March on Rome, 100 Years Later

Two new exhibitions look back at the tragic events that led to the rise of fascism, starting from the city where it all began: Milan.

Agenda by mayor Angelo Filipetti in 1906.

The city of Milan unveiled two new exhibitions to mark the 100th anniversary of the March on Rome, an organized mass demonstration and a coup d’état in October 1922 which resulted in Benito Mussolini’s National Fascist Party ascending to power in the Kingdom of Italy.

The exhibition “The March on Rome: The Collapse of Democracy in Italy” at the Museo del Risorgimento retraces the origins and the days of the March on Rome, using a selection of rare posters, newspapers, photographs, and documents.

Milan is the absolute protagonist of this period. If Rome represented national power, Milan had been the cradle of fascism. Here the movement was born, Mussolini lived in this city for many years, and his propaganda organ, the Popolo d’Italia newspaper, had its headquarters close to the Duomo.

From the Great War to nationalist instances, to the founding in Milan of the Fasci di Combattimento in 1919. A march on Rome is an idea first advocated by poet and MP Gabriele D’Annunzio during the Fiume enterprise. A defining element of fascism is aggression and violence, which was first unleashed in April 1919 in Milan, where fascists besieged and set fire to the headquarters of Avanti!, the newspaper that a few years earlier Mussolini had directed.

Palazzo Marino, Milan’s city hall, was the first palace of power to be stormed by squadron violence on August 3, 1922, a few months before the March on Rome. The fascists drove the Socialist mayor Angelo Filippetti out of the palace as a rehearsal for what happened months later in Rome on October 29.

Mayor Angelo Filipetti during a rally in Milan.

The exhibition at Casa della Memoria, titled “Un Sindaco Fuori dal Comune: Angelo Filippetti” (a play on word: in Italian “fuori dal comune” means both “extraordinary” and literally “out of the city hall”) focuses on Milan, shedding a light on the political and social metamorphoses that the city experienced between 1892 and 1922 from the perspective of Mayor Angelo Filippetti – a physician, scientist and socialist – whose archive was donated in 2019 to the Parri Institute. The in-depth study of his figure and his social and political work, often overlooked, allows for an unprecedented take on the history of Milan, from the turn-of-the-century crisis to the advent of fascism.

From his personal archive, which is being shown to the public for the first time, emerges the extraordinary complexity of his story: a compelling plot that the curators have decided to illustrate by crossing the gaze of historical research – coordinated by Jacopo Perazzoli of the University of Bergamo – with an exhibition design by Paola Fortuna’s +fortuna studio.

The two exhibitions, which are closely connected, feature the extensive archives of the Anna Kuliscioff Foundation and the Ferruccio Parri National Institute.

With the March on Rome, fascism began its unstoppable path toward the violent and totalitarian seizure of power. A 100 years later it is necessary to ask how this could have happened in a country where, despite serious social tensions, institutions guaranteed fundamental democratic freedom, mass parties representing the lower classes enjoyed vast support outside and inside Parliament, and labour unions and cooperative organizations had significant resources.

“The March on Rome: The Collapse of Democracy in Italy” is on view through 11 December at the Museo del Risorgimento. “Un Sindaco Fuori dal Comune: Angelo Filippetti” is on view through 13 November at Casa della Memoria.

Gianmaria Biancuzzi is executive editor of Milano Art Guide.