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Restoration of the oldest railway station in the country has begun

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The Vitebskyi railway station is the first one in Saint-Petersburg and in Russia. Truly a high-tech style for the beginning of the 20th century. Now a massive construction is underway throughout it’s whole territory. What would residents see, once it’s over? Pavel Nikiforov reports.

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It’s like having our own Eifel Tower, but put on a side. All this, along with the Vitebskiy station, was created in 1904 by architect Brzhozovskyi. But this is the final design, while there were two more before that. Vitebskyi is the first railway station in Russia. And now it’s restoration is going at full throttle. In spring 2018, some new halls are expected to open, the ones that have not been seen by several local generations. Although even with scaffoldings and floors cracked open, this station is a genuine time machine. And here is it’s starting point. 

Pavel Nikiforov, correspondent: «Exactly 180 years ago, on October 30th 1837, at 12.30 PM, the first train in the Russian history departed from a platform of the Tsarskoselskiy station (that’s how Vitebskiy was initally called). And from that minute time in Saint-Petersburg, as well as in Russia, went on with an absolutely different speed». 

In 19th century the world saw railway stations as the embodiment of progress, the ultimate technological breakthrough. And such station as Vitebskiy, which in 1904 was fully electrified, had elevators, luggage belts and second floor platforms, was seen as an engineering miracle. Hi-tech, as we could’ve said these days. Smart station, or, in modern terms, a smart hub from the 1900s.

The wooden station of 1837 was just seven years younger than the very first railway station in the world, Liverpool Road in England. Then there was a stone made station designed by Russian architect Ton.  The Vitebskiy station by Brzhozovskiy is the biggest example of the style called «iron architecture». Architectural oxymorons of all kinds are still alive at the Vitebskiy station. Marina Zubkova, station guide, has made dozens of tours of the city’s main modern-style landmark. She noticed a while ago, that even elements from different art epochs get along here.

Marina Zubkova, «Saint-Petersburg as seen by an engineer» project curator: «Here we see a part of three-apertured, riveted, non-dissected hangar. This is a great example of «iron architecture» style, an example of how architecture reflects technological progress. At the same time, take a look at this detail here. Such a pretty flower».

But the «iron architecture» is completely forgotten at the first class restaurant on the second floor. Stucco work and fresco paintings on the ceiling, floor, walls and columns. A huge chandelier in the corner of the room. «Saint-Petersburg» sign, written in an old pre-revolutionary way, is left here since «Anna Karenina» shooting. Four movies based on Tolstoy’s famous book have been shot here. But the most interesting thing here is the wooden buffet with a marble countertop. Right behind this countertop, as a bartender, just like 100 years ago, stands station’s Chief Engineer and examines this restaurant’s blueprints. Everything is being restored according to the original project and plans. 

Sergey Rochev, Chief Engineer of Vitebskiy station: «There are only two such countertops in the world. One is here, in Saint-Petersburg, the other one is at Maxim’s restaurant in Paris. Currently the restoration works take place here, by the end of 2018 the restaurant will be fully refurbished».

The floors will be covered with oak floorboards, and there will be front entrance in the wall, which in Soviet times separated the restaurant and the picture gallery. This is how it looks now from the restaurant side, just a green gyprock. From the gallery side is a recognizable silhouette of a mermaid. And this is how the entrance looked at the beginning of the 20th century. Anyway, we’re looking into the past, and the Vitebskiy station always represented the future. Today it is also linked to the transport future of the city. According to corrections made into the master plan this summer, the aeroexpress train will run from Pulkovo airport straight to Vitebskiy station.

Ilya Reznikov, urbanist: "First they wanted the aeroexpress train to arrive to Ladozhskiy station, but Vitebskiy is better, it is much closer to the city center".

The Vitebskiy station was built when a steam engine was seen like a supersonic aircraft these days. Nonetheless, all these spiral staircases, lace-like banisters, cast iron pylons, rivets look exactly like retro-futurism. It has overtaken it's lifetime and even became a time machine. And we shall have a possibility to study every detail of it - very soon.

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