GIL Theatre

Viale della Libertà 4, Forli, Municipality of Forlì, Emilia-Romagna Region, Italy
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Year of build:
Original name:
Casa stadio della ONB (Opera Nazionale Balilla),
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Cesare Valle
Past and Present Ownership of the Building/Site:

Municipality of Forlì

Degree of preservation and status of protection

The entire complex has recently been restored.

The recovery project was developed in the period 2005-2007. A first project drawn up by engineer Alberto Gentili was meant to achieve a seismic resistance, suitable for the use requested by the client. But the planned interventions allowed to achieve only a certain level of improvement, while not fulfilling the seismic standards in force at the time. In 2009, the Company Adriatica Costruzioni Cervese, in charge of the restoration - proposed a different structural solution. The designer was Roberto Tassinari, from Ravenna, assisted by the engineer Lorenzo Ricci. The restoration with seismic adaptation was tested by engineer Silvano Allegretti in the Spring, 2015.

Due to a lack of funding, the cinema/theatre was not subject to any interventions. The unoriginal furnishings have been removed, therefore this area is presented in a "raw" state.

Architectural Description

“Casa del Balilla” in Forlì was built between 1933 and 1935 along “Viale Mussolini ', the current “Viale della Libertà”. Characterized by rationalist features, it was designed by Architect Cesare Valle, one of the pupils of Marcello Piacentini. The building was erected  by Calvitti’s, a company selected after a public tender.

The real estate is volumetrically organized into different sections placed in adherence to each other and characterized by different uses, articulated in relation to the function that the entire structure was called upon to perform.

The original project provided for the construction according to two excerpts. The first construction was completed in its entirety, with the exception of the former swimming pool area. The second, included the swimming pool and the eastern part of the building.

The knowledge of these first two working phases is based on photos of the construction site archived by the Municipality of Forlì. At the end of the first executive section, the structure was divided into two blocks, without solution of continuity. The supporting structure made for both blocks is in reinforced concrete, a material that was at the forefront in Italy at the time. During the construction, many details were created and then modified: for example, photos from the construction site show that an additional body was initially built on the top of the tower, which was then demolished. Cesare Valle created a very modern complex in which there were gyms, swimming pool, together with outdoor facilities dedicated to sport, but also offices, a library, classrooms and a theatre. The complex is located close to GIL’s Aviation College “Bruno Mussolini” (1937-1941), with which it was to weave a close relationship. The building stood in a nerve centre of the new Forlì, closing one of the corners of the monumental rectangular square “Piazzale della Vittoria”.

After the war, other changes were made: the closure of the corridors between the culture area and the sport area and the construction of the access staircase to the cinema gallery. Some windows were also bricked up to allow access from the corridors of the cinema to the swimming pool.

History and Historical Context

The Opera Nazionale Balilla, also known by the acronym ONB, was a fascist institution with an extra-curricular and paramilitary character. Founded in 1926 as an autonomous body, the ONB merged into the GIL (Italian Youth of Littorio) starting from 1937. The name was inspired by the figure of Giovan Battista Perasso called "Balilla", the young Genoese who, according to tradition, would have started the revolt against the Austrian occupiers in 1746: an image of a revolutionary model beloved by the fascist regime.

In 1926 Mussolini gave the former parliamentary secretary for education Renato Ricci the task of "reorganizing the youth from a moral and physical point of view". A law of 3rd April 1926 confirmed the birth of the ONB, which Ricci would direct for eleven years. Complementary to the scholastic institution, the ONB was "aimed at the assistance and physical and moral education of the youth". Young people aged 8 to 18 would have taken part in it, divided into two sub-institutions: the Balilla and the Avant-gardists. The ONB aimed not only at spiritual, cultural and religious education, but also at premilitary, sports, professional and technical education. The purpose of the ONB was to instill in young people the military discipline and education and make them aware of their Italian identity and their role as "fascists of tomorrow". In 1927, the fascist regime banned all the non-fascist youth organizations, including the Scout associations (the Scouts continued to carry out their activities in hiding and actively participated in the anti-fascist revolts), with the exception of the Italian Catholic Youth, which in any case had to reduce its activities. Rigidly centralized since its foundation, the ONB was conceived by the fascists as a tool for penetrating educational institutions. The ONB was entrusted with the teaching of physical education in schools; chiefs and teachers were required to ‘open their schools’ to ONB initiatives and to invite all students to join them. The ONB also ran training and career guidance courses, education courses for adults, childcare and household classes for women, as well as thousands of rural schools (in 1937 there were more than six thousand).

In Forlì, as in all the other cities, soon the Opera Balilla replaced the Delegation of the Fascist Youth Movement, which ceased its activities. Casa del Goliardo became the ONB House in 1927 in which "fascism intends to welcome the little Italians to educate them spiritually and physically". In addition to the administration, the ONB of Forlì included: rooms for officers and the executive staff, a meeting venue, the Balilla’s Command and the Avant-garde house, large clothing stores, bathrooms, indoor and outdoor gymnasium, fencing, billiards and recreational facilities, conference room, a theatre, a library and historical collections, with particular care for the events related to the fascist revolution.

In 1926, the avant-garde sections of the province were framed in a great legion. According to the publication “Fascist Works” of 1927, in September 1926, in the province of Forlì the avant-garde members were 5.120 and Balilla were 4.775.

In the municipality of Forlì, the publication framed 1.138 avant-gardists and 824 Balilla, which represented 37% of the 5.100 local young people between eight and eighteen years old. In the rest of the province, the municipality with the lowest percentage of members compared to the youth population was Bagno di Romagna with 9%, followed by Modigliana, Premilcuore and Roncofreddo with 10%. The highest percentage of subscribers is registered in Monte Colombo (100%), followed by Borghi (67%), Dovadola and Mondaino (59%), Cesena (24%), Forlimpopoli (52%) and Predappio (28%).

Five years later, the ONB updated the statistics of the members in the province of Forlì, for the 10th year of “the fascist era” that had just ended. The province had 4 Balilla legions with an overall number of 12.047 members, 4 Avant-garde legions (5.243 members), 10.560 female youngsters divided in 16 groups and other 4 groups of female leagues (1.550 members). In total, in 1932 the ONB counted 29.400 members, and 1.667 Avant-gardists had made the transition to the youth combat league.

In 1928, Renato Ricci, issued a "Manifesto” for sports, with which he entrusted the ONB with the physical education of young people and the management of all the real estate assets for sport existing on the national territory. In order to provide the young fascists with specific aggregative structures, the construction of “Casa del Balilla” was planned in each medium-sized town.
Casa del Balilla in Forlì was built between 1933 and 1935 along Viale Mussolini, the current Viale della Libertà.

The main reason for the success of this kind of complex in Italy, as a propaganda tool for modern architecture, lies in its extraordinary typological innovation, which fulfilled three specific functions: to educate, to heal and to play. A structure designed according to a complex multifunctionality, which saw libraries, gyms, swimming pools, entertainment rooms, medical examination rooms, outdoor gymnastics courtyards coexisting in the same system.

A brand new topic for designers and young architects, new to this compositional level, to be solved in the particular dimension of use and whose style had to observe rationality, therefore the proposition of an architectural language that contemplated contemporary North European architecture, together with attention to fundamental aspects such as light, hygiene and cleanliness.

In 1935, the building was defined, during its inauguration, as "a complete and perfect house [...] an important achievement in the field of modern architecture and the first happy experiment of a strong and expressive example of Fascist style", endowed with a rigorous articulation.

The complex is dominated by a tower, a monumental shrine dedicated to Arnaldo Mussolini, which bears the oath of the Balilla, symbolic pivot of the entire composition, on two sides. The building is articulated towards the avenue with a curved body that houses the library and the executive offices, a cubic body, with the cinema theatre on which - towards the inside - a third volume with a C-shaped scheme, which contains the real sports sector, with the enclosures that house the gym and swimming pool. The furniture (which has now disappeared) is also innovative but can be documented thanks to the Valle di Roma Archive: unique furniture, modeled to take on the role of signals designed to emphasize important spaces or volumes for special purposes. In 1937, Giuseppe Pagano from the pages of the magazine "Casabella" included the building in the short list of the best architectures of the mid-thirties in Italy. At the same time, Mario Paniconi of the magazine "Architettura", defined the GIL as a truly successful building, technically and stylistically ". The same plan was then re-proposed in simplified variants by Emanuele Filiberto Paolini in Cagliari (1933-35), by Emanuele Mongiovì in Ascoli Piceno (1934-37) and by Domenico Filippone in Campobasso (1936-38).

Values of the Building

Sports practice and culture in Italy were established in parallel, with the developments of modernity. Fascism, better than catholic associations and socialist movements, was able to grasp the potential contribution that sport and physical education could offer to mass socialization and invested organizational and financial resources, assuming control of sports associations and creating the conditions to extend sporting practice at various levels to the entire population, through the leisure time organization.

Law no. 2247 of 3 April 1926 established the ONB (Opera Nazionale Balilla) for the assistance and physical and moral education of youth. It was intended to control the formation of new generations and to obtain their consent to the regime; while, for boys over the age of eighteen, the Fasci youth combat (FGC) was founded in October 1930. The Royal Decree n. 1839, dated 27th October 1937, established the Italian Youth of Littorio (GIL), placed directly under the PNF, which absorbed the Opera Nazionale Balilla. After that, the Fascist University Groups (GUF), established since the early 1920s, became a tool to control the University system: it was institutionalized in 1927 and placed directly under the PNF secretary.

The ONB was in clear competition with the Italian Action Youth organizations. Two years after its creation, a decree was approved which provided for the dissolution and merger into the ONB of all non-fascist youth organizations, until the signing of an agreement. From six to eight years old, the children were "children of the wolf" and wore a black shirt. At 9 they became “balilla” or “little Italians”, then at fourteen “avant-garde” and “young Italians”. In 1934, the ONB framed a total of over 4.300,000 young people throughout Italy.

Renato Ricci, a prominent PNF exponent, was called to head the ONB, which was not officially a party organ, but an entity dependent on the Ministry of National Education. Among the Opera Nazionale Balilla’s main objectives: training young males as potential future soldiers.

ONB’s disciplinary regulation (promulgated on January 9, 1927) provided that ONBs should be committed: "a) to instill in young people the feeling of military discipline and education; b) to pre-military education; c) sports gymnastic education; d) spiritual and cultural education; e) professional and technical education; f) education and religious assistance››.

Boys used to wear a uniform, consisting of a black shirt, a blue handkerchief held by a shield clip with the effigy of Benito Mussolini, grey-green cloth trousers, grey-green wool socks, black sash belt and black headdress called fez. In addition, they learned to use the musket, which in the case of the little ones was made of wood. Both “Balilla” and the “Avant-garde” were hierarchically-structured: divided into squads, maniples, centuries, cohorts and legions, and commanded by teachers chosen from among the members of the Voluntary Militia for National Security. The ONB was also charged with providing teaching in schools of physical education, a compulsory subject since the third grade and to which the regime gave primary importance.

Registration with the ONB was not compulsory, but numerous services were reserved for members: sports activities, scholarships, school lunches, after school, the possibility of making use of free medical examinations, participation in camping holidays and in marine and mountain colonies.

The alignment of the sports’ press was fundamental to creating the language and myths of sport, through emphatic accounts inspired by nationalism bordering on xenophobia, particularly when playing the national football team, whose sporting successes were adopted as an example of national and racial regeneration (the victory at the world championship in 1938 was obtained in the final which took place in Paris on June 19, 1938; a little more than a month later, on July 25, the "Manifesto of the race" was released, preparatory to subsequent laws) and as a metaphor for fascist society: the winning team was based on collective collaboration, but the individualisms of the most gifted with technique and inventiveness were also required, as in society the leaders and the best were needed, but one could not do without of the so-called minors. The identification of the national team with the regime was explicitly sanctioned by the affixing of the fasces on the blue shirt next to the Savoy frieze starting in 1927 and reinforced by the use of a completely black uniform, the colour of fascism.

Description of the Urban Context and Development

The city of Forlì, awarded the Silver Medal for Civil Valor in the Resistance, is notoriously strongly marked in its architectural and urban development lines by the Fascist regime. This legacy is a strong testimony of the Italian experience in the twentieth century. In this context, the former GIL represents the creation of the identity of the city, which is now also based on a full awareness of the imprint given by the regime.

At the conclusion of the restoration work, which lasted several years, the building reopened with an exhibition dedicated to the architect designer Cesare Valle, thanks to the precious collaboration of the Cesare Valle Archive in Rome and the Scientific Committee of the ATRIUM European Cultural Route, which the architecture of the Forlì regime in dialogue with the wider European context.

New Cultural Tourist Offer Focused on Selected Building/Site

Forlì and ATRIUM European Cultural Route are now a point of reference for the critical study of the architecture of the totalitarian regimes of the old continent throughout the last century, which has also found a normative side. The Emilia Romagna region, in fact, aware of this still uncomfortable past and its "dissonant legacy", and in line with the aims of ATRIUM, has passed the Law on Twentieth Century Memory” (LR n. 3 of 3 March 2016), which aims to increase, through the formation and dissemination of the history of this controversial century, the knowledge of the past in order to understand our present.

The cultural itinerary ATRIUM (Architecture of Totalitarian Regimes in Europe's Urban Memory) aims to promote, for cultural and tourist purposes, a particular heritage that concerns twentieth-century Europe. A heritage made up of buildings, streets, squares that characterizes many European cities where totalitarian or dictatorial regimes have left a considerable, sometimes heavy, imprint on urban development. Maintaining a position of strong rejection of anti-democratic regimes, ATRIUM intends to enhance this material heritage through a cultural activity that tells important, albeit tragic, stories of European cities and the twentieth century.

In 2015, the Municipality of Forlì inaugurated this renovated building, through the exhibition “Cesare Valle. Another modernity: Architecture in Romagna ". The event brought to the fore a figure of valuable architect who, in addition to other interventions in Italy (for example in Carbonia), left a strong imprint on the city of Forlì, where he designed two of the most prestigious and famous buildings in the area of ​​new urban development: the former home-stadium of the Opera Nazionale Balilla, later GIL, and the nearby Aeronautical College. The restoration and therefore the return to the city and the citizens of Forlì of the former GIL is presented as the best opportunity to reflect on the work and the figure of its designer.

Alongside the Valle’s exhibition, ATRIUM presented three other exhibitions. The first, entitled "Cantiere Restauro", the result of the work of a special table, focuses attention, through a "hepatologue" of key points, on the technical, historical and cultural problems of the restoration of buildings built in the twentieth century, analyzing, such as practical examples, three local case studies (Palazzo Varano in Predappio, the AGIP colony in Cesenatico and the former GIL in Forlì). The second is an exhibition of prototypes of contemporary artifacts that flank the ATRIUM project, taking up the styles of the time while maintaining an ideological and critical distance. Finally, the "Totally Romagna" exhibition explored, through photography, the theme of the abandonment of buildings of the fascist regime in Romagna and the cultural and historical challenge of looking at this uncomfortable heritage in the present.

As part of the Forlì Città del '900 Festival, in 2017 the exhibition "Architecture and Urban Planning in the Overseas lands. Dodecanese, Ethiopia, Albania (1924-1943) was inaugurated at the former GIL. The exhibition described the history of Italian architecture in the Aegean Area, the Balkans and the Horn of Africa, in the period between rise and fall of Fascismpresented blueprints and sketches from Cesare Valle and Gherardo Bosio’s Archive, and presented blueprints and sketches from Cesare Valle’s and Gherardo Bosio’s official archives.