Known as the Square Colosseum and also referred to as the Palazzo della Civiltà del Lavoro, the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana is easily the symbol of the (internationally) lesser known EUR District of Rome. If you are a fan of architecture and design, you should make the effort to get all the way to EUR and check it out – don’t worry, getting there is actually very easy!
Are you intrigued? Continue reading this post as I will tell you what you need to know about this interesting building, and how you can visit too.
Make sure to read my posts A Guide To Visiting EUR Rome District and The Best Hidden Gems In Rome.
The History Of Palazzo Della Civiltà Italiana
The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana is a little different to the usual landmarks of Rome. This modern building was designed in 1936-1937 as a gleaming example of Italian Rationalism, and is located in the city’s EUR district.
The EUR is an area of Rome that was earmarked by Mussolini for the 1942 World Fair. The leader intended to celebrate 20 years of Fascist rule by creating this modern district called the EUR, which stands for the Esposizione Universale Roma.
The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana – or the Palace of Italian Civilization as it translates to in English – was intended to reflect the new course of Italian history that was spearheaded by the Fascist regime. It took inspiration from Classical architecture in Rome, such as the Colosseum itself.
As part of this new suburban business center, Mussolini intended to build an area that represented the Romanità – a design philosophy that utilizes the past, present and future in one structure. The whole area of the EUR was supposed to be the same size as the Historic Center – the Centro Storico of Rome.
Design teams were drafted in to come up with a variety of different plans for what would become the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana. The final proposal was by architects Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto Bruno La Padula and Mario Romano. Work on the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana began in 1938 and ran until after 1943 – when it was interrupted because of the war.
It was the Italian urban theorist and one of the main spearheads for Italian Fascist architecture, Marcello Piacentini, who took up the role of superintendent of the project. Piacentini also revised the plans, deciding to accentuate the structure’s classical design features, and landed on the idea of adding travertine to the exterior.
Travertine was a material that was used extensively in many buildings throughout Rome’s ancient history. Like most of the buildings in the EUR district, the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana was constructed on a concrete foundation and featured an inner structure of concrete, which was then clad in travertine.
The travertine was added in slabs measuring between 55 and 85 centimeters in height. Cleverly, these reduced in thickness towards the upper floors, which accentuated the building’s height. This optical illusion is also further enhanced by an inward incline of 3 centimeters per floor, elongating the building.
The overall design was indeed inspired by the Colosseum; Mussolini had wanted the building to be a celebration of this ancient landmark. Using similar design details as the Colosseum itself, architects implemented a series of superimposed loggias along the facade using six rows of nine symmetrical arches.
This was much more simplistic and minimalist than their classical or Baroque counterparts, but providing the same effect and making the building feel like an open space.
It was the intention of the designers of Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana to create a building that didn’t appear to be clad in stone, but rather was constructed fully from stone.
Overall, there is a faultless repetition of 206 arches that appear as if they are from a painting, especially when on a backdrop of a blue sky.
An urban legend tells that the use of specifically six vertical and nine horizontal arches are actually meant to indicate a correction to the number of letters in the name of Benito Mussolini. Whether or not that’s true, nobody knows. However, just like an ancient Roman dictator, Mussolini did leave an inscription emblazoned on all four sides of the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana.
The initial plan for the inscription was intended to be a portion of Res Gestae Divi Augusti, a monumental inscription ordered by the first Roman emperor, Augustus. However, ultimately the words for the inscription were taken from a speech that Mussolini delivered in 1945:
“Un popolo di poeti, di artisti, di eroi, di santi, di pensatori, di scienziati, di navigatori, di trasmigratori”.Benito Mussolini
“A nation of poets, of artists, of heroes, of saints, of thinkers, of scientists, of navigators, of migrators”.Benito Mussolini
Though somewhat obscure, the inscription is a reference to the first intercontinental flights done by Italians. Overall, however, it is a glorification of the Fascist regime and an attribution of superiority to the Italian people as a whole. Much like the typeface used on triumphal arches in ancient Rome, the inscription’s typeface is bold, square and simple, meaning it is easy to read, and is carved deeply to make a real impact on the travertine surface.
The process of building the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana was a monumental undertaking. It was even documented in the Fascist newsreel documentary service, Istituto Luce. This powerful propaganda tool of the Fascist government was able to capture various prominent events in the construction process, which included Mussolini himself planting a tree in front of the building in 1937.
Aside from it being a tool of propaganda, the newsreel was also able to capture the life of the laborers who worked on the construction site.
The building finally came to fruition and was inaugurated on November 30, 1940, as a celebrated centerpiece of the EUR district. But things didn’t go to plan. First of all, it was unfinished and would remain unfinished until well after the war (construction works resumed in 1951). Instead, the intention was to demonstrate – at least superficially – the superiority of Mussolini’s vision for architecture.
In 1942, equestrian statues were created to sit around the four corners of the podium on which the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana stands. These sculptures are depictions of the Dioscuri: Castor and Pollux (the sons of Zeus and Leda), two heroes of Greek and Roman mythology.
There are also 28 statues dotted in the lower arches of the building, representing various industries and trades in Italy, from heroism, philosophy and physics to navigation, labor and painting.
However, the 1942 World Fair was canceled due to the onset of World War II. This neo-palazzo became all but abandoned, and the EUR district was declared a doomed project. In fact, the World Fair never happened at all, and the Fascist regime itself fell in 1943.
More than a decade after its inauguration, years after World War II, the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana opened its doors to the public for the first time. At this time, it was used to host the Roma 1953 Agricultural Exhibition.
Despite being an icon of Fascist architecture, and symbol of Fascism itself, the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana also became an emblem of the downfall of Mussolini and his regime. The EUR district, including the now obsolete palazzo, was rebranded as a new business district for the new post-war era.
This was further backed up by Rome’s successful bid for the 1960 Olympic Games; many of the events for this were held in and around the EUR district, with new buildings constructed for the games. By the end of the 1960s the EUR had become a new part of the city, combining a residential district with a business hub.
Can You Visit The Palazzo Della Civiltà Italiana?
In the present day, the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana still stands. It is a popular spot to visit for photographers and architecture enthusiasts, who come to admire its interesting design.
But since 2015, the building has been used to house the headquarters of Italian fashion label, Fendi. It’s reported that the luxury brand pays 2.8 million euros per year to rent the building, and sadly it’s not possible for visitors to enter inside.
Having said so, just looking at the building from the outside and even from a distance is quite the thing. It’s simply majestic! When you get close to it, you can admire the statues places in the various niches and appreciate its grandeur. And if you happen to be in the area at night, the sight of when it’s illuminated is magnificent.
Furthermore, there are other monuments nearby, which make the EUR an interesting place to explore for any architecture fans, and to learn more about the city’s more modern history.
I recommend this Architecture at the Time of Mussolini’s Fascism tour of the EUR. It’s not cheap, but it is a fairly long tour that takes you to a lesser known area of the city so it is well worth it. You can book it here.
Alternatively, you can get in touch with an excellent local guide for a quote. His name is Samuele Casarin and you can send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org – make sure to mention my name when you do!
Practical Info For Visiting Palazzo Della Civiltà Italiana
Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana opening hours
It depends if there is an exhibition going on (see below).
Best time to visit
It’s good to combine a visit to the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana with a visit to the EUR in general. This area of the city isn’t exactly central Rome, and takes a while to get to, so you should set aside half a day or so to spend wandering around this part of the city.
I would also recommend going on a sunny day, as the sight of the building on a blue sky makes for some beautiful photos.
However, I would equally recommend not visiting during the height of the summer months as the lack of shade in most of the EUR district would just make the heat of a Roman summer even hotter. I would say the same thing for a rainy day, as there would be no shelter from any potential downpour.
Another tip is to visit in the late afternoon and remain long enough for the sun to go down, in the evening, when the building – as well as other monuments in the EUR district – are elegantly illuminated for some great photo opportunities.
Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana tickets
Even though it’s now owned by Fendi, there are sometimes exhibitions held on the ground floor of the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana. These often focus on Rome and Italian crafts and design.
More recently, there was “Hand in Hand” – an exhibition held by Fendi themselves – which focused on the history and artisanal processes of creating their bags. Tickets were free and were available on the Fendi website.
It’s a good idea to check in advance on the Fendi website to see if anything’s going on. While the exhibitions will be fairly interesting, the rare chance to enter into the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana is well worth going.
Should you get a guided tour?
There are no official tours available of the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana. However, if you want to get a good idea of the building as well as the EUR district as a whole, then you could opt for a tour that’s specific to the area.
One such tour, Architecture at the Time of Mussolini’s Fascism, takes you and a group around the EUR district to explore the famous buildings and urban spaces in the area. You’ll get to learn about the history of this part of Rome, as well as the ins and outs of the architecture and design involved – all with the added bonus of an expert guide.
To book your guided tour of the EUR district, click here here.
You can also get in touch with Samuele Casarin, a local guide, for a quote on a private tour. His email is email@example.com – make sure to mention my name when you do!
To stand outside and admire the building, no. But if you’re going in for a Fendi exhibition, there will be security checks that will involve a quick look in your bag.
Is photography allowed?
Outside the building, of course! This is a very popular photography spot for those who love art, design and architecture, as well as history, and there are no restrictions on using flash photography or tripods. It’s a great place to take professional photos or even just a few cool snaps for Instagram.
While there are no public toilets immediately close to the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, there are a few cafes nearby. Some are at the Parco del Lago dell’EUR, which – as long as you order something to eat or drink – you should be able to get access to.
As there are steps leading up to the building itself, it could be difficult for those using wheelchairs to get up close and personal with the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana.
How to get there
The EUR is not part of the center of the city, so the likelihood is you’ll have to take public transport (unless you want to walk over two hours).
Metro B has various stops in EUR. You will want to get off at EUR Magliana. You can hop on the metro from Rome Termini, Cavour or Colosseum stations – pick a metro towards Roma Laurentina. Depending on your starting point it takes around 15 to 20 minutes.
Other stations here include EUR Palasport and EUR Fermi, both on metro line B as well, in case your wanderings of the EUR district take you further away from the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana.
You could even take a taxi from the Colosseum, which takes around 15 minutes to drive.
There are also a lot of bus stops in the EUR district that are well connected with the rest of the city.
These posts may come in handy when planning your trip to Rome:
- The Nicest Neighborhoods In Rome
- How To Use Rome’s Metro
- How To Use Public Transport In Rome
- The Most Important Landmarks In Rome