Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry August 2005

You Leave the Mergellina Station 'bout a Quarter-to-Four..."

(Sorry. I can't help myself.)

       Mergellina station in 1930

The history of efforts to give the city of Naples a good, modern underground train system, called a Metropolitana, is long and complicated. It starts with the first never-to-be realized proposal of Lamont Young in 1884 and runs through ongoing construction (started in the 1970s) to build an extensive underground rail network dedicated solely to the Metropolitana. "Solely," because for many decades, whatever metro line existed in Naples at all was a single line sharing the same track with the main Naples-Rome rail route, itself an interesting project in which the station at Mergellina plays an integral part.

2005 restoration                            

What even many Neapolitans call, simply, the "Metro station" at Mergellina is in reality the "other" station (besides the main station at Piazza Garibaldi) in Naples for long distance rail travel. When Mergellina station was opened on October 28, 1927, it completed the Naples-Rome link running west out of the city, then up the coast towards the capital.

The opening of the station was front-page news in Naples at the time. It was one of many stations and other public buildings opened during the same few weeks throughout Italy, carefully timed for the nation-wide fifth anniversary celebration of the "Fascist Revolution" (that is, Mussolini's March on Rome of October 28, 1922). The new Naples-Rome rail-link was given thousand of words of journalistic hyperbole: it was the logical modern extension of the ancient Roman dedication to road building, a modern road of steel flanking the ancient Appian Way —that sort of thing. The fact of the new rail line got more attention than the station itself; yet, there was a paragraph of praise for the architect, G.B. Milani, who had managed to build "a fluid facade...big but not heavy."

Anyone with a knowledge of the various waves of architecture that have surged through the city of Naples over the centuries can look around and say, "That's Angevin; that's Bourbon, that's Spanish; that's monolithic Fascist Art Deco from the 1930's..." When you come to 1900 in Naples, however, things get a little confused. If you say, "Oh, that building is Risanamento," you are naming the mammoth urban renewal project that rebuilt Naples between 1880 and 1915; that is, you are naming a period of time, not an architectural style. The same goes for "Umbertino" —applied to architecture and almost anything else— including hair style (!)—popular during the age of King Humbert I of Italy (monarch from 1878-1900). That term applies throughout Italy and, again, refers to a period of time and not a specific style of architecture.

The architectural term used to describe Milani's creation was: "...barochetto romano". That is, the station is Baroquely ornate. ("Barochetto" refers to a transitional period to Rococo (around 1720). Indeed, bits of the facade would fit right in with some Neapolitan architecture from that period. The station was not meant to look 200 years old, however; it was built to fit in with other buildings in the area, many of which were quite fashionable and from 1890-1910, built roughly in the style known in Italian as "Liberty" (known in English by the French term "Art Nouveau".) That style, itself, is self-consciously ornate, highly decorative and features —among other curls, swirls and undulations— writhing plant forms, which you find on the station of Mergellina. Characteristic, too, of "Liberty" buildings in Naples is the presence of classical statuary, which you also find. (Those statues give you the "Roman" in "barochetto romano"). Thus, the station, cleverly, looked old and modern at the same time.

(I am thankful that the station did not fall victim —as did many similar buildings from the 1920s— to the Fascist wrecking balls of the 1930s, when the regime decided to go into giant, smooth marble-slab architecture. (The main post office in Naples is larger than Holland.)

facade detailThe Mergellina station was, at the time, the most elegant one in the city. (As a matter of fact, it still is; the main station downtown has been rebuilt twice since the 1920s, and is huge and modern. But elegant? Not even close.) Mergellina apparently was the preferred place for a certain class of passenger to alight aloofly (or aloof alightly) in the 1920s and 30s in Naples, just a few blocks from the fashionable buildings along the seaside at Mergellina, with easy access to the exclusive areas of the Posillipo coast. (Getting off the train there meant you didn't get dumped into the masses at the main station in the —ugh!— east end of town near the largest prison in southern Italy! Today, indeed, Mergellina still serves long distance trains. If you travel north or south from Naples on the fast EuroStar trains, for example, it is much more pleasant to board at Mergellina.

In any event, the Mergellina station is getting a face-lift.  Now it will be restored as part of an ambitious nation-wide project called "Centostazioni" (100 Stations) which plans to restore 103 (to be precise) train stations throughout Italy. Mergellina is to play an expanded role in the future of rail transport in the city. In addition to present Metro stop and long-distance service in all directions, it will be a major transfer point for the new metro line coming in from Fuorigrotta, on the other side of the Posillipo hill. (The stop on that line will be incorporated in an underground extension of the original Mergellina station). The work is in progress and is due for completion in 2006. Projections say that the station will handle six million passengers a year.

The original facade at Mergellina had just to the right of the main entrance a six-foot-high plaque marking Mussolini's opening of the station on the fifth anniversary of Fascism. That plaque was either removed or destroyed during the events of WW2. It will be interesting see if they restore it. After all, the original Fascist-era inscription on the main post-office was restored recently. It, however, is well above the reach of vandals with spray cans. We shall see.

Related items: Lamont Young, see under "Metropolitana" in the index
and The Architecture of Fascism in Naples.

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