Angiolo Mazzoni, Palazzo delle Poste in Palermo (1926-1934)
Palazzo delle Poste in Palermo was designed by the architect Angiolo Mazzoni (1926-1929) and built between 1929 and 1934, when it opened as a post office. A gigantic structure in reinforced concrete, it was cladded by a layer of local grey marble quarried from the nearby Mount Billiemi. In a triumphal reinterpretation of an ancient temple, it was built on a huge land (more than 5000 square metres), with a façade marked by ten 30-metre high columns and flanked by a massive sculpture, representing a "fascio littorio" (destroyed after WWII). The interior spaces – both public and private – are enriched by precious marbles (e.g. the elliptic stairway in red and black marbles) as well as modern details designed by the architect himself. Some of the decorations were designed by Futurist artists such as Tato and Benedetta Marinetti (e.g. the "sala del consiglio"). Damaged by a fire in 1988, Palazzo delle Poste was subsequently restored and still serves its original public function. Since 2017 it has also become a destination for visitors interested in its historical, architectural and artistic values.
The Spatial Construction of the New Man’s Urban Reality
Narrative Rationalization: Staging a Collective Spectacle
Angiolo Mazzoni’s Palazzo delle Poste in Palermo has been described as 'one of the most gloriously aberrant examples of the culture promoted by the regime' ('uno degli esempi più gloriosamente aberranti della cultura di regime'; Forti 1978, 42). The building is triumphal in its majesty, visually imposing on the district. Palazzo delle Poste configured a new urban space within Palermo, a place accessible to everyone, offering practical services and, at the same time, transmitting a ‘political subtext’ to the community it served.
Some of the ideals promoted by the Fascist government, such as a nationalised economy and public (postal) services for everyone are materialised in this massive and intimidating over-scaled building. In case the message was not clear enough, the structure was flanked by an over-proportioned 'fascio littorio' (on the right side), and – in one of the two internal courts – it hosted a monument dedicated to the fallen of WWI (by the artist Domenico Ponzi).
Already soaked in mnemonic and memorial ideals, the building was inaugurated on the 28th October 1934, on the occasion of the twelfth anniversary of the March on Rome. It can be thus interpreted as a collection of memories aspiring to forge a collective history that everyone can read and share; it is a ritual hidden behind the forms of a public building. The climax of this discourse is a detail on the upper part of the façade: Napoleone Martinuzzi’s bas-reliefs which represent two winged figures on both sides of the "Poste e Telegrafi" inscription. They can be read as simple messengers, embodying a national and nationalistic ‘communication system’ established in 1862, right after the unification of Italy (1861), but at the same time they recall the iconography of the ‘winged Victory’, one of the most recurring characters of this period (see Arturo Martini’s Vittoria, within Palazzo delle Poste in Naples).
This iconic structure is geometrically shaped, being a well-defined volume (partially) softened by the massive colonnade that leads inside. The internal spaces are, in turn, strongly symbolic and hierarchic: both the common and private rooms are respectably elegant, with a prevailing linearity and widespread marble decorations, but they reach a refinement only within the ‘elite environments’. The heart of the building is in fact the conference room, dominated by brilliant colours and populated by Futurist artworks (paintings by Benedetta Marinetti, Tato and Piero Bevilacqua; curtains designed by Bruna Samenzi and a sculpture by Corrado Vigni) and precious furniture – all the interiors were designed by Mazzoni himself. At the centre, an oblong table, recalling a marble airplane (and so the Futurist "Aeropittura") dominated the space and, in a way, could be perceived as a metaphor of Fascist power. While everyone could – apparently – participate in national politics, the leadership of the institution was entrusted only to one person. The whole community is there, but as a powerless audience.
Blandi, Gaetano and Giovanni Cappuzzo. 1995. Architettura storie e arredi del Palazzo delle Poste di Palermo. Montepulciano: Grifo Edizioni.
Cozzi, Paola, Godoli, Mauro and Ezio Pettenella (eds). 2003. Angiolo Mazzoni (1894-1979). Architetto Ingegnere del Ministero delle Comunicazioni. Milan: Skira.
Forti, Alfredo. 1978. Angiolo Mazzoni. Architetto fra fascismo e libertà. Florence: Edam.