Article by Nick Squires for The Telegraph, February 16, 2011:
Mussolini balcony to be reopened after decades of neglect
A balcony in Rome from which Mussolini gave rabble-rousing speeches to his Black Shirt supporters and declared war on Britain in 1940 is to be reopened to the public after decades of neglect.
Some of the most famous images of Il Duce were taken as he harangued the crowds from the stone balustrade, which overlooks Piazza Venezia, Rome’s answer to Trafalgar Square.
It has been shuttered for decades, partly out of embarrassment for its historical connotations and because of concerns that it would become a place of pilgrimage for modern-day fascists.
The entrance to the balcony was cloaked in heavy black curtains and the balustrade itself crowded with flagpoles and a pair of large air conditioning units.
“It was in a state of abandonment and crammed with various bits of apparatus, and it could no longer be left like that,” said Francesco Giro, a cultural heritage official from Rome city council.
The fact that the balcony was so closely associated with Mussolini had given it notoriety but that had now begun to fade, he said.
“It’s time to get over the taboo. The balcony existed before Mussolini.” Reopening it would in no way “endorse the historical crimes” of the past, said Mr Giro.
The balustrade has been cleaned up along with the rest of the facade of the imposing Palazzo Venezia, a Renaissance palace built in the 15th century by Pope Paul II.
The palazzo houses a museum and visitors will be able to step out onto the stone balcony as part of their visit. Culture officials hope to open it up to the public in the next few weeks.
Mussolini declared war on Britain and France from the balcony on June 10, 1940, to the cheers of thousands of Italians gathered in the piazza below.
He calculated that the two Allies were so weakened that he would be able to win territorial concessions and hoped to seize British colonies in East Africa.
The balcony connects with the Mussolini’s old office, the huge Sala del Mappamondo, named after an early map of the world that was displayed there in the 16th century.
The palace has played a key role in the history of Rome and Italy.
It started out as a papal residence but was later occupied by the Venetian ambassador when Venice was an independent republic.
It then became the Austrian embassy before passing to the Italian state in 1916.