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The structure was meant to be built in Rome on the Via dell'Impero. The intention was to celebrate the famous Italian poet Dante, glorify Imperial Rome and extol the virtues of a strong fascist state. Though it was not constructed, the design was presented at the 1942 Exhibition in Rome.
Compositionally, the Danteum was conceived as an allegory of the Divine Comedy. It consists of a sequence of monumental spaces that parallel the narrator's journey from the "dark wood" through hell, purgatory, and paradise. Rather than attempting to illustrate the narrative, however, Terragni focuses on the text's form and rhyme structure, translating them into the language of carefully proportioned spaces and unadorned surfaces typical of Italian Rationalism.
Since the form of the Divine Comedy was itself influenced by the architectural structure of Byzantine churches, the Danteum is in a sense a translation of a translation. Because of the complex of literary, artistic, and architectural meaning associated with the design, the theorist Aarati Kanekar regards it as examplary of how a spatial structure can express a sophisticated poetic meaning without an explicit "vocabulary" of architectural symbols.
- Thomas L. Schumacher, The Danteum, New York, Princeton Architectural Press 1985
- Aarati Kanekar, "From Building to Poem and Back: The Danteum as a Study in the Projection of Meaning Across Symbolic Forms" in The Journal of Architecture volume 10 issue 2 April 2005 (RIBA & Routledge)