In 1929, Benito Mussolini ordered that the remains of Italian soldiers who died fighting in the First World War were to be exhumed and re-buried within large ossuaries, or bone depositories. Whereas, originally, those remains had been interred in makeshift cemeteries or mass graves, the Fascist regime moved them to thirty newly built ossuaries along the former frontlines in north-eastern Italy and present-day Slovenia. By imposing a rhetoric of victory on the dead, the ossuaries helped to bolster support for nationalism, militarism and imperialism. Their vast scale and monumentality meant that they are quite unlike other European memorials. Combining modernist influences with hints of medieval fortresses, they embodied a typically Fascist interplay between modernity and tradition.
Today the ossuaries occupy an ambiguous position in Italian heritage. Whereas they are products of Fascist propaganda, they are also valued as war monuments and burial places. Having been re-invented as symbols of Republican Italy, they are still used to accommodate state and military ceremonies. In addition, for the centenary of the First World War (2015–18), the Italian state is now funding the restoration of some of the major ossuaries. This project invites questions regarding the treatment of monuments that were once instruments of Fascist ideology, but which are now an inalienable part of Italy’s heritage.