Throughout the 20th century, dictatorial regimes such as Mussolini’s fascist Italy, Stalin’s Soviet Union, and Hitler’s Nazi Germany utilized public spectacles, particularly parades, as state-building tools. Given that these events were intended to unite the masses under one ruler, the urban landscape and architecture of many cities were altered to accommodate thousands of spectators. Twentieth century spectacles were designed to promote nationalistic pride, reinforce national values, and instill a sense of fear (such as Hitler’s mass assemblies at the Nazi party rally ground in Nuremberg).
The modern triumphal procession is rooted in the tradition of the ancient Roman Empire, where it consisted of a cavalcade that demonstrated the strength of the victorious army and general while showcasing prisoners of war and pillaged goods (spolia) of their defeated enemy. At that time, triumphal arches, such as the Arch of Titus, were built along the ceremonial route to commemorate and eternalize the Roman victory while also reminding Romans of this shared experience.
Mussolini would later mimic these ancient triumphal paths by opening roads such as the Via dell’Impero (today the Via dei Fori Imperiali) to serve as his own grand processional routes. Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitler employed parades to exhibit the physical and militaristic strength of young men as they marched in meticulously choreographed formations, reflecting the discipline, order, and imposing nature of each nation.
(B. Wrubel ’21)