Exploring Forlì today and its architectural past

What do 3 green rats, Benito Mussolini, Ferrari and the ancient Romans have in common? Clearly at least 3 of them are Italian, but other than that it’s a pretty eclectic list, isn’t it? Unless, that is, you’ve been to Forlì in the heart of Romagna, central Italy, where it all becomes clear. Honestly! Let me explain….!

Exploring Forliì today and its architectural past

3 green rats – living dangerously in Forli’s Aeronautical School

Forlì, the ancient Romans and Mussolini

The ancient Romans and Mussolini both played significant parts in Forlì’s history. First the Romans founded it. Then dictator Benito Mussolini claimed it as his official birthplace, even though he was actually born down the road. And then he set about redecorating.

And today you’re more likely to spot Mussolini’s handiwork than the Romans’ as their fortified walls were demolished decades ago to make way for city expansion.

Forlì and fascist architecture

Young Benito had great plans to redevelop Italy’s industry, transport and education when he came to power. And Forlì was given special attention, as befits the official birthplace of the leader. So architects were drafted in to work alongside local engineers; their task to demolish and redesign large swathes of the town from scratch in the strong new fascist style taking inspiration from the Romans.

Exploring Forlì today and its architectural past

Fascist-green was used a lot by Rationalist architects who designed utilitarian apartments for the local workers in Forlì

In fact, over the years, Mussolini’s regime altered quite a bit of the city making it a modern showcase for fascism. And today it’s something of an open-air museum and well worth a stroll to see if you can spot the Romanesque columns and arches of the 1920s and 30s in its apartments, schools, station and monuments. More information is available via the Atrium urban architecture website.

Forlì and the Aeronautical School mosaics

As Mussolini’s power grew, his thoughts turned from utility to military. Or more precisely, to the airforce. And so, in 1933 construction began on a new aeronautical school in Forlì, specifically designed to train Italy’s youngsters to become pilots in the Italian airforce.

Exploring Forlì today and its architectural past

Forlì’s fascist-red painted Aeronautical School

But old Beni didn’t just want good pilots. He wanted good fascists too, so the school’s main corridors are covered from floor to ceiling in mosaics promoting and reinforcing fascist Italy’s power and strength intertwined with classical history and mythology.

Mussolini purposely copied the ancient Roman style of black and white mosaics, and added stories of ancient Rome hoping that the greatness of the Roman Empire would rub off on his regime. The mosaics were designed to illustrate and reinforce the history of flying for the young students.

But don’t forget, although the mosaics are considered to be one of Forlì’s hidden art treasures today, they were once a tool of Mussolini’s propaganda machine.

Exploring Forliì today and its architectural past

The history of man and flight according to Mussolini

For example, history records that the French Montgolfier brothers were the first to fly in a hot air balloon, but the Forlì mosaics seem oblivious to this fact, showing the Italian Lunardi brothers as the first to take flight!

Exploring Forlì today and its architectural past

According to Mussolini the Lunardi brothers were the first to take flight in an hot air balloon

So where do the green rats and Ferarri come into all this?

Forlì, 3 green rats and Ferrari

One thing that stands out from the mosaics is that there aren’t many animals. Its all men, planes and maps. And lots of flying. Except in 2 places.

Exploring Forliì today and its architectural past

Vivere Pericolosamente – Three green rats living dangerously

The first animals you notice are 3 green rats. They stand out as they’re the only things that aren’t black and white. But they seem to have no link to flying. Or do they….?

And then just round the corner, up high on the wall you’ll spot a rampant horse between two fighter planes. Maybe it looks familiar, but again, it’s a bit random.

Exploring Forliì today and its architectural past

That rampant horse looks familiar – where have I seen it before??

Until a bit of research reveals that green rats and rampant horses mean bravery in the face of danger. And then the link to flying and the early air force begins to become clearer.

In fact, Italians have a phrase that sheds light on the rats. “Far vedere i sorci verdi”, literally meaning to make someone see green rats, is a way to warn your opponent that you’re about to beat them so badly that they’ll hallucinate green rats. And knowing this, the Italian Royal Air Force adopted the little green rodents 1936 as a defiant emblematic warning to their enemies. Hence the little green mosaic rats.

The rampant horse may look more familiar as today it’s the emblem of the iconic Ferrari sportscar.

Exploring Forliì today and its architectural past

Ferrari’s rampant horse logo

But Enzo Ferrari actually took his inspiration from an heroic, Italian pilot of the first world war who had the rampant horse painted on his fighter plane.

Exploring Forlì today and its architectural past

Italian flying ace Count Francesco Baracca beside his fighter plane

And so it’s Count Francesco Baracca who is represented in the mosaics by the horse, not Ferrari. The flying ace achieved 34 aerial victories against the allies becoming a perfect propaganda symbol of courage and bravery for Mussolini’s aeronautical students.

Puzzle solved!

There you have it, puzzle solved. Forlì in Emilia-Romagna links everything. So next time you’re looking for a peaceful spot, off the beaten track, why not pop into Forlì. It has a lot to offer from prestigious annual art exhibitions to tasty Romagnolo cuisine to modern fascist architecture. And at just an hour from Rome it makes a great addition to a vacation in Emilia-Romagna, central Italy, an area just waiting to be discovered! If you’ve discovered any hidden gems on your travels round Italy, please leave me a comment with its best bits. And in the meantime, keep exploring! Buon viaggio!

Useful information

The mosaics were covered up for decades after the fall of the Fascist regime as they were deemed too controversial and painful. Today the school is dedicated to sport but its not open to the public so I recommend you arrange a private guided tour of the Atrium Route through Benedetta Orlati and her team of fabulous guides at the Forlì Federation of Tourist Guides (Federazione Guide Turistiche di Forlì) via email: turismo@confcommercio.fo.it or phone +39-0543-378075

If you’re planning a visit to Forlì, or anywhere in Romagna in fact, make sure to get yourselves a Romagna Visit Card. Valid for a year and costing only €14 (2016 price) it enables free entry to over 48 historic buildings, museums and galleries including Musei San Domenico and Palazzo Romagnoli, this is a must-have purchase to open the doors to the region! More info, in English, via the website.

Exploring Forlì today and its architectural past

Exploring Forlì today and its architectural past

Note : For this trip I was a guest of the #BlogginForli tour organized by Romagna Full Time and 21Grammy and hosted by Hotel Masini. All opinions are strictly my own.

The post Exploring Forlì today and its architectural past first appeared on DreamDiscoverItalia

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4 Responses to Exploring Forlì today and its architectural past

  1. Cecelia Pierotti says:

    I remember you talking about the mosaics here….thanks for bringing them more to life !! As always your writing makes me want to put another destination on my list!!!!

    • I think you’d like the mosaics Cecelia, we were all fascinated by them and the backstory! They’re a real hidden treasure and well worth a visit to Forlì for! Thanks as always for your lovely comment!! :o)

  2. What a fabulous post! Thanks so much for sharing this and those incredible mosaics. I love the design and typography despite their troubled past

    • Thanks for your lovely comments Katy! We were totally amazed by the mosaics, despite their propaganda as you say! I just wish more people could see them as there is so much more to learn from them (good and bad) and Italy’s history. Thanks again for stopping by!

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