5 Controversial Street Names on an Italy Tour

There are at least 5 Controversial Street Names that you may uncover on an Italy Tour and that may be dismissed as insignificant to the eye of an unprepared tourist.

When traveling with Meet Piemonte and exploring Italy with our small-group tour vacations, our local guides are there to provide insight and to share the Italian point of view that one may not find in guidebooks.

Street names in Italy carry with them historical and cultural significance and some are still firing up public opinion because of what they recall. From controversial political leaders to the recollection of colonialism and Fascism, take a tour of 5 interesting and divisive street names found while traveling throughout Italy.

Trace Fascism symbols in the streets of Italy

Tourists can still trace some of the vestiges of Fascism present in many Italian cities. From train stations to public buildings to entire neighborhoods, the list of architectures inspired by the efficient, severe-looking style of the 1920s and 30s, is very long.

In Turin, the first stretch of via Roma, between Porta Nuova train station and Piazza San Carlo was completely pulled down, modernized, and rebuilt in Rationalist style. Bolzano, Milan, Asti, Naples and obviously Rome, as well as the smaller towns from north to south, still have symbols of Fascism.

Despite the recent efforts of some left-oriented political leaders to depoliticize monuments and symbols of that period, the Country is debating whether people have been injured and if this dark page of Italian history should be canceled or not.

The controversial statue of Piazza Ognissanti in Florence 

Piazza Ognissanti in Florence boasts the statue of Romano Romanelli representing Hercules and the lion. Tourists may think it’s just one of the many works of art of the Renaissance period inspired by classicism that embellishes many squares of the Tuscan city.

The truth is that the statue was made in 1935 and placed in the square in 1937 to celebrate the victory of Fascism in Ethiopia, recalling one of the most controversial pages of Italian history: the (late) colonialism.

Under that light, the statue’s symbols acquire new meaning: Hercules is supposed to represent the power and strength of Mussolini who defeats the local Ethiopian Emperor Hailé Selassié, whose coat of arms was the lion.

In a time when the influence of the Cancel Culture Movement, which started in the USA, is spreading in Europe, Romanelli’s statue in Piazza Ognissanti in Florence became very controversial because it combines two hot topics: the shame of colonialism in Africa and the military achievements of the dictatorship.

Florence's controversial statue in Piazza Ognissanti
Florence’s controversial statue in Piazza Ognissanti

The Controversial Piazza Adua on an Italy Tour 

In Florence, as well as in other Italian cities, one can find squares named after Adwa (spelled Adua in Italian) a city in Ethiopia where one of the battles of the first Italo-Ethiopian War took place. In 1896, Ethiopian forces defeated the Italian invading army that was trying to expand its colonial empire in the Horn of Africa.

European monarchs occupied most of Africa’s territories since the beginning of colonialism, leaving, by the end of the 19th century, Ethiopia and Liberia the only independent countries.

​Fascists, therefore, wanted to commemorate Adwa for the loss of many Italian soldiers who ​died for their Country and it ​turned out to be an episode that gave motivation for the next expedition in Ethiopia.

In fact, forty years later, Ethiopian sovereignty was defeated by Mussolini in the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, equally controversial for the illegal use of poisonous gases and for the high number of victims on both sides.

The controversial name of Giorgio Almirante in Italy’s streets

As you explore the streets of Italy on a tour, you may come across controversial ones dedicated to Giorgio Almirante. He was an Italian politician and leader of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI). He had a significant influence, so much so that, according to 2011 data from the Italian National Institute of Statistics, 200 streets, squares, or roundabouts still bear his name today. 

Every time a city council comes up with Almirante’s name, strong reactions and opposition from left-based political parties are struck. This has been particularly the case in those cities where the remembrance of the partisans’ resistance against the nazi-fascist occupation, is still vivid and honored. 

In fact, Giorgio Almirante in his early life, as a journalist, wrote extensively and favorably about the defense of the Italian race, in the same years when, in Italy, racial laws were approved and the deportation of Jews began. 

He was also indicted for ordering the shooting of partisans in 1944, although a general amnesty saw these charges lifted.

His political views shifted towards a more moderate position in the following decades and by the 1970s he declared his own support for democracy. On this basis he continued to attract more conservative elements to his own political party and, simultaneously, he worked on reforms such as the project of a Presidential Republic (inspired by the French model), he disagreed with the increasing power given to the regions rather than to a centralized Government and much else.

Political reactions behind Almirante’s name

In 2022 the mayor of Rome, Roberto Gualtieri, refused to entitle a public park to Giorgio Almirante because “the city previously gained a Gold Medal for the events related to the Partisans Resistance and such values, as well as the history and the principles of the Italian Constitution, are not forgotten”.

Alessandria is a city in Piedmont where in 2010 a newly-built roundabout entitled to Almirante raised critics. In order to keep public opinion quiet, it was decided to name other streets after important politicians such as Palmiro Togliatti, leader of the Communist political party, and Nilde Iotti, the first and only woman member of the same party to become the president of the Chamber of Deputies in 1979.

These street names can be very divisive, as they serve as reminders of a turbulent period in Italian history.

Via Almirante in Italy's streets
Via Almirante in Italy’s streets

Giovanni Falcone e Paolo Borsellino, two heroes in the streets of Italy

8092 municipalities in Italy have entitled a total of 740 public spaces to either Falcone or Borsellino, the two most prominent prosecutor magistrates and fighters against the Sicilian mafia. 

In May 1992 Giovanni Falcone, his wife, and their bodyguards were killed by the mafia in a devastating explosion on the highway between Palermo’s airport and the city center, on the way to his home for the weekend. 

An earthquake was locally registered as the consequence of the blasting, caused by 400 kg (881 lbs) of explosives, meant not only to kill whoever was passing by on the road but to be a demonstration of the power of the Mafia.

A few months later, Falcone’s friend and colleague Paolo Borsellino was also killed by a car bomb placed in central Palermo, while he was visiting his mother on a Sunday morning.

The fight to the mafia as civil integration

Sadly, their accomplishments were not enough to protect their own lives and they became the symbols of all the good Italians who refuse to submit to the power of the mafia.

Therefore, it should not be a surprise that 44% of the street names entitled to Falcone and Borsellino are in the south of Italy, against 42% in the north and 14% in the center.

This data is meant to confirm how the memory of these two men has been a resource to reject the association between the Mafia and Sicily, the region where everything began. 

Sicily, in particular, is fighting to preserve the reputation of hard-working people who want to be safe and not involved in criminal organizations. At the same time, the way the fight against the mafia was conducted in the previous decades is still a controversial topic.

Historians have pointed out how northern Italy tends to have a majority of symbols, monuments, and commemorative sites related to the nazi-fascist occupation and to WWII, while the regions in the south rely more on the fight against the Mafia as a civil integration.

Why Via Balbo can be controversial in the streets of Italy 

One of the street names that can be easily uncovered in a tour of Italy is Via Balbo, however, not everyone is aware of the fact that two men belonging to two different historical backgrounds carried the same last name.

The first one, Cesare, was a writer and statesman, born in Turin in 1789. He is considered one of the fathers of the Italian State who contributed to the planning process of the unification of the Country.

On the contrary, Italo Balbo was an Italian fascist politician, a Marshal of the Air Force, sometimes seen as a possible successor of Mussolini. He is remembered for the incredible aeronautic expedition from Italy to America, the first of its kind.

The importance of local insight on an Italy Tour: the case of Balbo

Join one of our small-group Italy tours and get the insight scoop and the historical background so that you can be prepared for your own exploration and know what to expect.

Every Italian city or town has a Via Cesare Balbo, in honor of the patriotic and liberal ideals of a man who lived in the first half of the 1800s, during the struggle for independence and wars against the Austrian occupation in Milan and Venice.

As the first Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Piedmont and Sardinia, he was devoted to the Savoy king and strongly believed that the Royal family could ​have ​played​ a strategic role in the fate of Italy. On the contrary, he did not support the idea of having the Pope leading the Country and he suggested compensation for Austria that would have lost Italian territories.

Cesare Balbo died eight years before Italy was unified in 1861, believing in the vision of a unified Italy, without any foreign control and under the guidance of the House of Savoy.

Italo Balbo
Italo Balbo

Balbo Drive in Chicago and via Italo Balbo in Italian towns

Italo Balbo has nothing to do with Cesare and no family connection, despite the same last name.

Among the 5 Controversial Street Names on an Italy Tour, Via Italo Balbo can be found in Castel Volturno (in the province of Caserta), Monteroduni (Isernia), Itri and Minturno which are near Latina, a city built by the Fascism after the draining of the local swamps. In all cases, those streets were titled in the 1930s, during the Fascism, and didn’t change their name since then.

Regardless of Italo Balbo’s political vision, what made him a hero was the successful two-week-long transatlantic crossing from Italy to Chicago. Twenty-five seaplanes left Orbetello, in Tuscany, in July 1933 and reached lake Michigan after seven stopovers in Amsterdam, Londonderry, Iceland, Labrador, and other Canadian towns.

He was welcomed like a hero in Chicago that at that time was celebrating the 100 years anniversary of the foundation of the city. In his honor, Balbo Drive was open and still exists, despite the recent project to change its name in light of the Cancel Culture Movement ideals.