G20 leaders meet in Rome’s EUR district built by Mussolini

Carabinieri police officers on patrol near the 'Nuvola' congress centre in Rome's EUR district ahead of the G20 World Leaders Summit.
Carabinieri police officers on patrol near the 'Nuvola' congress centre in Rome's EUR district ahead of the G20 World Leaders Summit. Photo: Tiziana FABI/AFP
G20 leaders arrive this weekend in Rome's historic EUR neighbourhood, created by Benito Mussolini to glorify his fascist regime and its links with ancient Rome.

The summit of the world’s major economies will be held just outside Rome’s city centre, where the tourists, historic buildings and tiny streets would pose a nightmare for security and access.

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Instead, leaders will gather in a futuristic convention centre known as the ‘Nuvola’ (cloud), featuring a suspended structure inside a glass and steel box, in a southern suburb with more easily-policed boulevards – and its own unique history.

Photo: Andreas SOLARO/AFP

EUR, which stands for Esposizione Universale Romana, or Rome World Expo, was conceived in the 1930s as a showcase for modernist architecture and as the home of the 1942 edition of the World’s Fair.

The event, which would have coincided with the 20th anniversary of the fascist regime, never took place due to World War II. The conflict also forced Mussolini’s architects to leave EUR half-finished.

Located in the southern outskirts of Rome, between the historic centre an the seaside suburb of Ostia, EUR is characterised by monumental buildings in white marble and travertine stone, typical of the fascist era and intended to recall ancient Rome.

This aerial photo taken on May 1st, 2020 shows Rome’s EUR district empty during the pandemic lockdown. Photo: Filippo MONTEFORTE/AFP

The area’s best-known landmark is the so-called Square Colosseum, a white cube with arches originally meant to host the Palace of Italian Civilisation, and now the headquarters of Italian fashion house Fendi.

On its four sides, the building bears an inscription taken from a 1935 Mussolini speech celebrating Italians as “a people of poets, artists, heroes, saints, thinkers, scientists, navigators and migrants”.

The Palazzo della civilta del lavoro or ‘Square Colosseum’, a fascist architectural icon in the EUR district. Photo: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP

Fascist propaganda is also on display at the Palazzo Uffici, which boasts at its entrance a giant bas-relief of the history of Rome that starts with Romulus and Remus and ends with Mussolini on horseback, his right arm raised in a fascist salute.

Today, EUR is a residential and business area hosting the headquarters of the ENI energy group and of several other public and private institutions, plus museums, concert halls and an artificial lake popular in the summer.

But in the immediate post-war years, it resembled a ghost town, with abandoned buildings occupied by refugees.

The area was completed in the 1950s and 1960s after Roman authorities decided to turn the area into an edge-of-town business district that became a model for London’s Docklands and La Defense in Paris.

People walk outside the Congress Hall (Palazzo dei Congressi) ahead of the G20 World Leaders Summit in the EUR district of Rome. Photo: Tiziana FABI / AFP

The Nuvola, which was recently used as a coronavirus vaccination hub, added a flavour of contemporary architecture to its modernist surroundings when it was inaugurated in 2016, after years of delays and cost overruns.

Political leaders including US President Joe Biden arrive in Rome on Friday to attend the G20 summit – the first in-person gathering since the pandemic began – before they head to Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit.


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