Evidence of a dark and inglorious period in the history of Italy can be found on, of all places, some of Rome's manhole covers!
A few manhole covers survive from the Fascist era (1922-43), often referred to as the Ventennio Fascista or simply the Ventennio (the two decades). They can be identified as such by the fact that they sport the fasces (a bundle of rods bound together with an axe), after which the Partito Nazionale Fascista (National Fascist Party) was named.
The fasces had its origin in the Etruscan civilisation and was passed on to ancient Rome, where it symbolised a magistrate's power and jurisdiction. The fasces were carried before a magistrate by officials known as lictors. The number of lictors, who bore the fasces on their left shoulders, corresponded to the magistrate's rank. Rome's highest ranking-magistrate, a consul, was entitled to 12 lictors.
In the 20th century the fasces became a symbol of the Partito Nazionale Fascista (PNF). It was often accompanied by a number in Roman numerals and the letter A or AN (anno/year). The Fascists used such numerals to denote the number of years that had passed since October 29th 1922, the date the PNF came to power.
In the Fascist calendar the new year began on October 29th. And so, for example, October 27th 1933 was Anno XI, but October 30th 1933 was Anno XII.
There are traces of the fasces all over the city, but, more often than not, some attempt has been made to deface them. A well-preserved example can be seen high up (and relatively out of reach) on the ancient Teatro di Marcello (Theatre of Marcellus). 'A VII' indicates that it was erected during the seventh year of the Fascist regime, while the two letters 'E F' stand for Era Fascista. The axes bear a wolf's head, a fanciful invention. The sign was added during the restoration of the theatre, which took place between 1926 and 1932.