini's attempt to model himself after the Roman emperor Augustus (27 BCE-14 CE) who greatly improved the city of Rome and built the Forum of Augustus. From the invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, Benito Mussolini established the "New Roman Empire" based on the glory of the ancient Roman Empire under Emperor Augustus.[10] Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Mussolini sought to unify Italy under his imperial power through the use of Classical motifs that bespoke Italy's glorious ancient past.[11] The appropriation of ancient Roman visual culture to hearken back to Augustus has been an area of intense study since the 1980s, but some of the symbolism is worthy of discussion related to the Foro Mussolini, which is packed to the rafters with Ancient Roman symbols of power. The mosaics on the pathways of the Piazzale dell'Impero hearken back to the opus tesselatum (black and white) mosaics found at the ancient Roman port city of Ostia outside Rome (fig. 12). The mosaics at the Foro Mussolini could easily be mistaken for the ancient ones at Ostia, were it not for the addition of contemporary subjects. While many of the subjects of these mosaics are contemporary in nature and depict tanks, airplanes, and contemporary Italian soldiers, some depict ancient figures and symbols (fig. 13, 14, 15). The "Lupa" or the famous statue of the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, shows up several times (fig. 16), as an ancient symbol of the foundation of Rome and a reference to the bronze sculpture thought until recently to be an ancient Etruscan work (fig. 17). The symbol of the Lupa represents the mythological foundations of Rome, and its presence in the Foro Mussolini links the Fascist government with Rome's prestigious ancient history. The inclusion of the Lupa in proximity to the repeated references to the Duce (Mussolini's title, which itself is derived from an ancient Latin word) makes a clear connection between Italy's new emperor and Romulus, the half-divine founder of Rome.

The most common ancient symbol in the Foro Mussolini is the fasces, or bundle of sticks with an axe on the end. Fasces appear in the Foro Mussolini as simplistic geometric forms, detailed mosaic pictures, and as huge marble props for statues (fig. 10, 18, 19). In ancient Rome, the fasces were a symbol of authority carried by officials called Lictors. Mussolini and the Fascists adopted the fasces as the official symbol of their regime, and after 1926 it became ubiquitous in Fascist art, architecture and design.[12] The symbol itself represents unity. All of the sticks are bundled together into one fasces, symbolizing one Italy bound together by Fascism. The symbol also has a more sinister undertone represented by the axe head bound to the end. Mussolini appropriated the ancient symbol and used it to legitimize his imperial regime by connecting it with the symbols of ancient Rome.

The statues of the Stadio dei Marmi themselves show Classical influences. Statues are the art most easily associated with the ancient world. Statues bespeak dignity and natural grace and have been regarded since the Italian Renaissance as the highest of art forms. Their heroic nude bodies may not be stylistically the same as an ancient statue, but their stature, composition, and even material shows the influence of the Classical tradition. While most of the statues show contemporary sports, there are several statues with definite Classical themes, especially the statue of Rome (fig. 20), who is modeled after the demigod hero Hercules with his club and lion skin. Most of the statues in the Stadio dei Marmi, while adhering to contemporary artistic ideals, are shown in the Classical contrapposto position. Even their size hearkens back to the colossal statues from the Baths of Caracalla near the Aventine hill in Rome (fig. 21).

The stadium and gymnasium themselves are symbols of ancient Greek and Roman ideals of bodily perfection and health that were common in ancient societies. In ancient Greece, the gymnasium was a communal place where young men could exercise and perfect their bodies.[13] Likewise, Roman baths had areas for lifting and exercising (palaestra) to use before entering the bath areas of the bathing complex.[14] The tie to the Classical is not limited to the personal fitness complexes of the gymnasia and stadiums; the Foro Mussolini was also home to the Olympic Stadium and the Italian Olympic headquarters. The modern Olympic games were modeled on the ancient Greek games that took place in Olympia. Some of the mosaics depict ancient and modern Olympic events side-by-side to emphasize the connection to the ancient sport tradition. All of these Classical symbols permeate the Foro Mussolini and create an environment that simultaneously feels ancient and modern, while strengthening the Fascist claim to power through connection with the revered Classical societies of Ancient Greece and Rome.

Foro Mussolini and Sports Culture

The Foro Mussolini was one example of a movement of sports and education that spread across Rome and was characterized by the building of many new schools and gymnasia. Italian Fascist ideology praised and embraced both education and physical exercise as the way to nurture a healthy, growing Fascist child.[15] The Foro Mussolini was the centerpiece of this movement. The youth hostel, swimming pool, and events hosted at the Stadio dei Marmi provided opportunities for youths to perfect themselves through exercise and recreation. The home for sickly youths also operated on the same principles of fresh air and exercise as the way to cure sickness and frailty. The movement spread throughout the city of Rome in the form of new school buildings, gymnasia, and facilities for youth groups. Youth groups even left their mark on the mosaics in the Foro Mussolini. Near the Fountain of the Sphere in the center (fig. 5), the words OPERA BALILLA are repeated over and over in the mosaic (fig. 22). The Opera Nazionale Balilla was one of the Fascist youth groups that sought to mold young Fascist minds as much as their bodies. The name Opera Nazionale Balilla comes from Balilla, the nickname of the young boy in Genoa who started the riots against Austria in 1746. Children had a chance to become figli del Lupa (children of the She-Wolf) when they were as young as 6 and advance through the stages until they became adult party members.[16] Youth and sports culture will be discussed further and more in-depth in the section on Fascist masculinity and the creation of new Italians.

The Stadio dei Marmi was one of the first parts of the Foro Mussolini to be completed and opened four years after the beginning of construction in 1932.[17] Each statue came from and represented a different city in Italy. These cities also happen to give their names to provinces of Italy. Italy is divided into regions, and then further divided into provinces. Most of the cities are lesser known to non-Italians such as Cremona, Pistoia, and Potenza. Under Mussolini, the stadium was almost always filled with youth groups and Fascist Party activities. Each of the statues is different because they were donated by each city as a gift and many have different artists.

Statues as a Symbol of National Unity

Regionalism and the Unification of Italy

            After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Italian peninsula divided into regions and only unified into Italy, as we know it today, in 1870 (although the Kingdom of Italy was declared in 1861).[18] Italy is a remarkably regional country, with many barriers to unification, including geographical, linguistic, and even culinary.  Before the Middle Ages, the Italian peninsula was split into regions, which then formed into city-states and kingdoms. As David Gilmour puts it in his recent examination of regional Italy, The Pursuit of Italy, "… A landscape which encourages cultural diversity is almost bound to produce political disunity."[19] That is one of the many reasons that the Italian city-states remained autonomous until the French Revolution in 1789 led to political upheaval in the Italian peninsula. Following the French Revolution, the Italian monarchies were ruled by French and then Austrian rulers.[20] Prince Metternich, the Austrian monarch, referred to the Italian Peninsula as "A mere geographical expression," and emphasized the differences between the regions in order to strengthen the authority Austrians had over the Italian kingdoms.[21] By the 1830s, the desire for independence from foreign influence gave the Italians a common enemy against whom to fight.

            The unification of Italy was not the easy or glorious cause that some might have hoped. Even though the Italians desired their independence from Austria, there were many different ideas about what a unified Italy should look like. For Giuseppe Mazzini, the founder of the Risorgimento movement, Italy should be free and unified as one Italian nation, despite the fact that the regions did not even speak the same language. For his contemporary, Carlo Cattaneo, Italy should retain its fierce competition between regions and retain the freedom of the regions just like it had in the Renaissance.[22] From the outset, the idea of Italian unity struggled with the fierce regional pride of many areas of Italy.

            The process of unifying Italy was long and arduous. After the revolutions of 1848 failed to unify all of Italy and expel the Austrians, the possible outcome for Italy looked bleak. The revolution had revealed how divided Italy was amongst factions, regions, and classes. But although at the outset it had seemed that the revolution of 1848 had failed, in fact it had legitimized the revolutionary movement through their support from the Piedmonts, the ruling family of the Kingdom of Sardinia.[23] The decade after the failure of the revolution was the decade of Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, a Piedmontese liberal who intervened in the politics of Piedmont, and was responsible for the treaty with France that eventually led to the downfall of the Austrians in 1860. While Cavour was uniting the North of Italy, Giuseppe Garibaldi, a revolutionary in the south of Italy, united the south through revolution. In 1861, Garibaldi handed over the south of Italy to the first king of unified Italy, Victor Emanuel II of Savoy. The unification of Italy is a vast, complex, and exhilarating topic that this paper has not been able to do justice. For a fuller account, consult, The Pursuit of Italy by David Gilmour, "Italy 1796-1870: The Age of the Risorgimento" by John A. Davis from The Oxford Illustrated History of Italy, or The Force of Destiny by Christopher Duggan.

            Declaring the country unified did not magically dissolve all of the regional identities and tensions. Some of the northern provinces and regions lamented their loss of power over other regions as the peninsula was unified and were unhappy with the new king of Italy, who was not their first choice for monarch.[24] In addition to the division between previously autonomous regions, there was a divide between the affluent, industrial north and the poor, rural south.[25] When the Piedmonts went south for the first time after the unification of Italy, it seemed to them that southern Italy was another continent altogether.[26] Prejudice and racism abounded from northerners from both Italy and the Continent. Many people from northern Italy believed themselves to be a race altogether different from their southern countrymen and the "Southern Question" of how to deal with the poor, mafia-riddled south started after unification and existed in Mussolini's time as well. In fact, the north/south divide plagues Italy even to this day; with the Lega Nord political group in Lombard seeking secession from the south to protect their own interests.[27]

Fascism, Nationalism, and the Stadio dei Marmi as Fasces

            In the early 20th century, the regional divide between areas of Italy took a smaller role as Italy finally entered World War I in 1917. After the war, through the Treaty of Saint-Germain, their territory grew to include Trentino, South Tyrol, Trieste, and several islands in the Adriatic Sea.[28] The number of regions with different cultures grew and so did the divide between them. After 1860, politicians realized that making Italy was the easy task and that the next task would be to make Italians. From 1860 to 1945 the main goal of politicians in Italy was to nationalize Italy.[29] After the signing of the Treaty of Saint-Germain in 1919, there was more of Italy to nationalize. As such, when Mussolini took power in 1922, one of his first priorities was creating a national (Fascist) identity.

            The symbol of his party reflected Mussolini's desire to nationalize and fascisticize Italy. As R.J.B. Bosworth writes in his book, Mussolini's Italy, "Fascism was much given to enthusing about unity; its own symbol, the fasces–lictor's rods tied with rope and made more ominous by an axe, sharpened for the punishment of dissenters, traitors, and enemies, pledged the dictatorship to bind Italians inseparably together."[30] The fasces has already been introduced with regard to its connection to Classical motifs in the Foro Mussolini, but for Mussolini it was imbued with many meanings, with the unification and nationalization of Italy at the fore.

            In the mosaics of the Foro Mussolini, the fasces is omnipresent. There are stylized geometric fasces, naturalistic looking fasces, and fasces intertwined with the letter M to represent Mussolini (fig. 10, 11, 18). In contrast, the Stadio dei Marmi located right next to the mosaics, there is only one fasces depicted in the whole stadium, held by the figure of Littoria (fig. 19). One possible explanation is that the stadium itself functions as a fasces. Each statue represents a province of Italy and was created by an artist from that region. The massive statues come together into a circle bound by their Italian identity. The statues of the Stadio dei Marmi represent the differences between regions of Italy through their drastically different designs. Some are hugely muscled and fierce, while others are soft and androgynous. And yet, despite all of the differences in appearance, the statues are all made of the same Carrara marble. But the statues are not the only men included in this new national identity. The huge circle of statues embraces the spectators and athletes into its Fascist Italian identity. To a visitor, the experience is akin to the embrace of the arms of Bernini's colonnade in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. In both places the visitor encircled in the monumental white arms of an architectural program, and in both places the assumption is that once you are held by the Catholic Church or Fascist Italian identity, there is no chance for escape. The statues are both bound by the ropes of the fasces, and function as the ropes themselves, binding those in the stadium together under their watchful gaze.

            Many of the statues of the Stadio dei Marmi are engaged in sports from their regions. The figures from mountainous Bolzano (fig. 23) and Aquila (fig. 24) are nude men with ski equipment; Venice (fig. 25) is a sailor, and Pola (fig. 26) a swimmer since both cities are port cities. The circle of statues celebrates the different regions of Italy and their geographic uniqueness, but declares them Italian through the uniform color, size, and athletic nature of the statues. According to the Stadio dei Marmi, the Fascist national identity is one that celebrates difference but only to a certain extent. Pride in one's region is acceptable, but only so long as one's primary identity is Italian and Fascist.

Hidden Violence in the Stadio dei Marmi

            While the picture of unified Italy that Enrico del Debbio paints in the Stadio dei Marmi is happy and peaceful, in reality the stadium does not show the violence of the relationships that some of these provinces had with the Fascist government. Now we must discuss the axe of the fasces, the sharp edge that keeps the sticks securely in their place. Several of these provinces were victims of the Fascist government despite the Stadio dei Marmi's representation of one unified Italy of beautiful statues.


            Bolzano is a city in the North of Italy in the region of South Tyrol. As was mentioned above, the region of South Tyrol only became a part of Italy in 1919, with the Treaty of Saint-Germain.[31] Bolzano was an ethnically German city that was called Bozen before 1919. The Treaty of Saint-Germain "returned" South Tyrol to Italy, although it had only been Italian briefly in the 17th century.[32] To this day, in the region of South Tyrol, German is one of the main languages. When Mussolini came to power, the region, and Bolzano in particular were the victims of forced Italianization. The Bolzano Victory Monument (fig. 27), a triumphal arch in Bolzano tells the story of the Fascist overthrow of the previously Germanic culture. Italian became the obligatory language, in a place where ninety percent of people spoke German.[33] The arch, erected in 1926, and designed by Marcello Piacentini, is a Fascist monument that declares the city Italian in the fashion of ancient Roman triumphal arches. The Latin inscription on the top of the monument translates as "Here at the boundaries of the Fatherland set up the standards. Henceforth, we improved the others through language, laws, and skills."[34] To this day, the monument has a bad reputation in Bolzano, where the ethnic Germans still resent the actions of the Fascist party. The Tyroleans were treated like conquered, colonialized people instead of fellow countrymen, and some even hoped that Hitler would save them by retaking the territory.[35] The benign face of the skier in the Stadio dei Marmi (fig. 23) reveals nothing of the problems that the Tyroleans faced under Mussolini.[36]

Trieste and Pola

            In the same vein as the figure of Bolzano, the figures of Trieste (fig. 28) and Pola (fig. 26) hide ethnic tensions. Trieste was another one of the territories that Italy gained in the Treaty of Saint-Germain in 1919. Trieste is located in Northeastern Italy, in a small strip of costal land between the Adriatic Sea and Slovenia. Because of its location, it is an ethnically diverse place with ethnic Italians living there along with Slavs and Germans. Pola (now Pula) is another port city located in modern-day Croatia. Pola was the capital of the province of Istria, located on the coast. Like Trieste, Istria was a diverse province and many ethnic Slavs lived there. While Mussolini's repression of the Italians in the central parts of Italy was not horribly oppressive, his actions towards the border provinces was much more repressive. Like in Bolzano, the spoken language in the province, Slovene, was banned and the Slavs there faced harsh repression. Later in Mussolini's rule, he urged Italians to treat Slavs as inferior people.[37] A telling statistic about capital punishment in Fascist Italy: before World War II, in five out of nine cases of capital punishment, the men that the Special Tribunal sentenced to death were "Slav Nationalists."[38] A visitor to the Stadio dei Marmi can see nothing of these ethnic tensions while studying the magnificent ring of statues. With the Stadio dei Marmi, Enrico del Debbio designed a perfect view of unified Italy that hides all manner of ethnic tensions.


            Many of the names on the statues of the Stadio dei Marmi might be foreign and unknown to today's American visitor. Fiume (fig. 29) is no exception, as a visitor to the site, I was confused and had never heard of the province or city of Fiume. The massive statue of Fiume gives no hints as to where it might be, he is simply a huge muscular man holding an obscured object above his heard. Fiume is a port city in modern-day Croatia that the Italians were not guaranteed to annex after World War I in the Treaty of London of 1915.[39] In 1919, during negotiations for the Treaty of Saint-Germain, the Italians attempted to gain even more territory than had been promised and expand into Fiume. Instead, the League of Nations set up Fiume as an independent free state and neutral city. In 1919, Gabriele D'Annunzio, a poet and soldier, invaded Fiume and set up an Italian state. Between 1919 and 1922 when Mussolini took power, Fiume bounced back and forth between a free state and an Italian territory until Mussolini successfully performed a coup d'état. Fiume was another forced territory of Italy for the duration of World War II until 1947 when it was incorporated into Yugoslavia.[40]



North and South

            Despite all of Mussolini's posturing and rhetoric about unity, the divide between North and South remained ingrained throughout the interwar period of Mussolini's rule. Even though all of the statues in the Stadio dei Marmi receive equal privilege in the circle of statues, not all cities were treated alike under Fascism, as has been discussed with regard to the territories incorporated after World War I.  All of the statues in the Stadio dei Marmi are the same "race" although they differ from statue to statue. Early in the unification of Italy, Southern Italians were considered to be closer in race to the East or Africa and less related to Europeans because of their "barbarism."[41] Although Mussolini professed to help bridge the divide between North and South, the reforms he actually enacted were few and far between. The south of Italy was treated as a "no man's land" separated from the cultural and industrial North.[42] The south was also the destination for those who were suffering the punishment of confino, or forced exile, for political dissent.[43] Even though the Fascists professed that one of their goals was to bridge the divide between North and South and showed their desire for unity in their symbol of the fasces, ultimately they treated southern Italy and Sicily as a barbarous backwater, fit only for criminals. The unity presented in the Stadio dei Marmi was ultimately a sham and the divide between North and South only deepened after World War II. If Mussolini had taken more action to back up all of his posturing, perhaps the gleaming circle of statues might be a more accurate representation of Italy and less of a quaint relic.

Statues as a Symbol of Fascist Masculinity

The New Heroic Nude

            Although these statues are based on the Classical tradition of heroic nudes, at a first glance one can tell that they are different. These are no frivolous, self-centered ephebes. There is something in the lines of their bodies and their blunt, direct gazes that makes them fiercer and more violent than their Classical or Neo-Classical counterparts (such as fig. 30). The figure of Rome, dressed as Hercules with a Nemeian Lion skin around his head, is one of the best examples of this. The figure of Rome (fig. 20) arrests the viewer immediately with his gaze. There is something about this statue and the hard lines of his expression that makes him distinctly different from an ancient statue. It is in his posture and his gaze that shows that the attention of the subject is outward, not inward. He is present and not absent. He is aware of danger and yet is not frightened, only determined. For the statue of Rome, the difference is in the bold straight lines of the brow, the lean tightness of his muscles, and the large scale of his hands and feet. Even his hair refuses to be frivolous, eschewing the elegant frolicsome curls of antiquity for the close-cropped hair he wears under his lion skin.

            The figure of Venice (fig. 25) is equally different from the Classical tradition. He is dymanic and lithe, a sailor arched backwards with the sail of his boat. His face is not even visible at a first glance, he is less a man than he is a series of striking lines. The curved line of the core of his body combined with the lines of his arms and sharp slash of his chin barely even reference the Classical ideal. He is too lithe and dynamic, with his head thrown back as if against the wind, to be an ancient hero. He retains the same geometric style of the statue of Rome as Hercules, with the simplistic waves below his boat, the crisp lines of the sail, and the overall triangle of the composition. Venice is one of the most visually intriguing statues of the Stadio dei Marmi, particularly because of his dynamism and movement, which is in contrast to the heavy solidness of many of his counterparts throughout the stadium.

            The figure of Pola (fig. 26), discussed earlier for his city's connection to the mistreatment of ethnic Slavs is another example of the striking difference of these statues. The figure of Pola is a diver ready to spring into the water. His arms are held out awkwardly at his sides while his weight is on his toes, ready to dive. His head is jutting forward and his neck is at an uncomfortable angle. Then there is the fish. There is a massive fish coming down to the base of the statue from his buttocks (fig. 31). The fish is almost comical with a cartoonish frown on his giant face. What Pola has in common with many of his compatriots in the Stadio dei Marmi is a serious scowl on his face. While some of these statues have expressionless placid faces, many wear deep frowns or angry scowls, in contrast to the Classical heroic nude tradition of vacant self-absorbed expressions. The figure of Ragusa (fig. 32) wears another Fascist scowl as he prepares to serve a tennis ball. Ancona (fig. 33) is one of the meanest figures, with a hard face and mouth looking down as he crushes a lion's head beneath his foot. What is this new heroic nude, and how does it connect with the new Fascist ideals of masculinity in Italy?

The New Masculine: Wolves out of Sheep

            When Mussolini took power he saw a deficiency in the masculinity of the Italian people. He viewed the decadence that had set in during the Renaissance as antithetical to Fascism, and thought that it produced a population of "sheep," obsessed with academic learning, overindulgent and flabby.[44] One of the ways he sought to change this was through the emphasis on the perfection of the body through sport and the decrease in availability of alcohol and other products that contributed to the perceived weakness of men.[45] In place of this old sense of masculinity defined by intelligence and opulence, Mussolini sought to create a new warlike, active man. In a speech in 1926, he remarked on what classified the new Fascist lifestyle, "First and foremost courage. Fearlessness, love of risk, and loathing of comfort and easy living. Being always prepared to dare in the personal as well as the public and to abhor all that is sedentary."[46] The cult of athleticism that followed the First World War and grew strongest in the inter-war period took root in Italy and blossomed through the ONB youth group culture discussed earlier.[47] The "New Hercules" of Fascist Italy was a man whose body had been perfected through exercise and who used his body to fight for Italy and Fascism.[48] Mussolini sought to create a new population of Italians and change the character of Italians through activity and exercise.[49] Sports and athleticism were regarded as being necessary for the progress of the Italian race, as important as the waging of war.[50]

The statues of the Stadio dei Marmi perfectly reflect this change in the definition of masculinity. They are lean and muscular to a one. Even the ones with huge muscles show no signs of fleshiness that can be found in ancient statues. Their accoutrements (skis, tennis rackets, soccer balls, etc.) show them to be athletes of the highest order while the fierce expressions that many wear show them to be warlike, competitive, and mean. The statues of the Stadio dei Marmi are examples of the epitome of Fascist masculinity, warriors disguised as athletes. The statue that best exemplifies this combination of sports and war is the figure of Trento (fig. 34), who is located outside the Olympic Headquarters instead of inside the circle of statues. He is a Classical style statue, nude but for a pair of sandals, with his hair tucked up into the style of a Greek kouros (fig. 35), long hair braided around his head like a diadem. His face, however, is geometric and hard in the same style as the other statues.  A quiver of arrows leans against his supporting leg and he holds his right fist aloft. Pressed against his chest is a geometric shape that is undoubtedly a bird that he has shot (fig. 36). The statue represents an athlete with a deadly edge. He is a warning to all those who would cross him: he is not only an athlete, but also a skilled warrior unafraid to kill.

Similarly, this photo (fig. 37) of a young gymnast in the Stadio dei Marmi in the 1930s is the perfect example of the real-life combination of athleticism and war. The gymnast leaps over a line of bayonets pointed up, a dangerous feat, combining the Fascist athletic culture with the mechanisms of war. As he jumps over the bayonets, the statues in the background of the stadium tower over as marble versions of the brave athletes in the stadium.

Sons of the She-Wolf

When the Hitler Youth came to visit Rome, they made an appearance in the Stadio dei Marmi.[51] The relationship between the stadium and fascist youth culture runs deep. The one area of fascist propaganda and indoctrination that the Italian Fascists excelled at far beyond the Nazis was youth group participation.[52] The Opera Nazionale Balilla (ONB), discussed previously in the introduction, was a powerful organization in Fascist Italy. Until 1939, participation was not compulsory, but if a boy or girl did not participate they faced discrimination when considered for scholarships or jobs.[53] This coercion into participation created a large population of citizens to mould into the image of perfect, athletic Fascists. The young men played with guns, participated in sports, and got more education than was provided in the schools of Fascist Italy.[54] The sons of the She-Wolf sharpened their teeth through participation in the ONB.

            The aesthetics of these statues also mark them as sons of the Lupa (the She-Wolf of the legend of Romulus and Remus). The bronze statue of the Lupa in the Capitoline Museums (fig. 17) has been viewed as the symbol of Rome because of its subject matter and because scholars believed until recently that the statue was Etruscan, from the fifth century BCE. Recent scholarship has all but proven that the statue is from the 1200s, but its popularity as a symbol of Rome had a resurgence under Mussolini. She even shows up twice in the mosaics on the Piazzale dell'Impero. Aesthetically, the statues of the Stadio dei Marmi draw many influences from her instead of their Classical counterparts, like this statue of Hercules (fig. 30). The Lupa is thin and haggard, with a dynamic facial expression and patterned fur. The archaic aspects of the Lupa (patterned fur, abstracted facial features, etc.) had a great connection to the stylization of art in the 1920s and '30s.[55] The statues of the Stadio dei Marmi evoke the Lupa with their direct gazes and their tight skin that shows no evidence of fat. In this way, these statues are the true figli del Lupa, showing no signs of the decadence or frivolity that the Classical Hercules does.

The Complexities of the Italian "Race"

            In Nazi Germany, the athletic culture and the art of the new heroic nude was inextricably linked to racial supremacy and the myth of the Aryan übermensch. Implicit in that ideology is the persecution of "others," especially Jews. Theories of race were essential to the character of Nazism and led the ideology down the path of violence and mass murder.[56] Racial theory in Italy was much more complex. Although there is a Fascist version of racism, it was very difficult for the Italians to create a concept of an Italian race because of the differences between the regions of Italy. Italians in the 1920s barely spoke the same language as one another, so the concept of race beyond "Mediterranean" was one that was less likely to captivate the Italian people.[57] As Christopher Duggan says in his book on modern Italian history, The Force of Destiny, "References to an Italian razza or stirpe had punctuated the speeches and writings of Mussolini from the outset of the regime, but such language derived more from a Nationalist preoccupation with generating a spirit of national cohesion and identity in Italy than from any obvious biological platform."[58] Thus these statues may have the same roots in totalitarian athletic culture and new masculinity, but they do not hold the same link to biological racial superiority and mass murder that a statue in a similar style made by the Nazis would have. This is not to say, however, that the Italian Fascists were not responsible for the persecution of "others." Although Jews had been living in Italy since the days of the Ancient Romans, Mussolini introduced anti-Semitic legislation in 1938 in his attempt to win favor with Hitler.[59] Although other races did end up suffering at the hands of Mussolini, and the new ideals of Fascist masculinity sought to create one Italian race, ultimately the statues of the Stadio dei Marmi bear few of the connotations of race that their German counterparts do.

Androgynous Men: The Counterpoint to the Hypermasculine

            There are several statues that provide a counterpoint to the hypermasculine in the Stadio dei Marmi. The statues of Pisa (fig. 38), Rovigo (fig. 39), Catania (fig. 40), and Potenza (fig. 41) are all thin, lithe, and almost feminine in their looks. The androgynous statues of the Stadio dei Marmi are somewhat of a mystery to the modern viewer, and should be discussed at length in another paper. My observation is that the androgyny of these statues is the effect of the thinning of the muscle combined with the Classical contrapposto position with the weight on one leg. Since Mussolini was obsessed with the men of his time becoming thinner and more powerful, the reduction of the appearance of fat on the statues gives them a thinner, smoother line that becomes a curve when the weight is shifted to one side. This effect gives these statues the appearance of curved hips. The statues of Pisa and Rovigo, most likely made by the same sculptor, have the added loincloths, which emphasize this curve instead of detracting from it. Additionally, none of these statues have the same shorn hair of the statues that emphasize their masculinity. In the case of these statues, I argue that it is the sculptor's intention to focus more on the modern aesthetics of thin lines, patterned hair, and geometric facial features than to create statues that are extremely masculine. These statues also all look like younger men, perhaps even teenagers, which would enhance the Stadio's connection to the ONB youth movement. While these statues are certainly different in style from their warlike compatriots, they ultimately display the same Fascist virtues of lean living and sport culture.

Stadio dei Marmi as Public Art

In the introduction to this paper, I began by giving a tour of the Foro Mussolini (now Foro Italico) as it stands today. The Foro Mussolini today is a very strange and contradictory place. The statues and seats of the Stadio dei Marmi are allowed to weather and age in the sun while great swaths of the mosaics in the Piazzale dell'Impero are repaired and restored (fig. 42), including the slogan "MOLTO NEMICI MOLTO ONORE," meaning "many enemies much honor," (fig. 43). The public Fascist monument seems to the visitor to simultaneously be a monument worthy of pride and shame. The uneven care for the monuments seems to reflect the conflicted relationship with the Fascist past, and the question of why the monuments at the Foro Mussolini still remain.

The Past

After the liberation of Rome, in 1944, the Foro Mussolini and the Monolito (obelisk of Mussolini) were saved from destruction by American occupying troops. The Fifth Army troops occupied the site and prevented the mobs of Romans from attempting to destroy all traces of Mussolini's rule from the city.[60] The question remains: why did the Americans see fit to protect this monument while they were simultaneously destroying Nazi monuments in Germany? Part of war is the destruction of monuments, and this can be seen as recently as the destruction of the 40-foot statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in 2003. In 1946, the Allied forces in Germany issued the directive that ordered "The Liquidation of German Military and Nazi Memorials and Museums."[61] Borden W. Painter Jr. argues in his book Mussolini's Rome that the reason that the Americans prevented the destruction of the site was that the pro-Fascist propaganda messages were simply too deeply ingrained. In order to wipe away Mussolini, the angry Romans would have had to obliterate the entire complex.[62] The Foro Mussolini was also useful to the American and Allied troops, and they began using the site as a US Army Rest Center (fig. 44). [63]

While researching this topic, the question of why the Americans saved the Foro Mussolini continued to present itself. I argue that Painter Jr. is correct, that the destruction of the site would have had to be complete to wipe away the traces of Fascism, but that is not explanation enough for the complex remaining untouched. The complex's usefulness probably had more to do with the Americans standing in the way of Romans tearing it down. The complex includes many useful buildings, at the time only just over a decade old. Despite the place's ties to Mussolini, it was a perfect place for the Allied troops to set up an Army Rest Center. They would have been loath to lose the site to the destruction of the mob. The buildings were also easily adapted for the needs of an Army Rest Center, especially the youth hostel, which was already equipped for housing. The Stadio dei Marmi was also the perfect place for men to stay fit and exercise, as shown in this postcard of Americans playing football (fig. 45) from World War II.

 The Americans had also just faced a disaster with the bombing of the Monte Cassino Abbey (one of the earliest Christian abbeys) in early 1944 (fig. 46).[64] Monte Cassino is located 81 miles outside Rome and in early 1944 the Allies believed the Nazis occupied the abbey. This led to the severe bombing of the abbey and a large loss of life that did not include the Nazi forces who were entrenched around the abbey. Even though Polish forces eventually took the abbey, now reduced to rubble, the whole situation was a disaster that received much news coverage. In response to the negative reaction to the bombing of Monte Cassino, Allied Monuments officers were among the first to enter the city of Rome on June 4, 1944. In fact, one Monuments officer entered the city ahead of the combat troops.[65] It is not unreasonable to assume that the Allied officers would not be eager to allow destruction in the city, even of monuments related to Mussolini, that might lead to accidental destruction of older cultural monuments. Despite the rationalist, clean aesthetic of the Foro Mussolini, it was most likely not the beauty of the monuments that led the Allies to protect it. It was far more useful to them intact and its destruction could have led to another disaster on the level of Monte Cassino.

In fact, Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark issued orders for the whole Fifth Army to comport themselves in a manner that would be a credit to the U.S. and the Allies while they were stationed in Rome. In a memo to the Commanders of the Fifth Army, Clark said, "Rome is a center of ancient and artistic monuments of all kinds: buildings, museums, art galleries, etc… The Army Commander desires and has confidence that no member of the Fifth Army will cast discredit on his army or his country…"[66] There was also brutal repression of iconoclastic riots in Rome, those attempts at a damnatio memoriae, a total purge of Fascism from the city.[67] All of this adds up to a picture of the protection of the Foro Mussolini for practical, not artistic or aesthetic reasons. Despite the fact that the site evokes the grandeur of ancient Rome, this had little to do with its preservation. In fact, the Foro Mussolini was considered more of a novelty by the American troops than a true artistic monument. The Foro Mussolini's usefulness and its location just outside the historic center of Rome saved it from destruction after the fall of Fascism in Rome.

The Present

      The occupation of Rome by the Allied troops does not, however, explain why it is still in use and intact today. The usefulness of the buildings does explain some of the reason why the buildings are still in use. The Italian Olympic Headquarters simply stayed where it had been before the war and the Forestria Nord, or youth hostel, is still operational today. Because of the nature of the complex, a state-of-the-art sport haven, it was easy to build on to the existing structures, which they did, adding more tennis courts and the World Cup stadium in place of the old Olympic Stadium. After the war, all available resources went into rebuilding the damaged country and not into the eradication of all signs of Mussolini, so the monument was saved from destruction after the Fifth Army left in 1948.[68] When the Stadio dei Marmi was unveiled in 1932 it was hailed by the regime as having the best modern seating and equipment and had a huge photo on the front page of the Italian newspaper, Il Messaggero (fig. 47). [69] The front page spread in Il Messaggero stresses the high capacity of the Stadio dei Marmi, which could seat twenty thousand spectators.[70] A few years later it was hailed as "one of the most imposing and important [stadiums] in the world," by Travel in Italy.[71] The Stadio dei Marmi was even featured as one of Rome's great monuments on a stamp in 1933 in a series about the cruise of the Graf Zeppelin (fig. 48).[72] All of this suggests that there might have been some pride in the monuments, especially considering their heavy use and renovation during the 1960 Olympic Games.[73] However, its use for the Olympics was not without controversy. 1959 was the first time there had been any restoration of the mosaics, and some felt that it was a missed opportunity to use the same money to wipe out the signs of the Fascist past.[74] Interestingly, the Christian Democrat party did censor something in the former Foro Mussolini; they commissioned bronze fig leaves to cover the genitals of the nude statues in the Stadio dei Marmi. Clearly, they were more scandalized by nudity than the marks of Fascist oppression that permeate the complex.[75]

According to Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times, the attitude toward the Foro Mussolini changed in the early 1990s with the end of the Cold War. She says that between the 1960 Olympics and then the monument (and all Fascist building projects) was treated with ambivalence or mocked as ancient relics of Fascism. If not either of those then the most likely reaction to the monuments would be one of disgust for the symbols of totalitarian oppression within the monuments.[76]

The change in the opinions of the public coincides with the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union and a lessening of the fears of totalitarianism to which the Post-World-War-II West was prey for years. There are many reasons for the softening of attitudes towards the Foro Mussolini including the increasing separation from the fascist past and the self-conception of the Romans as members of the Resistance under the 9 months of Nazi occupation. Many lost their lives fighting or through retaliation for the guerrilla tactics of the Resistenza. The whole Jewish ghetto of Rome had brutally rounded up and been sent to concentration camps by the occupying Nazis.[77] Because of the Resistenza movement in Rome, the citizens of Rome for many years after World War II associated themselves with that spirit of resistance rather than than the Fascist Rome that embraced Mussolini and his ideology. The existence of an anti-Nazi movement in Rome makes the destruction of Fascist monuments less essential to Italians than for Germans. In contemporary Germany, the process of counter-memorializing the Holocaust is ongoing and fraught with debate, scrutiny, and self-reflection.[78] While there is controversy surrounding the monuments of the Fascist past in Rome, the monuments stay, albeit with names changed.

The Fascist monuments also stay because no one can agree upon what to do with them. For some, as stated above, cleansing the city was not necessary because they no longer associated themselves with the Fascist past. However, some still believe that the monuments represent a dark spot in the nation's history and should not be celebrated or renovated. Still more, especially neo-Fascists, believe that the Foro Italico should remain intact and reflect the strength and dignity of Mussolini's vision for Italy.[79] The result is the never-ending struggle to decide what to do about these monuments of Fascism. The example of the Ara Pacis Museum in the historic center of Rome is one example of this controversy. The altar, made under the emperor Augustus in 13 BCE, was housed in a museum built under Mussolini until 2006. In 2006 the new building, designed by American architect Richard Meier, opened to great conflict. The right-wing then mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, vowed to tear the building down.[80] He has not followed through on this threat, but the building continues to be a source of argument. The same arguments have surrounded the Foro Italico and its Fascist symbols. In some ways, the sports complex has been saved by its provocative Fascist agenda. So long as there is argument surrounding the place, it is safer from harm because it is so difficult to make a decision about it.

America and the Foro Italico

In 2000, the Stadio dei Marmi went up for sale and was met with defense from Italy's right wing party, Alleanza Nazionale.[81] One of the interested parties was an American firm, and an American firm also did the appraisal of the site.[82] It would seem as though Americans have been involved with the Foro Mussolini since the Liberation of Rome in 1944 when they took it over and they remain involved in it today. Lonely Planet's guide to Rome for 2012 lists the Foro Italico and the Stadio dei Marmi as one of the attractions in the Villa Borghese and Northeast parts of Rome.[83] While the Foro Italico is not listed as one of the city's main attractions, it is listed like a lesser-known museum would be, with a small blurb about the location and the highlights (in this case, the Monolito and the Stadio dei Marmi). The Stadio dei Marmi has grown in popularity as a tourist destination as its statues have gained popularity as examples of masculine perfection. David Hinchen, owner of the store davidhinchendesigns sells art photographs of the statues in the Stadio dei Marmi and says that they are very popular images and that many find them appealing as examples of athletic nude bodies.[84]

A good example of the American art critic's response to the site can be found in the October 1998 issue of ARTnews Magazine in an article called "Back to the Futurists," where the author praises the restoration of the mosaics in the Piazzale dell'Impero.[85] He remarks that once again, people will be able to admire the works of Futurist master and designer Gino Severini, never mentioning that the mosaics openly declare their allegiance to one of the most infamous dictators of the 20th century. In fact, Turner seems to blame the Italians for allowing them to fall into disrepair in the first place. Discourse surrounding the Foro Italico generally falls into one of two categories. Those who, like Turner, are not from Italy and who love the Fascist aesthetic but disconnect it from its grisly past and those who focus only on the site's past and not on its aesthetic value. Americans who write about it tend to fall into the former category. Today, the disconnect between the past and the present works in the favor of the monuments, especially the statues of the Stadio dei Marmi. As World War II and Fascism fade into the past, and no longer loom over the present for younger generations, the statues no longer hold the same connection to violence and totalitarianism that they once did. For American scholars who have little invested in the political discourse surrounding the monument, it is easy to appreciate the stadium as a piece of art and an example of the beauty and mystery of Rome.


The Stadio dei Marmi in Rome is a hidden gem, an extremely special place that captures all of the beauty of Rome in a place where tourists fear to tread. Visiting on a day with no soccer game or tennis match, the site holds all the magic of Urban Exploration or Urban Spelunking, the exploration of ruined buildings in cities. The gates are open, but only a bit, and the visitor must decide whether or not they are allowed to explore. There is no entrance sign to the Foro Italico, and unless you are interested in buying merchandise for A.S. Roma, Rome's main football club, there is no gift shop. For a visitor to Rome, the Stadio dei Marmi is a breath of fresh air in the ancient city made even more special by its connection with contemporary Romans. On any given day at the Stadio dei Marmi, one can see runners on the track, skateboarders on the Piazzale dell'Impero, and people walking with their dogs or families (fig. 49). In a city that capitalizes on tourism at any given opportunity, the Stadio dei Marmi is free and beautiful, even on a rainy day.

As for the future of the monument, I believe that the Foro Italico is an ancient ruin in the making. After all, most of the great ancient Roman buildings in the city of Rome were commissioned by emperors, not all of whom were benevolent. Mussolini wanted to style himself as the next great Roman emperor, and the ruins of his forum will eventually crumble like the Forum of Augustus or the Markets of Trajan. At the Foro Italico, one can see the process of ancient history in the making, and it is an incredibly special experience. As you sit in the Stadio dei Marmi, watching the runners in their modern running clothes (fig. 50), watched over by Mussolini's monuments to masculinity, it could be easy to feel the fleeting nature of power, governments, and life. It could be easy to see only the death of one's own culture in the near future. But I see the promise of the continuation of life. The Stadio dei Marmi is still a living, breathing stadium. In contrast to the Colosseum (fig. 51), the Stadio dei Marmi is still used as a part of Roman life. Life goes on around it as the grass starts to grow through the cracks of the mosaics. Time and memory become visible in the Foro Italico. For a place so strange and contradictory, it is exceedingly beautiful. Instead of being a blight on the ancient and Baroque city of Rome, the Stadio dei Marmi represents the true beauty and essence of the Eternal City. Everything that is magnificent in Rome is saved together in one glorious mosaic of a city. The Stadio dei Marmi is one very special tessera in that mosaic.



            The statues of the Stadio dei Marmi have taken on many roles since the Foro Mussolini opened in 1932, as I explained in the body of this paper, but one of the most intriguing recent roles it has taken on is as a representation of the gay kitsch and Camp movements of the 1980s. The statues as representations of the movement is discussed briefly in the exhibition catalogue for a recent exhibition at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris called "Masculin/Masculin: L'Homme Nu dans l'art de 1800 a nos jours," an exhibit on the male nude in art from 1800 to today. The section on the Stadio dei Marmi in the introduction to the "Surmâle" or superman discusses the statues as a comical representation of a hypocritical regime that simultaneously demonized homosexuality and glorified the male form.[86]

The acceptance of the statues into the gay kitsch culture is exemplified, according to Guy Cogeval, president of the Musée d'Orsay and the Orangerie, by the black-and-white photographs of Patrick Sarfati (fig. 52). These photographs show the "marble giants" using the language of high art, the crisp photograph in black and white, and highlight the kitsch nature of the statues themselves. Kitsch, as described by Clement Greenberg in his 1939 essay, "Avant-Garde and Kitsch," is the  "rear guard," or the popular art for the masses.[87] Greenberg scorns kitsch as being for the lower classes, calls it culture for the cultureless. In the 1980s, artists like Sarfati celebrated the kitsch nature of the statues, which borrow from the aesthetics of ancient Rome but are nevertheless "simulacra of genuine culture," as Clement Greenberg writes in his essay.[88]

            The photos of Patrick Sarfati also bring up one of the great contradictions of these statues. They glorify the athletic nude male figure and display it on a massive scale, but Fascist Italy professed to be deeply anti-homosexual. The photos of Patrick Sarfati, which show off the buttocks and other assets of the statues in the Stadio dei Marmi wink at this aspect of Fascist culture. The contradiction of Fascism's attitude towards homosexuality becomes even more prominent when one realizes that Mussolini rarely enforced the laws for fear of cutting into the money that came from sexual tourism in the 1930s.[89] As the writer Alberto Abrasino wrote in his 1984 article about the statues, their loincloths look more like "tightie-whities" to modern viewers.[90] The modern conception of these statues understands them as emblems of a culture that worshipped the male form, but not as a thing to find sexually attractive, no matter how provocatively it is displayed. My personal favorite example of this is the figure of Bergamo (fig. 7, 53), who has one of the prominent positions at the front of the stadium. He has all of the equipment of a mountain climber draped around his nude body and he stands as if on the top of a mountain, with one leg up on a rock and his head flung back as he breathes the thin Alpine air. Instead of gravity, he exudes sensuality. To the modern viewer, he is a marble pin-up, a massive monument to male sexuality. As Mussolini and Italian Fascism shrink into the distant past, the serious, scowling faces of the statues in the Stadio dei Marmi are more likely to produce a chuckle than a reaction of fear or awe.

            This reaction makes the statues perfect fodder for the Camp sensibility that Susan Sontag outlines in her famous 1964 essay, "Notes on 'Camp'." According to Sontag, for something to be Camp, it must have been made in total seriousness.[91] The statues of the Stadio dei Marmi certainly fit the bill. There was nothing tongue-in-cheek about the Stadio dei Marmi when it was made. As such, they have become unintentionally hilarious as time progresses. As Sontag says, "… the process of aging or deterioration provides the necessary detachment—or arouses a certain sympathy," that allows something to become Camp.[92] The distance between 2014 and the Fascist past allows the nude statues to become amusing. They are the perfect art for the Camp sensibility, and they produce true happiness in those that view them through the lens of Camp. After all, "Camp taste is a kind of love, a love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of 'character'."[93]







Figure 1


'Il Monolito,' the Mussolini Obelisk (Photo courtesy of A.J. Hartley).




Figure 2


Italian Olympic Headquarters (Photo by author).

Figure 3

Mosaics in the Piazzale dell'Impero (Photo by author).

Figure 4

"Many Enemies, Much Honor" on the Piazale dell'Impero (Photo courtesy of A.J. Hartley).


Figure 5


The Fountain of the Sphere in the center of the Foro Mussolini (Photo courtesy






Figure 6

Side view of the Stadio dei Marmi (Photo by author).

Figure 7

Bergamo (Photo by author).



Figure 8

Siracusa (Photo by author).



Figure 9

Mosaic fragment depicting the invasion of Ethiopia (Photo by author).

Figure 10

Detailed fasces mosaic (Photo by author).

Figure 11

Mussolini's M intertwined with a geometric fasces (Photo courtesy of A.J. Hartley)

Figure 12

Mosaic from Ostia Antica (Photo courtesy of


Figure 13

Airplanes in the Piazzale dell'Impero Mosaics (Photo by author).

Figure 14

Italian troops invading Ethiopia (Photo by author).

Figure 15

Ancient figures in the modern mosaics of the Piazzale dell'Impero (Photo by author).



Figure 16

The Lupa in the Piazzale dell'Impero mosaics (Photo by author).

Figure 17

The Lupa in the Capitoline Museums (Photo by author).


Figure 18

The fasces in its simplified geometric form (Photo by author).

Figure 19

The figure of Littoria holding a fasces (Photo by author).

Figure 20

Rome as Fascist Hercules (Photo by author).


Figure 21

Colossal statue from the Baths of Caracalla, Naples Archaeological Museum (Photo by author).



Figure 22

Opera Balilla, the Fascist youth group (Photo by author).

Figure 23

Bolzano as an alpine skier (Photo by author).


Figure 24

Aquila as an Apennine skier (Photo by author).



Figure 25

Venice (Photo by author).

Figure 26

Pola as a diver (Photo by author).


Figure 27

The Bolzano Victory Monument (Photo courtesy of

Figure 28

Trieste (Photo courtesy of A.J. Hartley).


Figure 29

Fiume (Photo by author).


Figure 30

An Ancient Roman Hercules (Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Figure 31

Pola with a fish behind him (Photo by author).

Figure 32

Ragusa wearing a scowl (Photo by author).


Figure 33

Ancona, the meanest of them all (Photo by author).

Figure 34

Trento, holding his kill (Photo courtesy of A.J. Hartley).



Figure 35

Head of Kritios Boy, a Greek Kouros (Photo courtesy of

Figure 36

Detail: Trento's bird (Photo by author).


Figure 37

A young gymnast jumping over bayonets in the Stadio dei Marmi (Photo courtesy of Borden W. Painter Jr.).

Figure 38

Pisa, an androgynous figure in the Stadio (Photo by author).



Figure 39

Rovigo (Photo by author).

Figure 40

Catania (Photo by author).

Figure 41

Potenza (Photo by author).



Figure 42

Restored mosaics of fighters (Photo courtesy of A.J. Hartley).

Figure 43

Restored mosaics with a Fascist catchphrase (Photo by author).

Figure 44

Foro Mussolini as US Army Rest Center (Photo courtesy of

Figure 45

Postcard of American soldiers playing football in Stadio dei Marmi (Photo courtesy of elba_j, seller on

Figure 46

Monte Cassino after Allied bombing (Photo courtesy of German Federal Archives).

Figure 47

The front page of Il Messaggero from November 4, 1932 (Photo courtesy of Il Messaggero).

Figure 48

A 10 lire postage stamp of the Stadio dei Marmi (Photo courtesy of

Figure 49

A family playing in the Fountain of the Sphere (Photo courtesy of A.J. Hartley).




Figure 50

Runners in the Stadio dei Marmi (Photo by author).

Figure 51

The Colosseum (Photo by author).

Figure 52


Géant de Marbre by Patrick Sarfati (Photo courtesy of Musée d'Orsay).
Figure 53

Rear view of Bergamo (Photo by author).


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[1] Borden W. Painter, Jr., Mussolini's Rome: Rebuilding the Eternal City (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005), 40.

[2] Painter Jr., Mussolini's Rome, 43.

[3] Claudia Lazzaro and Roger J. Crum, Donatello Among the Blackshirts: History and Modernity in the Visual Culture of Fascist Italy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005), 18.

[4] Painter Jr., Mussolini's Rome, 43.

[5] Ibid. 41-43.

[6] Anthony Rhodes, Propaganda: The Art of Persuasion: World War II (New York: Chelsea House, 1976), 67-9.

[7] Scnapp and Spackman, "Selections from the Great Debate," 249.

[8] Anthony Rhodes, Propaganda: The Art of Persuasion, 69.

[9] Ibid. 69.

[10] R.J.B. Bosworth, Mussolini's Italy: Life Under the Fascist Dictatorship 1915-1945 (New York: Penguin, 2006), 238-9.

[11] Painter, Jr., Mussolini's Rome, 40. 

[12] Dennis P. Doordan, In the Shadow of the Fasces: Political Design in Fascist Italy, Design Issues 13 (1997): 42.

[13] Pausanias, Guide to Greece, 4.32.1

[14] "Palaestra," PBS NOVA Online, Accessed March 1, 2014.

[15] Painter Jr., Mussolini's Rome, 39.

[16] David Gilmour, The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, Its Regions, and Their Peoples (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), 306-7.

[17] Painter Jr., Mussolini's Rome, 43.

[18] Gilmour, The Pursuit of Italy, 203.

[19] Ibid, 16.

[20] George Holmes, The Oxford Illustrated History of Italy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 177.

[21] Holmes, The Oxford Illustrated History of Italy, 177.

[22] Gilmour, The Pursuit of Italy, 152-3.

[23] Holmes, The Oxford Illustrated History of Italy, 197-8.

[24] Gilmour, The Pursuit of Italy, 207.

[25] Mario B. Mignone, Italy Today: At the Crossroads of the New Millennium (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1998), 176.

[26] Gilmour, The Pursuit of Italy, 240.

[27] Mignone, Italy Today, 176.

[28] Gilmour, The Pursuit of Italy, 240.

[29] Bosworth, Mussolini's Italy, 238-9.

[30] Ibid, 13-4.

[31] Gilmour, The Pursuit of Italy, 240.

[32] Lazzaro and Crum, Donatello Among the Blackshirts, 17.

[33] Gilmour, The Pursuit of Italy, 312-13.

[34] Translation by Anne Haeckl.

[35] Gilmour, The Pursuit of Italy, 313.

[36] The Tyroleans did eventually receive the attention of Adolf Hitler after the Italians left the war in 1943. While the Allied forces fought their way from Sicily northwards, the Nazis invaded from the North and worked south, occupying the territory they gained. When Italy left the war, Hitler quickly incorporated South Tyrol back into German territory and recruited the ethnic Germans living there to be his SS police battalion. During the Nazi occupation of Rome, the Tyrolean SS rounded up the inhabitants of the Roman ghetto and sent them to Auschwitz. They were also the victims of the guerilla attack by the Italian Resistance on March 23, 1944 that killed 33 Nazi soldiers. In retaliation, the Nazi occupying forces killed 10 Roman men and boys for every German killed in the attack. The tensions between the Tyroleans and the Italians continued throughout the war, even though eventually after the war ended, South Tyrol became a part of Italy once more. (Painter Jr., Mussolini's Rome, 150-152).

[37] Gilmour, The Pursuit of Italy, 313.

[38] Bosworth, Mussolini's Italy, 242.

[39] Duggan, The Force of Destiny, 411.

[40] Ibid, 411-414.

[41] Mignone, Italy Today, 176.

[42] Ibid, 185.

[43] Bosworth, Mussolini's Italy, 6.

[44] Duggan, The Force of Destiny, 464.

[45] Ibid, 464-5.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Guy Cogeval, Masculin/ masculin: L'Homme nu dans l'art de 1800 a nos jours (Paris: Flammarion, 2013), 97-8.

[48] Cogeval, Masculin/ masculin, 97-8.

[49] Gilmour, The Pursuit of Italy, 312-13.

[50] Duggan, The Force of Destiny, 467.

[51] Painter Jr., Mussolini's Rome, 43.

[52] Rhodes, Propaganda: The Art of Persuasion, 69.

[53] Duggan, The Force of Destiny, 467.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Lazzaro and Crum, Donatello Among the Blackshirts, 17.

[56] Bosworth, Mussolini's Italy, 238-9.

[57] Ibid.

[58]Duggan, The Force of Destiny, 511.

[59] Duggan, The Force of Destiny, 511.

[60] Painter Jr., Mussolini's Rome, 43.

[61] Erika Doss, Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).

[62] Painter Jr., Mussolini's Rome, 153.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Lynn H. Nichols, The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf , 1994), 246-247.

[65] Nichols, The Rape of Europa, 246-248.

[66] Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark, in a memo to his Commanders, June 6, 1944. 

[67] Joshua Arthurs, "Fascism as 'Heritage' in Contemporary Italy" in Italy Today: The Sick Man of Europe, ed. Andrea Mammone and Giuseppe A. Veltri (London: Routledge, 2010), 119.

[68] Arthurs, "Fascism as 'Heritage' in Contemporary Italy," 119-120.

[69] Il Messaggero, "Oggi si inaugura il Foro Mussolini", November 4, 1932.

[70] Il Messaggero, "Oggi si inaugura il Foro Mussolini."

[71] Painter Jr., Mussolini's Rome, 43.

[72] "Stamp Catalogue: List [Italy | Series: Cruise in Italy of airship Graf Zeppelin]," Colnect.

[73] Robert Daley, "Roman Splendor Will Mark Olympics of 1960," New York Times (March 29, 1959), S3.

[74] Arthurs, "Fascism as 'Heritage' in Contemporary Italy," 120.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Alessandra Stanley, "Fascist Architecture Makes a Comeback: Reacquired Taste: Italians are finally appreciating Mussolini's architecture, but foreign buyers see a bargain, too," Edmonton Journal (August 6, 2000), E12.

[77] Painter Jr., Mussolini's Rome, 150-151.

[78] W. J. T Mitchell, Art and the Public Sphere (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 51.

[79] Arthurs, "Fascism as 'Heritage' in Contemporary Italy," 120.

[80] Ibid. 114-115.

[81] Alessandra Stanley, "Italy's Fascist Buildings in Style, and for Sale," New York Times (July 12,2000), A4.

[82] Stanley, "Fascist Architecture Makes a Comeback," E12.

[83] Duncan Garwood, Lonely Planet: Rome (New York: Lonely Planet, 2012), 213-214.

[84] David Hinchen, in an email to the author, March 3, 2014.

[85] Jonathan Turner, "Back to the Futurists," ARTnews, October 1998, 68.

[86] Cogeval, Masculin/masculin, 15.

[87] Clement Greenberg, "Avant-Garde and Kitsch," Partisan Review, 6:5 (1939), 34-49.

[88] Greenberg, "Avant-Garde and Kitsch," 37.

[89] Cogeval, Masculin/masculin, 15.

[90] Ibid, 15.

[91] Susan Sontag, "Notes on 'Camp',"Against Interpretation and Other Essays (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1961), 282-3.

[92] Sontag, "Notes on 'Camp'," 285.

[93] Ibid, 291.