Urban Rhetoric and Embodied Identities: City, Nation, and Empire at the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument in Rome, 1870–1945
This essay examines the monument constructed by the Italian state in the center of Rome to commemorate Vittorio-Emanuele II, first king of united Italy. Opened in 1911 and constructed in the Beaux-Arts architectural style popular at that time as appropriately “imperial” for urban monuments throughout the West, the Vittoriano's symbolism and iconography produce a “memory theater” through which the official rhetoric of a united and imperial Italy was intended to be conveyed to the nation.Yet despite attempts by succeeding governments to promote it as a dignified and sacred center of the city, the nation, and the short-lived Italian empire, the monument has been derided throughout its history. Concentrating on “official culture,” we analyze the form and iconography of the monument, trace the various planning interventions made by both Liberal and Fascist governments between the wars that emphasized the Vittoriano's centrality within urban space and Italian territory, and comment on its use by the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, to promote an imperial spatiality through his performative rhetoric, which often unfolded while facing the monument in the Piazza Venezia. While urbanistic and territorial interventions emphasized horizontal axialities, burial and construction of a crypt for Italy's Unknown Soldier at the monument produced a vertical axis that linked military sacrifice and past heroism to aerial flight and future victory within the Fascist cult of male youth.