Authors: Giuseppe Pirugini, Nello Aprile, and Mario Fiorentini

Location: Rome, Italy

Year complete: 1949

Description: 1 concrete slab covering 336 individual burial sites and re-excavated caves

Dedicated on March 24th, 1949, the project memorializes the victims of a mass killing carried out by occupying Nazi forces in Italy on March 24th, 1944.  The massacre was in response to a resistance bombing carried out by communist partisans on March 23rd, 1944 that killed 33 Nazi soldiers.  335 men and boys, ten for every one Nazi soldier killed, were executed by the Nazis less than 24 hours after the bombing.  The victims represented a cross-section of classes, occupations, political beliefs, religious beliefs, and ages.  The 335 killings were not meant to punish the guilty, but to punish the city of Rome for its resistance to the Nazi occupation.


The memorial consists of two main materials:  The concrete of the slab covering the graves, and the natural material of the caves.  The caves themselves were the site of the killings, and where the bodies of those killed were concealed by the Nazis.  After the victims were killed, the bodies were left in the caves, and the entrances to the caves sealed.  

The low ceiling under the concrete tombstone, paired with the large horizontal space suggests a sense of infinite linear dimension, confining the space, while simultaneously making it appear vast.  This brings attention to the sheer number of the murdered at the site.  Under the tombstone, there are 336 separate burial tombs.  The 336th tomb is meant to represent other Italians killed in the war for liberation.

fosse-ardeatine-horizontal-sectionThe timing of the construction of the memorial affected its meaning.  Post-Liberation, the Italian government attempted to present the victims as martyrs of the resistance, and to position the resistance as representative of the nation as a whole.  It was an attempt to present the nation as unified against Fascism across its diverse population.  The diversity of the victims meant the massacre took on broad national significance.  Though not all the victims were members of the resistance, by making the memorial signify the resistance and memorialize the dead as victims of a war of liberation, a national identity was forged around anti-Fascism.

fosse-ardeatine-historical-pictureThis meaning held for many decades, until the 1990s.  After the end of the Cold War, the value of anti-fascism came into question.  The memorial to the resistance, meant to foster unity between all Italians and also to give legitimacy to the political parties that traced their roots to the resistance, lost meaning when the parties fell.  This allowed the rise of the Italian Social Movement, a neo-fascist party, which became part of the ruling coalition with Berlusconi’s center-right party in 1994, marking the first time in Europe that a party that openly connected itself to wartime fascism was in power.  In this political environment, anti-fascism was condemned as failing to unite Italy.  The right wing government distanced itself from the memorial.  As the government abandoned the meaning of the memorial, the press began to assign new meaning to take its place.  Rather than the 335 victims being defined as resistance fighters, the Jewish victims were highlighted.  The press focused on Jewish Italian citizens’ reactions to ongoing war-crime trials, positioning the massacre as one of many Nazi atrocities throughout Europe, rather than an Italian tragedy around which a national identity could be formed.


United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website

European Sites of Remembrance website

  • Clifford, Rebecca.  “The Limits of National Memory: Anti-Fascism, the Holocaust and the Fosse Ardeatine Memorial in 1990s Italy.”  Forum for Modern Language Studies 44.2 (2008):  128-139.

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