The INA Assitalia Historical Archive recently participated in the international conference Building for the Nation Abroad organised by the Academia Belgica, the Danish Academy and various university institutions on the practice of national construction on foreign soil.
The scientific meeting took place on 21 and 22 September 2023 at the prestigious locations of the two renowned cultural institutions – Villa Borghese, in the green heart of Rome (Valle Giulia).
The conference was organised in four themed sessions, focusing on the architectural, historical (particularly from a diplomatic and post-colonial viewpoint), economic and social aspects of the practice of national construction on foreign soil. Examples were considered from various countries, including France, Tanzania, Germany, China, Turkey and Japan.
The speakers presented original research revealing the complexity of this type of construction, be it an embassy, a school building or an exhibition pavilion. Among other things they considered the relationship between clients and designers, politics and diplomatic image (desired or not) abroad, change and preservation of a country’s self-representation after catastrophic and revolutionary events such as war, and project plans and the on-site need to adapt to local factors such as the availability of materials.
The contribution by the INA Assitalia Historical Archive, which first considered internal documentary research before moving on to other national archival institutions (the Central State Archives and the Diplomatic Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), examined the administrative/bureaucratic history of the October 28 Royal Italian School (nursery and primary schools) in Cairo, built in the 1930s by the Istituto Nazionale delle Assicurazioni on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, specifically the Department for the General Management of Italian Schools Abroad, led at the time by the diplomat Piero Parini. The new building, based on a design by Clemente Busiri Vici, was completed in just twenty-four months between 1934 and 1936. Although intended for the large Italian colony in Cairo, it welcomed students from every nation, with French, English, Arabic and Latin taught there in addition to Italian. After four years of fruitful activity, it felt the consequences of the Second World War when seized by Egyptian troops immediately after Mussolini’s declaration of war on 10 June 1940 before being leased to the English cultural institution Victoria College, signalling the end of its relationship with the INA. It did not come under the control of the Egyptian government, led by President Nasser, until 1957, following laborious and difficult negotiations that succeeded only through the efforts of Italian diplomacy. A university was based there until at least the late 1960s.