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First reveal: Arco dei Fileni, Libya, 1941 in 1:35, Scratchbuild

This article is part of a series:
  1. First reveal: Arco dei Fileni, Libya, 1941 in 1:35, Scratchbuild
  2. Second reveal: Arco dei Fileni, Libya, 1941 in 1:35, Scratchbuild
  3. Final reveal: Arco dei Fileni, Libya, 1941 on 1:35, Scratchbuild

Some of you may have dropped by this WIP on the Arco dei Fileni (Arch of the Philaeni) entry in the diorama and armor section:

Since the main construction phase is now finished, I wanted to bring a first reveal to you. Today, I had a long sanding session so now the build is ready for finishing. I will add a few vehicles to make the proportions of the monument more clear but focus will be on the Arc itself, always.

Short history:

The Arco dei Fileni was erected in the mid-1930’s in Libya (North Africa), then a colony of the kingdom of Italy. The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini himself inaugurated the Arc on March 16th 1937 and it was situated on the border between the Northern African (Italian-controlled) provinces of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, between Al Agheila and Ras-Lanuf.

The site for the Arc was chosen near the purported burial place of two brothers from Cartago who were buried alive there to mark the border between the Greek province of Kirene and Roman Cartago. Hence the name “Arco dei Fileni”, the brothers’ arc.

The legend of the brothers’ fate was described in a verse by Horace and one passage from this writing was actually on the monument: “ALME SOL POSSIS NIHIL VRBE ROMA VISERE MAIVS” (“Oh amighty sun, may you never look onto a city greater than Rome”. Italian fasism of the 1920 and -30ies heavily relied on the romantic representation of the old Rome. Hence, this monument’s appearance in Northern Africa was intended to provide a beacon of the new Roman Empire Mussolini so much wanted to build around the Mediterranean sea.

For more history, I refer to the WIP thread before.

Why I Built this arc?

Actually, I was reading a book on the conflict in Northern Africa between 1941 and 1943 and bounced upon this picture:

I was most interested in the monument behind the Pzkpfw. III and started to research. The Arc was designed by the Italian architect Florestano di Fausto and constructed in travertine stone, of which most of Rome was built. This stone has a particular texture and is predominantly white in color:

The Arc appears in many pictures at the time, and really was a landmark for many troops on both sides, involved in the conflict in Northern Africa, as this exempt from a comic album shows:

Also, it was a main tourist attraction in Libya and long after the war ended there. It was even on the front page of tourist guides:

And even on postage stamps…

Unfortunately, the original no longer exists as the later dictator of Libya, Muammar Al-Gadaffi had it demolished in the early seventies of the previous century. To him, the arc was too much a reference to the colonial past of his country he could better do without and so, it had to be removed. Personally, I recognize that the monument dated from a dictatorial, yes fascist past but it’s elegant lines do attract me and therefore I took on the project of building it. To my knowledge, nobody ever undertook this challenge seriously before.

Remember: To begin, begin. (William Wordsworth)

The build:

This time around, I had no plans and not many references on the size and dimensions of the Arc. I found one article indicating three main dimensions and commenced the task of measuring available photographic imagery of the monument and producing a pencil drawing at scale 1:100. I had pictures like these that showed the main details on the inner side of the Arc (compare to the historical shot!):

The real thing was about 32 meters high, which amounts to 91 centimeters in scale 1:35. The build was initiated by assembling a frame from hardwood profiles from the department store:

When that was done and straight, I set to the task of sheeting the outside of the frame using 2mm balsa. As I think about using the wood grain to mimic the typical layered structure of the travertine stone, I tried to keep all grains in horizontal direction, in line with what I could derive from pictures.

Last week, I applied a layer of wood primer (transparent) which rendered the brittle balsa stronger. Today I had about 4 hours of a careful sanding session outside. Lovely weather it was!

This is the result!

I hope you like it so far, left to do is the painting, weathering, sculpting of the statues of both brothers, the bas-relief and some details on the outside. These relics are all that is left from this once majestic monument in a little museum near Syrt in Libya.

If you like, you can continue to follow progress in the WIP thread:

Comments, views are welcome!

Happy modeling!

21 responses to First reveal: Arco dei Fileni, Libya, 1941 in 1:35, Scratchbuild

  1. Now, THAT’S modeling, sir….nicely done – lookin’ forward to the result(s). 🙂

  2. Really fantastic work!

  3. Wow!! Craftsmanship at its best.

  4. Epic modeling. The detail and precision, fidelity and replication – are superb.

    You know, without seeming disrespectful, I’d get some subtle lighting in the central arch to beautifully showcase a Verschuere ‘vin du semaine’. You could place a new bottle in there every Monday and look forward all week to popping the cork on a Friday night.

    Great, great work on many levels.


  5. 😀 thanks everyone for your comments!

  6. Awsome project. Do you plan to use any figures to show the size and scale?

  7. Superb so far.

  8. 🙂 … Greetings … 🙂 :
    Truly amazing and awesome show of skills and craftsmanship, this is a pleasure and joy trip to see it taking form from really just wooden boards. Nice modeling Michel.

  9. Thanks everyone for your kind words and likes.

    @stellan: yes I plan to add two vehicles, one is a BMW R-12 heavy motorcycle and the other one an armoured car, early type. I started to build the R-12 already (Zvezda kit). The spokes on the wheels were rather heavy so I remastered them using Nylon wire. I will try and post some pics on that in the WIP thread today.

    Will keep you all posted on where I go from here!

  10. Great concept Michel and wonderful execution !
    Very much looking forward to the finished model.
    Like the Wordsworth quote also!

  11. Following the WIP, and this is looking gorgeous! It’s classy even in its unfinished, sanded splendor. Beautiful lines. Great work!

  12. What a fantastic project !!! I’ve been watching you build this up and it’s definitely going to be a masterpiece. You my friend are a master craftsman.

    This is a work of art just like the original. It will take on the aura of the original structure and look even more majestic once it’s completed and you place a few vehicles next to it.

    I’ll be looking forward to your next installment.


  13. Wow, just fantastic.

  14. #AlwaysAmazedbyMichel

  15. Thanks Dr. @davidathomas
    I thought you would appreciate the verse by Horace on this Arch! Frankly I never heard of this legend before I started the research on this one…

    Right now I am deliberating whether to paint the monument white (as travertine is) or leave it in this natural wood grain stained appearance. I am currently testing different finishing techniques on pieces of scrap balsa.

    Painting the model would render it into a realistic scale replication of the original, yet leaving it in its pure form leaves more room to the imagination of the onlooker.

    After all (courtesy of my favorite sculptor A. Giacometti):

    Comments/views very much welcome…

    Thanks all for your encouragement, more soon!

  16. Excellent architectural model building !!
    Hoe groter hoe beter .

  17. WoW! Beautiful work, Michel! You are a true artist and modeler.

  18. wow
    i am speechless
    can’t wait to see the finished dio

  19. Congratulations, I am writing to you from Italy and I am a fan for African war theater from 1940 to 1943. I am conducting a research about the Arch of the Fileni and your work seems impressive to me. BRAVO!Photos with details such as the inside of the arch and the upper parts of one are not easy to find. Have you found any particular source? What do you think of our arch, your opinion about it was built from above? I’d like to talk about this with you, I attach my blog where you can see my works. If you need let me know how I can help you.

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