Contradictory story behind a building made for glory
The innovative modern architecture served not only for the control of the leisure time of young people, but also the construction of the Fascist cult of sport on a national level. Today, the building tells a story full of contradictions.
Innovation and propaganda
The ONB (later GIL) buildings constituted a new type of building, aimed at controlling the leisure time of young people. Its success as an instrument of propaganda lay in the innovativeness of combining various functions: physical and cultural education as well as leisure activities. These multifunctional complexes were a real challenge for the architects of the time.
The “perfect” ONB building
Cesare Valle’s Casa del Balilla in Forlì was indicated as the perfect example of its type by Marcello Piacentini, leading architect of Fascist Italy. In June 1933, a powerful local newspaper announced in capital letters that rationalist architecture had finally found its way to Forlì. The modern building is articulated in distinct functional blocks. The composition included a curved body containing the library, a cubical body with the cinema, and a third c-shaped body containing gymnasium and indoor pool, connected through a courtyard to the outdoor sports field.
The ‘cult of sport’ fallacy
Built on the new boulevard Viale Mussolini, the regime’s showcase of modernity, the building was and still is an eye-catcher, given the contrast of dark red plaster and white travertine. The modern complex was used as a spectacular site to promote the Fascist cult of sport by means of the new mass media. However, the situation was highly contradictory. The reality behind the scenes was that local sports performances were in decline and participation at the activities set up by the regime was weak.
A tower with a story to tell
The building complex is dominated by a tower, which carries the young Fascists’ oath: “In the name of God and Italy I swear to follow the orders of the Duce and to serve with all my force and, if necessary, with my blood, the cause of the Fascist Revolution.” This heroic formula is a clear expression of the ideological indoctrination of the young generation.
With the fall of the Fascist regime on 25 July 1934, a series of iconoclastic acts took place in the streets of Forlì. As part of this, a group of young anti-fascists climbed to the top of the tower and removed the embossed letters of the Fascist oath. A long phase of repression (damnatio memoriae) followed: the traces of the oath gradually deteriorated and were practically ignored. Finally, the restoration of the building in 2009 contributed to the re-semantisation of the decoration. The missing embossed letters have not been fully restored but the traces can still be deciphered in order to bear witness to the actions of history: both the oath itself and the act of iconoclasm. Today, the building hosts important exhibitions on the topic of architecture of totalitarian regimes, as part of a process of dealing with Forlì’s dissonant heritage.