From a Moorish Revival space in Algiers to a Belle Epoque building in Poland, these architecturally significant post offices are a must-see.
Post offices often get a bad rap these days, but in earlier times, they were vital urban institutions that often inhabited grand buildings. Some of the finest architectural examples of post offices have since been given new identities, like the extraordinary Palais, which is now Madrid's City Hall. Others, like Holland’s Central Post office in Utrecht, which was designed by Joseph Crouwel and inspired by the work of Saarinen (père), is currently awaiting a new role, having been shuttered in 2011.
But there are still working post offices whose astounding architecture will make you forget the long line for a stamp. Here are nine of the most striking and memorable mail centers from around the world.
James A. Farley Post Office, New York City
Etched on the facade of the 1912 building that houses this historical New York post office, which occupies two city blocks, is the motto most associated with the United States Postal Service: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Surprisingly, this is not an official creed: The quote is from Herodotus and describes the efficient courier services of the Persians—a fitting reference for this neo-classical building, which boasts a gorgeous stretch of Corinthian pillars. (The quote was carved by Ira Schnapp, who designed the Action Comics logo). Inside is a dizzying Beaux Arts space (make sure to look up at the detailed designs on the ceiling), with lots of quirky artifacts, like an antique horse-drawn carriage that was once used for mail delivery. A portion of the huge space is slated to be transformed into the Moynihan Terminal, a grand extension of Penn Station, over the next 10 to 20 years.
Medan Post and Telegraph Office, Medan, Indonesia
In the center of one of Sumatra’s most pleasant towns, Medan, is the post office, a vestige of Dutch colonialism right down to the bright-orange door. It opened in 1911 when the city was known as Deli, after the eponymous Dutch tobacco company. Originally a stalwart of Dutch colonial architecture, the structure is reminiscent of a giant bird cage and the interior features a mural of a pigeon tail (an homage to carrier pigeons). Still a functioning post office, the striking building draws almost as many instagramming tourists as customers.
Post office in Szczecin, Poland
The little known Polish city of Szczecin in Pomerania Province near the Baltic Sea is one of the prettiest and greenest in the country. Its post office, built between 1872 and 1905, is a touch of Belle Epoque class, with a glass-roofed ceiling that looks straight out of a Parisian department store. Slim interior columns in green and gold also make the light-filled space feel way less stuffy then your average post office.
Palacio de Correos de Mexico, Mexico City
The Mexican capital's main post office was designed by Adamo Boari, who also worked on the Palacio de Bellas Artes across the street, and inaugurated it in 1907 by president Porfirio Diaz. The stairs are an extraordinary labyrinth of lattice ironwork. But the space also displays touches of Renaissance, Spanish Rococo, Venetian Neo-Gothic, Art Nouveau, and Mauresque styles; in fact, each floor of the building has windows of a different architectural style. Part of the post office was given to the Bank of Mexico in the 1950s, and a subsequent renovation stressed the building’s foundations. After the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, which inflicted further damage, the bank left and the post office was restored to its original eclectic style.
Main post office in Kiev, Ukraine
This enormous building on Kiev’s Independence Square is certainly intimidating. Inside the Stalinist-era behemoth you wait your turn in a room of molded ceilings, chandeliers, gleaming marble floors, and a gallery of pictures of city landmarks. This functioning post office (it also houses a 24-hour internet cafe) has had plenty of face time in the news over the years. Many of the 2003 Orange Revolution protests took place in front of it, and the space was also briefly occupied in 2014 by protesters during a wave of anti-government demonstrations.
La Grande Post D’Alger, Algiers
A beloved city institution, this whitewashed post office is a beautiful work of Moorish Revival architecture inside and out. Built by French architects Voinot and Toudoire in the early 20th century, the design is a gesture of rapprochement between the French colonial powers and the Algerians. Enter through the arched doors and step onto a cool mosaic tile under an elaborate rotunda with a complex geometric design that evokes the Alhambra. Don’t forget to check out the famous, intricately tiled mailbox near the entrance—it's an exquisite work of art in and of itself.
Post office, Trapani, Sicily
Some people come to buy stamps at the Poste in this fishing port on the west coast of Sicily; others to pay parking tickets. (At least for those unlucky enough not to run into the mayor, who ripped ours up after we met one evening at the gelateria in the town square.) This post office is a treat for the eyes, with an exterior that is rococo froth and an interior that boasts cool marble, stained glass, and brass service windows.
Palazzo delle Poste di Palermo, Sicily
The Palermo post office's exterior looks pretty run-of-the-mill—just your usual outsized Fascist-era building with heavy, melancholy colonnade. The real gem is the interior, which is decorated with murals painted by Futurist artist Benedetta Cappa in 1933. (The striking murals, called "Synthesis of Communications," were exhibited in a show on Italian Futurism at the Guggenheim in New York a couple of years ago.) The grand elliptical staircase is also a must-see.
Saigon Central Post Office, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Based on a design by none other than Gustave Eiffel (the architect known for a certain famous French tower), this apricot-colored building was constructed in the late 19th century. It’s full of typical French colonial features, from its intricate ironwork entrance to the patterned tiled floors and its massive high-ceilinged roof. If not for the sun beating down through the glass, you might feel like you’re in the Musee D’Orsay back when it was a train station. (The portrait of Ho Chi Minh dominating the room, however, is a giveaway that you’re not).