Predating London's Docklands and Paris' La Défense, Rome's Esposizione Universale Roma, or EUR district, was the original European attempt at a modern city within a city during the early- to mid-20th century. Begun at the height of Mussolini's reign, the overt Fascist architectural themes present throughout the EUR district are truly a sight to behold, making the popular business and residential neighbourhood a testament to the Eternal City's complex modern history. Originally built as the site of the 1942 World's Fair, which was never held due to the Second World War, the EUR today is home to some of Rome's most distinctive architecture, a standout amid a city world renowned for its classical beauty and central position throughout the annals of ancient history. This edition of Cityscape will take a look at Rome's EUR district, whose architectural legacy is a window into one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century.

Original EUR plan, c. 1936, public domain archival image

Begun in 1936, the EUR project was to become the site of the 1942 World's Fair, an idealized Fascist wonderland complete with stately rationalized architecture that was designed to pay tribute to both the glorious past and future of the Roman Empire. Designed under the initial direction of Italian architect Marcello Piacentini, the original structures of the EUR district were all built of limestone, tuff, and marble. Their simplified neoclassicism is evident in both their traditional materiality and their more overt stylistic themes, which included the use of columns, arches, and classic Roman statuary, the combination of which made for a magnificent city within a city. 

EUR, looking towards the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, image by Flickr user Francisco Anzola via Creative Commons

Pictured above, the EUR is representative of the rationalized architecture common to Fascist-era Europe. The mixture of modernism and nationalistic pride is informed by an idealized view of the past that is easily recognizable in the layout, design, and materiality of the structures in question. Below, by far one of the most iconic original structures built for the first wave of the EUR district, the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, known more commonly as the Colosseo Quadrato (Square Colosseum), can be seen up close, its updated take on the Roman Colosseum contrasted with the inclusion of Ancient Roman statuary, evocative of the past, present, and future of Rome. 

Colosseo Quadrato, as viewed up close, image by Flickr user Fredrik Rubensson via Creative Commons

The Colosseo Quadrato was designed in 1937 by Italian architects Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto Bruno La Padula, and Mario Romano. Designed to evoke a strong connection to the history of Ancient Rome, the Colosseo Quadrato was to be the centrepiece building of the 1942 World's Fair, an honour it would never realize. With construction halted for the duration of the war, the Colesseo Quadrato didn't open to the public until 1953, when it served as the home of the Roma 1953 Agricultural Exhibition. In later years the structure would become a premier film and high fashion shoot location, an identity it maintains to this day. 

Old meets new at the Colesseo Quadrato, image by Flickr user Fredrik Rubensson

Moving on to the next site, the Palazzo dei Congressi is yet another of the area's most iconic, most photographed original structures. Begun in 1938 by Italian architect Adalberto Libera, the Palazzo dei Congressi was similarly put on hold due to the war, and finally opened to the public in 1954. Like many of its contemporaries within the EUR, the Palazzo dei Congressi was never used for its intended purpose, but was briefly given new life thanks to the 1960 Rome Olympics, which were held within the grounds of the EUR district. 

Palazzo dei Congressi, image by Flickr user Bruno via Creative Commons

By the 1950s, in the wake of Italy's Fascist Era, the EUR's focus began to shift from special event venue to a mixed-use business, residential, and museum quarter. The equally iconic curvaceous appearance of the twin symmetrical EUR Office Blocks, one of which can be seen below, were a sign of things to come. 

EUR Office Block, with its signature curve and columns, image by Flickr user friol the oil via Creative Commons

Despite the EUR's changing role within its larger urban context, much of its iconic image has been kept intact, with later additions maintaining many of the same architectural themes and design cues to retain the district's unique character and aesthetic. A favourite for film and high fashion shoots, as well as a must-see location for urban explorers and amateur photographers, the EUR is easily accessible by transit, located just outside the city centre. 

Guglielmo Marconi Obelisk, at the centre of the Piazzo Marconi, image by Flickr user Fredrik Rubensson via Creative Commons

Prominently located within the middle of the EUR, the Piazzo Marconi, named after the famous radio inventor Guglielmo Marconi, is home to the Guglielmo Marconi Obelisk, a 148-foot white marble obelisk decorated with a series of biographical bas-reliefs which depict pivotal scenes from Marconi's life. Built in 1959-60 in time for the 1960 Olympics, the Guglielmo Marconi Obelisk has since joined the rest of the EUR as among the most photographed structures within the district. Viewed in the background, the EUR's various museums and galleries can be seen, making the EUR a cultural centre in its own right. 

Mid-Century Modern take on Ancient Roman mosaic, image by Flickr user Fredrik Rubensson via Creative Commons

Viewed above, the Mid-Century Modern take on an Ancient Roman mosaic, is included on the side of the otherwise stark limestone walls of an EUR district structure, a whimsical reminder of the city's long and storied past. Below, an aerial view of the area reveals the clearly defined EUR district, which the Roman suburbs have today grown to encompass. 

EUR from above, image by Marten253 via Wikimedia Commons

No matter its current function, the EUR remains a place where history comes alive via the idealized depictions of Rome's ancient past. A complex space, fraught with a mixture of complicated historic tropes taken from the darkest chapter in Italy's recent past, the EUR continues to fascinate and inspire, its architectural legacy a living tribute to a Rome that never was. 

Cityscape will return soon with a new installment, and in the meantime, SkyriseCities welcomes new suggestions for additional cities and styles to cover in the weeks to come. Got an idea for the next issue? Let us know!