Evidence of a dark and inglorious period in the history of Italy can be found, of all places, on some of Rome's manhole covers!
In addition to the famous four letters 'SPQR', a few manhole covers also sport an image of the fasces lictoriae, an emblem of authority in the world of ancient Rome. The bundles (fasces) of elm rods, bound together with an axe, would be carried by the officials (lictors), who preceded magistrates when they appeared in public.
Fast forward to late 19th century Italy and the name fasces had come to be used by a number of political groups of varying political persuasions. In 1919 Benito Mussolini founded the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento, which, in 1921, became the Partito Nazionale Fascista (National Fascist Party).
A year later, on October 28th, Mussolini organised the 'March on Rome', after which King Vittorio Emanuele III invited him to form a government. The Era Fascista was born and the image of the fasces lictoriae was resurrected. The symbolism of the fasces suggested strength through unity: a single rod is easily broken, while the bundle is difficult to break.
After the fall of Il Duce and his death at the hands of the partisans on April 28th, 1945, images of the fasces were deliberately expunged from all public places, in an attempt to wipe out the memory of Fascist rule. However, a few manhole covers seemed to have escaped attention.
A well-preserved image of the fasces can also be found, high up and relatively out of reach, on the Teatro di Marcello (Theatre of Marcellus). The inscription at the bottom 'A VII E F' indicates that it was erected in the seventh year (Anno) of the Era Fascista.
In 1927 Mussolini had introduced a new calendar, which made October 28th (the anniversary of the 'March on Rome') the start of the year and used Roman numerals to denote the number of years that had passed since the fascists had come to power.
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private and
small-group walking tours
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