Diary

Will Self

‘Rome completely bowled me over!’ Hitler declared on returning to Germany after his 1938 state visit to Italy. Mussolini had laid on a grand night-time tour that climaxed in a visit to the Colosseum, which – according to Christopher Woodward in his excellent In Ruins – ‘was lit from inside by red lamps so that, as if ablaze, it cast a bloody glow on to the grass and the ruddy brick ruins on the surrounding slopes.’[*] Descanting to Albert Speer, his pet pseudo-classical architect, Hitler explained that ‘ultimately, all that remained to remind men of the great epochs of history was their monumental architecture … What then remained of the emperors of the Roman Empire? What would give evidence of them today, if not their buildings?’

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[*] Gillian Darley reviewed In Ruins in the LRB of 29 November 2001.