SWAMP CREATURES (Latina-Pontinia)

Every place and every people has its own creation myth, often invoking the emergence of life from primeval ooze.

In 1924, the noble Caetani family sold 20,000 hectares (nearly 50,000 acres) of malarial wasteland to Mussolini's emerging fascist state, in the Pontine Marshes south of Rome. Meanwhile, they retained the scenic ghost town of Ninfa, which they developed as a private resort.

Latina (originally, Littoria), Pontinia, Sabaudia and Aprilia - the four Città di Fondazione ("Founded" or "Invented Cities") - sprang up in only a few years (1932-37), within a few kilometers of each other, on arduously reclaimed land.

New settlements in a country of proud historic cities, they shared a fleeting moment of destiny - for a decade or so, until the end of the fascist regime. And now seventy years later, these places still exist - with a deeply rooted sense of their own anomalous identity.  

In 1934, the artist Duilio Cambelloti defined the grandiose vision of his time in a fresco in the chief government building in Latina (the Palazzo del Governo.) An army of superhuman beings claw at the mud with their bare hands while Mussolini's utopia rises in the distance. Their bundled tools form a conspicuous fasces - in case we missed the point...

In 1938, also in Latina, Pasquale Rizzoli rendered this same heroic message in bronze. His Genio della Bonifica ("Spririt of Land Reclamation") was conceived as the civil equivalent of a war memorial, honoring the many who died while realizing Mussolini's bold project. Only a few years later, it was stripped of the usual fascist emblems - but the monument remains and the popular  memory is still fresh.

What would Benito Mussolini have made of the Dryland Pub & Pizzeria in nearby Pontinia - destined (in theory) to become the agricultural hub of its namesake, the former Pontine Marsh? He might have approved of everything except the foreign language, the foreign beer  and the startling lack of people passing in the street. (Unlike Latina, this invented city never quite took off.)

 Meanwhile, at the Associazione Sportiva Pontinia (Pontinia Sports Association), the swamp is reclaiming its own - aided and abetted by a rogue sprinkler system.

NOTE: In the back garden of Latina City Hall (Palazzo del Popolo), passers-by are eager to point out a disconcerting bronze statue (featured at the top of this post.) It is the celebrated Donna del Palude ("Swamp Woman"). She certainly looks the part, tearing free from weed-clogged mud...


 HOWEVER, this lumbering figure was realized by the sculptress Elisabetta Mayo in Rome in 1923 (before the land reclamation began) and then sent to Latina only some fifteen years later - with the title of Daphne (transforming herself into a laurel tree to evade the amorous advances of Apollo.) But then, the spirit of the place kicked in...and she became Swamp Woman by popular acclaim (while remaining Daphne in all the guide books.)


PHOTOGRAPHS:  Views of Latina, Pontinia and Ninfa
© Lyle Goldberg 



  1. This was fascinating..I am noting a common theme here, regarding Mussolini. Is it safe to say, most of what he meant for his own self-aggrandizement, is now a vandalized, deflated, rump roast?

  2. Much of the heritage of Benito Mussolini (especially the architectural heritage) is still there, exactly where it was in his day. Sometimes a symbol was removed or half-removed, usually becoming more conspicuous by its absence - when you know where to look. (My brother and I call these "Bennie's Ghosts" when we see them, which is more or less constantly.) We have thousands of photos of fascist sites in Italy and it all began with our Mussolini Sewer Cap obsession - as documented in the VII ANNO FASCISTA post (back at the beginning of June). Now, we are floating the idea of a book titled "The Parallel Universe of Benito Mussolini: A Journey Through Another Italy". We will see...!!!

  3. I think a book like that would definitely appeal to a large audience....it would seem so mysterious, haunting and thought provoking. I would certainly appreciate it. Do you think Italians notice what you have noticed, regarding "Bennie's Ghosts"? Or do they even care?

  4. That is an excellent question, Alice, and one that I have been carrying around with me for a long time! When my brother and I are out photographing (Fascist Era sewer caps, for example) some people give us funny looks ("I just don't get it!") while others come running over to share information ("Listen, there's a much better 'Year VII Fascist Era' example just around corner - out of the way and less worn.") I am especially intrigued by the recent restoration of Fascist Era monuments, with careful and precise painting and stuccoing around not-quite-missing symbols and inscriptions (making their absence more, rather than less, evident.) This seems appropriate to me. Fascist propaganda is a part of history. It's removal is also a part of history. And as an historian, I believe that we can move beyond historical events but we cannot rewrite them!

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