TRIUMPHALISM IN architecture is a double-edged sword. When done properly, it is glorious, like the Arc de Triomphe, standing majestically as avenues radiate forth from the stout, sculpted monument to Napoleon’s victories. The Italian monument at Bozen in Südtirol is the other end of the spectrum. The French emperor was wise enough to construct his triumphal arch in Paris, on his own turf, where it would prove relatively uncontroversial over the span of the years. Mussolini, meanwhile, had this gate celebrating the Italian victories of the First World War in Bozen, the capital of Südtirol, a region whose inhabitants are mostly German-speakers despite it being part of the Italian Republic. While the existence of a monument to Italian victories is acceptable, the placement and nature of this monument is a direct insult to the local population.
The inscription is particularly insulting: “Here at the border of the fatherland set down the banner. From here onwards we educated the others in language, law, and culture.”
The monument was inaugurated by King Victor Emmanuel III in 1928: the dedication was greeted with a demonstration of 10,000 people across the Austrian border in Innsbruck. Its architect was Marcello Piacentini, one of the less lamentable architects and urbanists of the twentieth century. Piacentini’s campus for La Sapienza is a bit of a dud, as is his Rome Opera House, but his Palazzo di Giustizia in Messina is stately, combining modernity style and classical sense. Of his monuments, I prefer the Arco della Vittoria in Genoa. Unfortunately, Piacentini will most likely be remembered most for his design of the Via della Conciliazione, which involved the demolition of the ‘Spina’ obscuring the view from St. Peter’s, thus destroying the Baroque element of surprise created upon entering the Piazza San Pietro.
The sculptures on the Bozen Gate are by Adolfo Wildt, an underappreciated Italian sculptor from a working-class Milanese family of Swiss origins.
Given the contentious nature of the monument, it must be protected from defacement by strong metal fencing. Perhaps some day it can be carefully removed and reassembled in an Italian part of Italy.