In Venice, modernity arrives by train

The fascist-era edifice of the Santa Lucia train station is as modern as Venice ever gets. The construction of the railway linking the city with the mainland in the 1840s not only ended Venice’s full millenium as an island but also began to transform the appearance of the last stretch of its Grand Canal. The large-scale demolition of an entire historic area surrounding the church and convent of Santa Lucia in the 1850s culminated only in 1954 when the current modernist train station was opened to traffic.

The translagoon railway bridge was completed as early as 1846. Initially the demolitions stopped behind the church and convent of Santa Lucia where the first terminus was located. It soon became clear, however, that the Venice railway station would require a direct outlet on the Grand Canal. Between 1860 and 1861, the convent which had been empty since the Napoleonic decrees of 1806 and the church housing the relics of St Lucia were torn down to make way for the new canal-facing train station.

Disappear thus did not only the church with its convent, but the whole neighborhood of palaces, houses and gardens built mostly between the 15th and 18th centuries. The saint’s body was transferred to the nearby church of San Geremia where it remains on display. A marble plaque was erected to mark the location of the demolished church whose name was retained by the railway station. The old neighbourhood now only survives in a series of pre-1800s woodcuts and view paintings, known as vedute.

In the 1920s, plans to replace the original canal-facing train station were drawn up by the rationalist architect Angiolo Mazzoni. The Second World War then delayed the completion of the current railway station until the 1950s but not even the end of the Mussolini era changed the building’s fascist architecture. For all its modernist credentials, which may or may not be a suitable fit for a city like Venice, the fascist-style edifice of the station is constructed with great symmetry and without ostentatious design.

True to form, with almost no decoration and with little complexity, the building’s simple aesthetics purposefully convey a sense of awe through its sheer size. It’s clad in visibly durable stone which, in the fascist-era rulebook, would one day make some impressive ruins. It’s also the first building all train passengers see upon their arrival in Venice and as their train rolls along the railway bridge to an abrupt stop, the sense of awe is palpable in everyone and everytime, as Mussolini would have intended.