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What does ‘everyday life’ look like in a place built to be a kind of fascist ‘Disneyland’?

last modified Mar 25, 2019 11:54 AM

What can this tell us about memory, about the contemporary resurgence of the far-right, and about the concept of ‘everyday life’ itself?

Dr Paolo Heywood

My current work explores these questions in a small town called Predappio in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. What makes it ‘extraordinary’ (and indeed infamous, for many) is the fact that Benito Mussolini was born there on the 29thJuly, 1883. Forty years later, shortly after seizing power, he began the process of transforming his birthplace into an exemplar of fascist architecture and urban planning, and a tribute to his own humble roots. A whole town was built almost from scratch, and pilgrims were bussed there in large numbers by the regime so that they could visit the house in which Mussolini was born, buy a postcard, and perhaps say a prayer at the graves of his parents in the nearby cemetery.

Facist HQ in Predappio
The abandoned Fascist Party Headquarters in Predappio’s main square, the proposed site for a documentation centre focussed on fascist history.

On the 31stAugust 1957, twelve years after his death, Mussolini was buried in that same cemetery. Over the next six decades, through cultural and political revolutions in his home country and beyond, despite changes in demographics, mores, language, and fashion, he has not wanted for visitors, and for them one particular colour has remained in style: black. Throughout the year ‘nostalgic’ tourists arrive in large numbers to visit the cemetery and to write in the crypt’s visitors’ book. On the anniversaries of Mussolini’s birth, death, and seizure of power, Predappio is overrun by thousands of men, women, and children, many dressed in military or party uniforms from the period. They march from the town’s main square to the cemetery, where speeches are read in honour of Mussolini and his ideas. 

My project explores some of the ways in which the inhabitants of this small but remarkable town seek nevertheless to live unremarkable lives. This is visible in a range of dimensions of existence: in the town’s ritual life, in which most predappiesi make the active choice to treat the anniversary days like any others; in its economy, in which nostalgic tourists are domesticated as diners at restaurants or guests at a bed and breakfast; and in its urban space, in which monumentalist political architecture is repurposed for banal ends. My research asks, in short, what goes into the careful process of crafting an ‘ordinary life’ in a place that is anything but ordinary.

Dr Paolo Heywood's research is part of the Situating Free Speech: European Parrhesia in Comparative perspective project.