Mussolini in Italy: The Casa D'Italia
Updated: Sep 28, 2020
Hidden away in Port Said is a surprising find. Just off the corniche boardwalk is a striking modernist building adorned with a large inscription in the centre, declaring in Italian,
IN THIS HOUSE OF ITALY
BUILT ON THE FAITH
AND LOVE OF THE HOMELAND
THE MILLENARY ESSENCE OF THE COUNTRY
THE CULT OF DANTE
LIVES ON WITH THE WORK OF ITALIAN INSTITUTIONS
THE SHINING TRADITION OF THE TRIPLE VICTORY
UNDER THE GLORIOUS SHIELD OF SABAVDO
IS THE ANIMATING POWER OF ROME
ONCE AGAIN AT THE HEART OF AN EMPIRE
XXVIII OCTOBER MCMXXXVIII - XVI
REIGNING VITTORIO EMANUELE III
LEADER OF FASCISM AND HEAD OF THE GOVERNMENT
FOUNDER OF THE EMPIRE
The formerly-grand building, very much from the 1930s both historically and ideologically, is the old Italian consulate, built in 1936 and inaugurated by Benito Mussolini himself on 27 October, 1938. 'ROME ONCE AGAIN AT THE HEART OF AN EMPIRE' expresses clearly the aim to dominate Egypt, and it has been suggested that the building was intended to be the future residence of the Italian leader following fascist Italy's plans to take control of North Africa.
However, Italy's plans did not materialize and it was promptly closed from the outset of the Second World War. After a brief stint as a British military hospital during the Second World War, it has largely remained empty and closed to this day. While still the property of the Italian state, Italy has rejected plans to turn it into a cultural centre due to the fascistic pronouncement that is still placed on the front of the building, and the building seems set to be empty and unused for some time to come.
The building was designed by famed Italian architect Clemente Busiri Viciwith and is notable for its unusual style akin to Russian constructivism. The building itself is still impressive today and is well worth a look as a classic example of Italian fascist architecture.
While Egyptians now often emigrate to Italy, previously, and for many centuries, the opposite was true, as Italians came to Egypt in their thousands. There was and still is a large Egyptian-Italian community in Egypt, with many notable figures like the singer Dalida, born Yolanda Christina Gigliotti. Italian culture and language have very much been incorporated into Egyptian culture and Italian words can often be heard in colloquial conversations.
Italians have been very influential in Egypt, and it is even claimed that an Italian named Alois Negrelli designed the Suez Canal, and that De Lesseps fraudulently took the credit for it. Similarly, it's worthy of note that the corniche in Alexandria was designed by Italian architect Pietro Avoscani, and even the Abu Al-Abbas Al-Mursi Mosque in Alexandria and Omar Makram Mosque in Cairo were also designed by an Italian, Mario Rossi. Italians were very much part of the cosmopolitan Egypt of the time, and no issues or contradictions arose from the idea of a Catholic Italian designing two of the country's most prominent mosques.
However, Italian influence and presence in Egypt lessened greatly with the onset of Italy's entrance into the Second World War. Fearing sabotage attacks, the British occupation imprisoned around 8,000 Italian-Egyptians in internment camps during the war and many Italian-Egyptians fled the country. Since then, the Italian-Egyptian community has never been the same, but it still exists in a strong way with communities often congregating around certain churches and neighbourhoods.