1 (aS A CHILD)
Colonia Fara or Colonia Faro? As a child I called the former Marine Colony of Luigi Fara in Chiavari, ‘Colonia Faro’. Our teacher had told us about General Fara, but the reason why many people called it ‘Faro’, meaning ‘lighthouse’, had never been explained to us. As a child I lost myself in the words and replaced them with my imagination; I thought the high flagpole in the garden was a kind of lighthouse.
At Colonia Fara there was a full-time primary school. We were at school for almost the entire day. We had two breaks, the second one lasted about an hour. We built worlds in order to destroy them, we waged war and made peace, we climbed trees against the sacrosanct laws of our teachers (a serious and deeply respected misdemeanour) and we looked for buried treasure. We ran inside and around this curved building, and at the same time it was as though it was spiralling around us. We ran across the wide spaces from the canteen to the entrance and up to the large west-facing hall. Every year the school organized a big recital by the children for the parents; we worked on it in teams for the whole year. The old plaster and the pieces of cement that came falling down gave us the sensation, through the eyes of the adults, that the Colonia was old and decaying. As children we didn’t understand the word ‘decaying’ – through the adults we sensed that something was about to end.
When they held meetings between the teachers and parents, we could dare to be masters of the Colonia. We would try to escape the control of the assistants who supervised us and go downstairs, where there were kitchens and the smell of meat broth and pasta. I remember the lights being always switched off but a bright blue shining in from the windows, with the sea just beyond the outside gate. You could look outside wherever you were because the curved walls had been cut through by long windows.
What was in the tower? No one knew. It was forbidden to go beyond the third floor; the stairs had been blocked off. Not even the teachers knew, just like they didn’t know if Napoleon had been good or bad. The teachers didn’t know. Many of us dreamed of going up but it was impossible.
2 (THE HISTORY)
The Fara Marine Colony was inaugurated in 1936, dedicated to General Gustavo Fara, who was honoured for his role in the Italo-Turkish war. The work was commissioned by the National Fascist Party of Genoa, and was officially opened by Mussolini himself.
The architect, Camillo Nardi Greco, designed the building with a certain courage, following the Futurist and Rationalist styles, characterised by bold technical innovations, and breaking away as far as possible from the architectural cannon of the past. Together, the colours and dynamic lines give a sense of speed and movement.
In essence, there are two sections. The first is the base, an oval roughly 200 metres long, which housed the kitchens and the storerooms, and above them the reception, the canteen and the meeting spaces on the ground floor. The second, vertical section is a nine storey tower, which stretches 43 metres high, followed by yet another level, a chapel. Considering the whole, the curved surfaces prevail over the right-angles, and the building was laid out in the shape of an aeroplane.
The vertical extension of the section was intended to balance the relationship between the internal and external space, with the surrounding horizon opening out as you climb higher and higher.
The windows were put one next to the other, and coloured like the doors and windows, so that from a distance it looks like one dark stripe, like a series of long glass sheets lightening up the look of the building.
The tower containing the rooms was arranged on a North-South axis, to avoid excessive heating of the side surfaces and to ensure there is always an area of shade, creating a thermal imbalance which lasts even throughout the night and allows internal ventilation.
During the Occupation, the Germans used the building as a military hospital, then the Allies took it over as a barracks. From the end of the 1940s to the mid-1950s, it was a shelter for refugees from Istria escaping Tito’s regime. From the 1960s it was an international hotel. Then the building passed from the hands of the Ligurian regional government to the local authority of Chiavari, and in the 1980s it was converted into a primary school. Later on, it was declared unfit for use and the surrounding area was blocked off, the windows barred and the doors sealed. Over the years the authorities said they wanted to recuperate the structure, but events got the better of good intentions, and the Colonia was left abandoned, except for one occasion; someone did go out of their way to set it on fire at the bottom, on the eastern side. The damage done was greatest for a small group of Romanians who had been occupying it as a place to sleep.
3 (INSIDE AGAIN)
Now we come to Giulia and I, who whilst on a walk, reach the Piazza dei Pescatori, and see the Colonia before us.
“Have you seen that thing?” I ask.
“Oh… what a strange building, it looks abandoned…”
“I went to primary school there.”
We get closer. There’s no one. The sea storms have transformed the beach into big heaps of sand – it’s the winter sea. The fences around the building are worn and full of holes, we take the risk of climbing through. We see lots of ash near one of the external walls. There has been a fire. Among the ashes we find ballot papers and electoral registers, lists of voters and their personal data. The windows are walled up or blocked by iron railings, but one of them is open.
“I would so like to go inside, to look around, to remember…” I tell her.
We go back another day with two helmets, thick gloves and Giulia’s photography equipment. We approach the open window and climb inside. The smell of meat broth that I smelled as a child has gone, and we are in darkness. We switch on the torch. Beyond the room there is a corridor full of furniture and other burned objects. We see shoes, clothes and bags, an upturned fridge.
At the back on the western side there’s a chink of light, perhaps a hole in a door beyond which there seems to be a space, perhaps we can pass through it. The air is stuffy; we’re afraid but we go on.
We manage to get through the hole in the door. Opposite us we see a dark space, but it’s empty and we can go on. We see a kitchen with a wooden table. Everything seems to have been abandoned in a hurry. The chairs and tables tell us about the past presence of people here.
We climb the stairs which take us to the floor above, I see the bright blue tiles again, where I used to run, and the reception where the caretakers and the secretaries used to answer the phone, and I am hit by a great wave of emotion. Now bits dangle from the ceiling, the floor is covered in rubbish. In the cupboards behind the counter we see documents, account books, school newsletters, and the international hotel’s brochures. We shine the torch on it all and it seems like a treasure trove of memories and history, but we are confused by the state of degradation and by the many things which surround us.
We decide to climb to the first floor of the tower, and we see the classrooms, the chairs, the benches and the bathrooms. There is still a Christmas tree with little presents attached to its branches. Someone has squatted here, there is still more rubbish. We climb onwards and the old barriers on the second floor, which used to prevent you from going up, are open! What I couldn’t do as a child is now possible.
The smell of the air changes and the building tells other stories; we are no longer in a school. There are many mattresses, perhaps from the hotel or the Istrian refugees? There are very many bedsteads and wardrobes. We see rooms full of papers and more documents, and stamps and broken telephones. The presence of the pigeons is increasingly invasive, the animal kingdom triumphant over that of man. The floors and the rooms are full of excrement, a dry carpet that seems like soil. We walk over it and it makes the noise of dry bread. The sudden beating of wings are the pigeons escaping. We are in their house.
We reach the last floor, where there is a room, and we are at the top of the tower; in this space the clients might have read the newspaper or had a drink, there are many chairs and tables piled up. Outside there is a circular terrace which runs around the outside of the tower; the view is stunning. Between the cracks in the tiles, shrubs and little trees have grown; we wonder where they put down roots, and we marvel at how plants and animals have conquered the tower which was built to forget the past and project itself towards the future.
Looking down, we clearly see the wings of the base and the shape of the aeroplane. Above us there is still one more floor, which is smaller than the tower; it’s the chapel with an open oval walkway, a flight deck launching towards the open sea. We are immersed in bright blue, between the sky and the earth, and we can see the whole of the Tigullio coast.
4 (abandonment and love)
Having left, we decide to go and eat at Olga’s, a small restaurant nearby. We are tired and can feel all the dirt, beauty and history of the Colonia on us, we can feel all its dust and smell, the echo of what was and is no longer. We reached the top but we still haven’t understood, we would like to go back again. There is something troubling us.
I look at Giulia and I ask, “What should be done? Maintain things from the past or destroy them to create new ones?”
And she replies, “Both options are fine, but never abandonment. Everything that can be beautiful and loved should be maintained. The Colonia Fara is ugly because it hasn’t been given a chance to live, because it’s been abandoned.”
… And the radio in the restaurant plays a song: “50 Ways to Leave your Lover”.
“But I'll repeat myself,
at the risk of being crude,
There must be fifty ways to leave your lover
Fifty ways to leave your lover…”
MATERIALS FOR AN EPILOGUE
Objects of Colonia Fara
Drawings for murals outside of Colonia Fara, Demetrio Ghiringhelli, 1935
Music, Paul Simon, 1975 + Satellite View, 2016
The pictures of abandoned interiors of Colonia Fara that I have included in this book were taken in August of 2014.
After 34 years of political discussions about the future of the Colonia, on the 31st October 2013 the Fara is sold and becomes the property of the company Fara Ltd., created by several local businessmen, that purchased it by the town of Chiavari for 6,750,000 euro and plans the renovation of the building with 18 spacious luxury apartments, an hotel with spa and wellness center, as well as underground parking and a private park with direct access to the beach.
At the time of the publication of this book, the renovations have started and should be completed in the summer of 2018.