Hitler's gift to astronomy? What?

Believe it or not, Hitler wanted to give Mussolini and Rome a planetarium*. Rome was among the first in the world to build a planetarium. Italy (and Mussolini) had already taken a planetarium as part of the 'compensation' for the damage Germany did to Italy in WW1 and opened the first Roman planetarium already in 1928.

It is the most peculiar story, so much so that I feel compelled to tell, however little, what I know about this hidden treasure of planetarium history...

Hitlers gift to Rome 3

It started, of course, with my interest in astronomy and my social media activities. 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy (IYA) and I am making virtual friends all over the place, with people that share my interest in astronomy. The founder of The Virtual Telescope, an initiative under the IYA, Gianluca Masi was one of those virtual friends. Gianluca works at the Rome planetarium as well and as I was going to Rome this summer I decided to accept Gianlucas generous invitation to visit the Planetarium - and perhaps make a virtual friend become a real one.

I have visited Rome on several occasions before but I don't mind revisiting this place packed with historic sites, over and over again. After struggling with the Roman summer heat yet still enjoying the city's traditional splendor, the day arrived when we had an appointment with Gianluca to visit the Rome Planetarium. It so happens that since 2004, the Rome Planetarium is situated in EUR on the outskirts of Rome. EUR has a very special architecture you find no where else in the world. The contrast of traditional Roman architecture, however mixed that is in itself, to EUR is indescribable.

It is not even possible to experience it by looking at images, you simply have to go there.

And that is what I did.

I must say that I found it a bit odd that Rome had chosen to place their planetarium on the outskirts of Rome when they have so many buildings in the center that would immediately seem more natural as host to a planetarium. In fact, the planetarium was placed somewhere else to begin with, when Hitler thought of giving Mussolini his gift in the 1930ties. It was placed in a building with a dome, very appropriate, close to piazza Venezia in the heart of the city.

We all know that Italian politics is completely incomprehensible and I will not even attempt to understand why they decided to shut it down in the 80ties. However, the people of Rome, and I assume the rest of Italy, started to complain and claim the reopening of a planetarium. That, on the other hand, I can understand. :-)

Rome Planetarium

Their choice of place to reestablish Rome Planetarium fell on EUR far from the center of town where it used to be. Surprisingly it actually make sense now that I've been there and know a little about the history of this part of Rome. Mussolini was a man with grand ideas and he had set his mind on creating a place where one could find a replica of all Roman buildings from around the world. Replica is misleading here, because that normally means that it looks more or less exactly the same.

That is not he case with the buildings in EUR where Mussolini started to implement his ideas. No, the buildings here are a communistized version of Roman buildings. You read me correctly - communistized!

Mussolini was a fascist, but his architectural taste was definitely similar to that of the communists. I visited Bulgaria in the '80ies before the Wall went down and got a taste of communist building fashion. It is most extraordinary - and depressing. In Rome you find this style, but it is far less depressing. But, like I said, you just got to go visit to fully appreciate what I try to describe.

Hitlers gift to Rome 2

Now, since EUR was Mussolinis unfinished project, it was stopped by the onset of WW2, it actually makes sense to place 'Germany's gift' to Mussolini, the Rome Planetarium, in this part of Rome. The result is that, not only do you get to experience a wonderful 'sky', the planetarium is of very high quality as in the sky is really black and you see plenty of stars, but you are immersed in last century political history at the same time.

Rome Planetarium

Rome Planetarium

Rome Planetarium

The Rome Planetarium offers real live shows. It is in fact live performances going on. In spite of the fact that my mother, who never before had been to a planetarium in her life, does not know a word of Italian, she truly enjoyed the show where Gianluca explained how asteroids are swirling around in the Universe hitting on the planets in our solar system - including our own Earth. The 'sky' was almost as dark as an autumn night in the Norwegian mountains and you could easily recognize the different constellations. Highly recommendable even for non-Italians!

PhotobucketRome PlanetariumRome Planetarium

Outside the planetarium Gianluca and his colleagues had made an excellent exhibition. Emphasizing that planet Earth is not alone but an integral part of the Universe around us.

We have not yet been able to establish if Hitler actually decided to give Mussolini a planetarium. He was advised not to since the Italians already had taken a bite of the excellent German optics from Jena and Carl Zeiss as payment for the damages in WW1. If you have information about this, please do write me and tell.

This little story is also a report to modern times planetarium producer, Carolyn Collins Petersen, whom I promised to send pictures from my visit to Rome Planetarium. Mission accomplished!

* David Irving: Hitler’s War and The War Path

...There were other flaws. Hitler had proposed giving Italy a planetarium.
Ribbentrop pointed out that Italy already had two, both robbed from Germany
as post-war reparations. ‘It would seem to me, therefore,’ Ribbentrop
observed in a note, ‘that the gift of a planetarium to Mussolini might be
somewhat out of place.’...