Ninety years after the March on Rome, fans and worshippers are still drawn to Mussolini’s hometown to commemorate his ideology

01 March 2013

THRICE A YEAR IN PREDAPPIO, a small town in Italy’s north-eastern region of Emilia Romagna, tourism receives a sharp boost. Predappio is the birthplace of Benito Mussolini, Italy’s former Fascist dictator. It becomes a site of pilgrimage for modern-day sympathisers and nostalgists on Mussolini’s birth and death anniversaries, as well as during the week in October that marks the anniversary of his March on Rome, the 1922 gathering of squadristi, or Blackshirts, which brought the Fascists to power. The march marked the beginning of Mussolini’s 23-year reign as dictator of Italy, during which he assumed the title by which political sympathisers still refer to him: ‘Il Duce’, derived from the classical title of Dux, Latin for ‘leader’.

Compared to neighbouring Germany, where the causes and consequences of World War II effected decades of public soul-searching about the country’s period of Nazism, Italy appears to have repressed its memories of fascism to some degree. In spite of decades of left-wing activism, which include rulings outlawing Fascist propaganda, reminders of its political heyday in Italy are common in many parts of the country—from calendars of Mussolini photographs to the oft-repeated notion that he was not as bad as Hitler. Italy’s long-serving former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is fond of expressing his approval of Mussolini, saying that he “did well” in some ways; in 2011, he remarked that, on reading Mussolini’s letters, he felt there was a certain kinship between them.

On the thrice-yearly pilgrimages, supporters come to Predappio from all over Italy, wearing black, their shirts often adorned with Fascist badges. As depicted in these photographs taken in April and October 2012, they take out processions from the town centre to the cemetery of San Cassiano, the site of Mussolini’s tomb, crying Fascist slogans and singing songs from the movement’s glory days in the 1920s and 1930s. Italian flags and bouquets with flowers of red, white and green (Italy’s colours) go hand in hand with manganelli, the truncheons that recall the weapons of the original Blackshirts. Predappio’s town council, led by a succession of centre-left mayors in recent years, banned the sale of Fascist memorabilia in 2009, but trade in these items continues online.

Simone Donati is a documentary photographer based in Florence. In the past few years, his work has focused on the political and social situation in Italy.

Keywords: fascist Benito Mussolini Predappio March on Rome Society of St Pius X squadristi