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Every time I start to read the opening paragraphs of Michael Ende's Momo, I think for a moment "wait, is this set thousands of years ago and I forgot?" before realising those paragraphs are only backstory to explain the existence of the amphitheatre. Given the modern technology such as cars in the story, the main part of the book is clearly set in at least the 20th century.

Another interesting question is where is it set. The author is German, but many of the characters' names (Beppo, Guido, Salvatore) sound more Spanish or Italian. Is there more evidence, perhaps in minor textual details or even extratextual commentary by the author, to support any particular setting?

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There are multiple hints that the unnamed city the plot takes place in is a reminiscence of Genzano di Roma. Ende has lived there during the writing of Momo, and the Italian background (the names, but also the ancient amphitheatre) hint at that. Apparently, Ende himself has acknowledged the influence in an interview, but I could not find the original interview.

„Das ist für uns ein Geschenk, eine große Ehre“, betont Gabbarini. Die Geschichte über das Mädchen, das es mit den Zeitdieben aufnimmt, verfasste Ende in seiner Wahlheimat. Die Berge um den 25 000-Einwohner-Ort, insbesondere der Monte Giove, seien seine Inspiration für die Schildkröte Kassiopeia gewesen, sagt der Bürgermeister.

"It is a gift, and a great honour", stresses Gabbarini [major of Genzano di Roma]. The story about the girl who combats the Men in Grey has been written by Ende in this residency of his. The mountains surrounding the small village - most of all Monte Giove - were inspirations for the tortoise Kassiopeia, said the major.

News Coverage of a festival dedicated to Michael Ende in Genzano di Roma


Regarding when it takes place, there are no hints at that and I haven't found anything Ende has stated about that matter.

To me, it feels like the 1950s. I haven't lived during that time, but the rise of capitalism and the modern monetary system was most present in Germany during the Wirtschaftswunder, and Ende acknowledges Momo being a criticism of modern economics.

Furthermore, the open smoking and the prominence of cigars is something attributed to the 1950s in German literature - as far as I know. An entire subplot of Homo faber by Max Frisch, set in the 1950s is concerned with a tobacco plantation.

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    Thanks for this. Certainly you've provided good out-of-text evidence that the city was based on Genzano di Roma. Is there also stuff in the text which supports this (beyond general things like Italian names and the amphitheatre, which aren't enough to pinpoint a particular city)? – Rand al'Thor Mar 4 '18 at 21:31
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    It is hard to prove a negative, but considering that I can’t remember any explicit hints that would allow pinpointing, all study guides I have consulted for finding a location didn’t give any further information, I‘m fairly positive there isn’t. // Also, I think It Is totally besides the point where Momo takes place. Knowing how much Symbolism is even in Ende‘s children books, he would essentially narrow the interpretations of Momo if he picked a certain location, and making it less applicable. I think he left it generic on purpose. – Narusan Mar 4 '18 at 21:43
  • This is why I pointed out that he city was probably based on Genzano di Roma, but it is most definitely not resembling it. It would go against Ende‘s style to provide a specific context for his story. – Narusan Mar 4 '18 at 21:49
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    Ah, good point about Ende's style. I guess an out-of-universe answer like this is the most definitive thing we have. I'll probably accept this answer, unless someone else surprises us with more info. – Rand al'Thor Mar 5 '18 at 0:53

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