While wandering about Naples, we took a detour from munching street food and dodging vespas to oggle fascist architecture. HOB and I groaned and giggled at the aggressively symmetrical fascist post office and then decided to go in–why not? We really did need stamps. On entry a machine instructed us to take a number. We sat with our number on benches across from a row of post office employees behind a glass partition. Numbers would light up above a window from time to time (seemingly in random order) instructing the waiting customers to step forward. We waited an uncomfortably long time considering there were few customers and many employees. We watched a delivery of sandwiches slide through a wood trap hole in a partition, and several confused–and likely illiterate–customers approach the post office clerks, only to be turned away. Finally our number flashed and we moved forward and had the following conversion (translated from Italian for your convenience).
ME: I would like to buy some postcard stamps.
CLERK (looking incredulous): We don’t sell stamps here.
ME: Is this a post office?
CLERK (not hiding his irritation): Certainly it is!
ME: Okay then, so where do I buy postcard stamps?
CLERK: (speaking to me as if I were an imbecile) You buy them at the tobacco shop!
And off we went to find a tobacco shop, delighted with our appropriately fascist experience inside a prime example of fascist architecture.
They’re all over Italy, these looming, cold, unadorned monuments to the infamous dictatorship of Mussolini. While I can’t say I enjoy fascist architecture, I do often find myself thinking about it. What I find fascinating is how closely architecture follows political ideology. The majority of fascist buildings are banks, post offices, and the like: institutions of the state. There are no fascist churches (and indeed the dominating totalitarian regimes of the 20th century–of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Mao–were all atheist). Fascist architecture is meant to overwhelm the individual and underscore the authority of the state. As a true believer in the power of art and architecture, I would go as far as to say that fascist buildings can by themselves lead to human oppression and despair. The dehumanizing buildings replace the church, making the state itself the divine authority, with complete submission to the divine state becoming the only source of salvation. The dictators running the state and building it’s architecture grow more and more greedy and oppressive. Oppressed people are fearful, envious and disposed to violent uprising, and violence, always and forever breeds human misery.
Although these brutally cold buildings distract from the beauty and friendliness of Italy and it’s people, I wouldn’t advocate for their destruction. Fascist buildings are an important reminder of the ugliness of totalitarianism, the psychological power of architecture, and hopefully a warning for all of us about the dangers of nationalism and political ideology gone horribly wrong.
The convex facade of Naples fascist post office, Palazzo delle Poste in Naples, completed in 1936. with it’s center doors like razor-wire teeth. WARNING: do not try to buy stamps here!
Pleasing graffiti on the fascist post office of Naples.
What is the official fascist font, I wonder?
The appropriately named Palazzo della Casa del Mutilato (Palace of the House of the Mutilated) across the street from the fascist post office in Naples, built 1938 – 1940. The entry is like a medieval hell mouth–enter and suffer for an eternity.
Provincial Administrative Building, Naples, c. 1936
Il Palazzo di Giustizia di Palermo (Palermo’s palace of justice) c. 1938.
Security guard, dehumanized by the mighty authority of the fascist infrastructure.