Neapolitan Delight (Naples Marine Terminal)

Delighting ship passengers arriving at Naples since 1935, Naples Maritime Terminal is an imposing building which mixes Classicism with Inter-war Modernism. It sports a suitably maritime exterior, with long rows of circular windows along its sides echoing the portholes of the great liners which the terminal was originally built to serve.

The eastern end of Naples Marine Terminal. Photo © Paul Wright, used with permission

Like Santa Maria Novella station in Florence, Naples Maritime Terminal was a product of Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime. During the early 1930s, Mussolini wanted to develop Naples as a key port for liner traffic in the Mediterranean sea, as well as making it the chief port serving routes to Italy’s overseas colonies. The existing marine terminal at Naples was declared too small and insufficiently impressive.

The architecture of fascist Italy generally split into two main schools; either extreme Modernism (as at Santa Maria Novella) or a Classical style featuring columns and arches which was intended to reflect the architecture of the ancient Roman Empire, and thereby draw parallels between that Empire and Mussolini’s Italy. Architect Cesare Bazzani belonged to the second group, and the Marine Terminal sports the arches and decorative elements you might expect, and originally had Classically inspired colonnades on both sides. Yet the large, relatively plain, cuboid masses of the building give it a distinct Modern look too, even if not to the same extent that other pieces of Italian Fascist architecture exemplified. I’ve previously explored my unease about celebrating Italian Fascist architecture, given the practices of the regime which promoted it, and basically got told I was a bleeding-heart liberal (guilty as charged, to be fair). So if you can take it as read that finding the terminal interesting isn’t the same thing as approving of the regime which commissioned it, there is much about the building that still impresses.

At its eastern end two semi-cylindrical towers with tall windows project forward from wider blocks on which circular windows are placed either side of the towers. These mirror-twin blocks are linked at their upper levels with by a bridging structure which features a row of nine tall windows. Facing out to sea, this is the elevation first seen by arriving passengers, and it has a surprisingly Modern appearance. The towers are, however, topped off by prancing horse sculptures of more Classical inspiration. They are not particularly well-integrated into the design and look almost to have been placed there as an afterthought, but as this 1938 photo shows, they have been there since the building’s early days.

Naples Marine Terminal in 1938. Note the original colonnades on either side. Photo by Di sconosciuto [Public domain o Public domain], attraverso Wikimedia Commons

Note also in this photo the long colonnades on either side of the terminal, which run the almost the full length of the pier on which the marine terminal is situated. The double rows of columns look particularly Roman. The terminal, however, was damaged during the Second World War, and the canopies were subsequently replaced with the versions seen today, which are more Modernist, and somewhat disguise the terminal’s original, more Classicist, form.

The long sides of the terminal, at a little over 180m in length, are perhaps less dramatic. The row of circular windows towards the top is impressive though, and halfway along each side is a secondary entrance, set back slightly and topped with a tall balcony featuring arched openings.

The north side of the marine terminal. Photo © Paul Wright, used with permission

At the city (western) end of the terminal, Bazzani employed a more Classical approach than on the eastern elevation, with three tall arched windows over the main entrance doors of each of the twin blocks.  The main doors are flanked by square panels featuring relief sculptures, made of bronze. Atop the two blocks, a pair of cuboid towers look rather more Modernist, with the northern tower sporting a very Art Deco clock. The southern tower, in contrast, has an absolutely splendid barometer.

Western end of the southern block of Naples Marine Terminal, with barometer on the tower. Photo © Paul Wright, used with permission

The twin blocks are linked, as mentioned earlier, at their upper levels, leaving an open space between them at ground level. Today it is used to pick up and drop off passengers from the cruise ships which use the terminal, but the original plan was to have a railway station here, running into the city and linking into the rest of the Italian railway network. There was also a plan for a marine air terminal (i.e. one serving flying boats) to sit alongside, which would have made for a transport hub of considerable importance, but neither the railway station nor flying boat facilities were taken forward as the Second World War interrupted development.

A truly Modernist building would eschew surface decoration completely, but in keeping with Bazzani’s Classicist approach there are several decorative elements to the exteriors. As well as the metopes and horse sculptures, there are 12 circular medallions at the western end of the building, which feature geographical locations served by the terminal when it was built, and various modes of transport.

One of the medallions on the exterior of the western end of the Marine Terminal. Photo © Paul Wright, used with permission

The decoration continues inside, where large murals provide decoration. However, the interior is largely modern. As the company which now runs the terminal explains, the whole area was recently “restructured and organized based on the airport model” (as though this is somehow a good thing) and the interior “remodelled and reorganised”. This has  included the conversion of some of the internal space into a convention centre and shopping mall.

Inside Naples Marine Terminal. Photo © Paul Wright, used with permission

The new facilities are designed to serve Neapolitan citizens just as much as cruise ship passengers, promoting public access to the building, which must be a good thing. Although many of the internal fittings are very modern, much of the original architectural treatment is pleasingly still apparent both inside and out. Sadly, however, the view of the building from the city side is partially blocked by the installation of gates which control access to the building, and associated security points and tourist information offices.

It might be a relic of a bygone age, but with its modernised interior and cared-for exterior, Naples Marine Terminal seems to have found a successful contemporary role for itself. Given the loss of many marine terminals from the golden age of the liners, that’s no mean feat.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Rasulo, M (2005):  Construction and the reconstruction of the Maritime Station of Naples in the chronicles of the time from the Neapolitan newspaper libraries, Thehere. WIT Transactions on The Built Environment, vol 79. Online copy here

Naples Marine Terminal company homepage, here

Wikipedia Italy page on the Marine Terminal, here

How to find Naples Marine Terminal

Click here for The Beauty of Transport‘s map

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