Ideal Cities: the Ancient City and the Modern City in Italy (1860-1914)
This thesis examines the reception of the Greco-Roman city in modern Italian planning theory, both as a concept which was written about and imagined, and as a material being which was adapted and restored. I focus on the previously neglected and interdisciplinary mix of medics, engineers and architects who were responsible for modernisation between 1860 and 1914. These professionals practiced ‘Hygiene’, a discipline which normalised construction standards in order to create healthy cities and a healthy Italian nation. I demonstrate, through planning theories, plans and archaeological reconstructions, that Italian reformers brought about change by idealising the Greco-Roman city as a model. It was their belief that this model would promise Italy a future full of robust ‘Roman’ bodies.
My research adds a new dimension to our understanding of Liberal Italy by showing how Italian modernity required a relationship with Roman antiquity and in doing this, I hope to reframe our understanding of Fascist urbanism, the context in which the use of the Roman model has traditionally been explored. Chapter one provides a European context by investigating how the idea of the Roman city was embraced as a model for water systems in Paris, a modern city idealised by the Italians. Chapter two analyses the reception of these ideas in Naples and shows how Italian water theory was produced through its example. Chapter three analyses the Italian planning theory produced after reform in Naples, to show how the Roman city became a model for the modern Italian city. Chapter four turns to Rome and shows how the body politic justified modernisation, whether this was drainage, demolition or excavation. Hygienists foretold the destiny of modern Rome by connecting the city to her ancient past via new infrastructures. I suggest that archaeologists saw the past in terms of public health discourses and cleaned away what was ‘degenerate’ to reveal the healthy original structure they perceived to lie beneath. My aim is to show that ‘Hygiene’, as a movement and as a theme, provides us with the key to understanding how the image of the Greco-Roman city was essential to Italian modernity.