Fontecchio, one of my favourite pretty fortified towns that sits in L’Aquila, isn’t a place you’d expect to see some graffiti that stops you dead in your tracks and make you think you’ve come face to face with a surreal Banksy-style joke.
The stencilled portrait of Mussolini on one of the walls that forms Piazza San Nicola whisks you back to darker times of brother-against-brother, and when Mussolini instructed the military in the use of the propaganda tag & stencils to indoctrinate the stubborn masses. Of course some of his followers were keen to adopt this graffiti too (from the Italian word graffiato, meaning “to scratch”) to display some of Mussolini’s mottoes and would-be axioms at every possible opportunity.
With the failure of Italy’s immediate post-war reconstruction, Abruzzo underwent probably its last major diaspora, families fleeing poverty for something better in unified countries without the daily torture of thinking about what happened within their family. Houses were abandoned, becoming huge trellis pots for plants and homes for birds to roost in; no wonder there are so many properties up for sale now in Abruzzo 2 generations later…
As Italian law stands today you cannot, understandably, deface or vandalise another person’s property, that also includes striking out 2nd World War ‘scratches’ without permission. Most of the families from the diaspora returned for holidays but some never came back to put that request in to, so the graffiti remains. Apart from the visual stencilled graffiti, you can frequently see phrases etched onto the walls of the discarded houses; it won’t mean much for those that don’t speak Italian, especially when the last thing you want to think about on your Abruzzo holiday is propaganda graffiti, but it’s part of the history of the region & country, which is I guess could be a reason for the State not intervening and doing a major sandblast or whitewash.
Here are some of the phrases that you may spy whilst in Fontecchio & Abruzzo. You do wonder what Mussolini had envisaged for the people of Italy if it wasn’t ‘the comfortable’ life?
“noi diciamo: è l’aratro che traccia il solco ma la spada lo difende” (It’s the plough that makes the furrow but the sword defends it)
“noi tireremo dritto” (we’ll go straight ahead) and it’s ironic to see that in Fontecchio this sentence is written just before a bend…
“solo Dio può fermare la volontà degli Italiani, gli uomini e le cose mai!” (only God can stop the Italians’ strength of will; men and things never!)
“credere, obbedire, combattere” (to believe, to obey, to fight)
“noi odiamo la vita comoda” (we hate the comfortable life)