The Santa Maria Novella is one of the largest railway terminals in Florence, serving 50 million passengers annually. The station is located in the very centre of Florence, a stone’s throw from many of the city’s most important sights. Built in the 1930s, Santa Maria Novella replaced the Leopolda Station, situated in North Florence, as the city’s most important transport hub.
The Santa Maria Novella was ordered by Benito Mussolini, who wanted to improve Florence’s infrastructure with a new station built in the Modernist style. The work took four years. Seen from above, the layout of the building matches that of the Fasci, an ancient Roman symbol of power that the Duce used not only as the logo of the party, but also as the inspiration for its name: the Fascist Party.
Benito Mussoini was born to a poor family. His father, the village blacksmith, was a committed socialist. From his early years Benito stood out from his siblings owing to his unruly and bossy behaviour. Already by the age of 17 Mussolini took an active interest in politics and, like his father before him, he joined the socialist party. However, by the end of the First World War he had decided that socialism as a doctrine had failed the people. By now he was convinced that the masses had to be ruled by a strong and charismatic personality, like a pastor leads his flock. Fascism was the creed he developed to transform this ‘herd’ into an effective and obedient tool for the construction of a well-ordered society. These basic political views and principles formed the basis of Mussolini's newly formed political movement, the Fasci Rivoluzionari d'Azione Internazionalista in 1914, who began calling themselves Fascisti (Fascists). By 1921 the party was reorganised into a national movement. Post-war Italy was characterised by unstable government and a struggling economy, yet Mussolini’s party promised to bring order to the country and initiate a new Renaissance in Italian culture. After forcing his way into the position of prime minister, Mussolini took control of all of the government’s key levers, including the interior, foreign, colonial, economic, defence and welfare ministries. All opposition parties were banned and repressed, with regime critics being either arrested or exiled from the country. For a while it seemed as if this tough medicine might work; unemployment fell, new infrastructure and housing improved material well-being and exports grew. Yet the dream rapidly turned to nightmare with the outbreak of the Second World War. Yoked to the senior partner in the Fascist Axis, Nazi Germany, Italy was compelled to deport its Jewish population to the Nazi concentration camps. The hundreds of trains that carried these unfortunates left from Santa Maria Novella, and by the end of the war 12,000 of the 50,000 Jews living in Italy had been slaughtered. A memorial plaque mourning the tragedy hangs on platform eight of the station.