I was in the vicinity of Piazzale Ostiense this week and I thought I’d stop off and take a photo for you, Gentle Reader. It’s a fairly boring piazza in front of the Roma-Ostia train station but there’s a cool monument there called tutti potenziali bersagli (all potential targets), which was mounted on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Italy. On April 25, 1945, Mussolini’s puppet government in northern Italy fell, as Italian partisans declared a general uprising and American forces seized Turin and Milan. Two days later, Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, were captured in the village of Dongo (best village name ever!) while trying to flee to Switzerland. They were shot by a firing squad along with 16 Fascist associates. Six of them, including Mussolini and Petacci, were dumped in the Piazza Quindici Martiri (formerly Piazzale Loreto, the piazza had recently been renamed to honor the 15 anti-Fascists recently executed there) in Milan on April 29, where a mob trampled and spat on the remains. Then the bodies were hung upside down with meat hooks at an Esso gas station and people threw rocks at them for a while. Yikes.
The location of the monument is significant. On September 8, 1943, Marshall Pietro Badoglio — who replaced Mussolini when he got fired — announced that Italy negotiated an armistice with the Allies. The Germans immediately marched into the capital, prompting outbursts of resistance around the city, including three days of pitched battle between the Germans and Italian soldiers and armed civilians in this very zone, which includes the Pyramid of Caius Cestius and the Protestant Cemetery. I used to live right up the street and you can still see bullet holes on the facade of my former apartment building.
Tutti potenziali bersagli is dedicated to the victims of Fascism and racism. It depicts five human beings with their hands tied behind their backs. While not only a World War II monument, it places triangles on the chest of each figure to remind us how the Nazis distinguished the prisoners in their extermination camps: pink for homosexuals, blue for immigrants, a double yellow triangle (the Star of David ) for Jews, red for anti-fascists and brown for gypsies. The backs of the figures are facing outwards and you can see the stars in the mirror images facing them (but not in my photo, sorry). The monument was designed and built by a group of anonymous political activists and artists, who only got authorization the night before it was to be unveiled because the right wing hated it, of course. That was in 1995. The monument was only intended to be a 10-day installation but nobody bothered to take it down and in 2007 it was included in Italy’s census of cultural heritage. I find it to be very moving and beautiful.
Piazzale Ostiense has always been a bit of a magnet for gypsies, who hang around looking vaguely scary but doing no particular harm. These are the folks that you often seen going through trash cans and using wire hangers to pull out items of interest. I always assumed the dumpster diving was in search of stuff for their own personal use, but not so. Over the past couple of months, the denizens of Piazzale Ostiense have converted the piazza into a flea market — and not the good kind. I read somewhere that the police had kicked a bunch of gypsies out of the piazza in front of the Ostiense train station nearby for selling ‘non-hygenic’ products. They must have just scooted on down the road and set up shop here, where the cops will ignore them for at least a couple of months.
There are dirty blankets spread out everywhere and piled with what can only be described as garbage. A child’s broken left shoe. A torn and muddied paperback. A broken clock. A soiled and frayed apron. Some guy tried to sell me a moth-eaten fox pelt. It was really rather horrifying. I looked around the piazza and thought about its heroic history and the monument that honours the sacrifices of the very group of people who are now selling trash at its base to feed themselves. I’ve sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere but I’m not quite sure what it is.