Glamourous facelift returns Białystok station to its former glory
Having survived being burned down during two world wars, the once monumental Italian neo renaissance style Białystok train station has returned to the style and elegance of its golden age after a recent renovation.
Now representing a worthy visiting card for the city, the history of Białystok’s train station is a remarkable one of rags to riches, with the station being resurrected not once, but several times over its nearly 160 year history.
The station’s first iteration, opened for public use in 1862 was a modest one with the front elevation being built from red and yellow bricks, the latter being used as decorative elements in the cornices and under the windows.
The station’s appearance and size probably wouldn’t have undergone significant changes had it not been for a series of events.
In the years after the station’s opening, Białystok began to develop into a thriving trading centre known for its textile industry, gaining it the nickname ‘The Manchester of the North’. The development of new rail connections also gave the city the status of a transportation node, a focal point connecting many routes.
The growing number of passengers and cargo made the initial train station too small for purpose and it had to be rebuilt, at some point at the turn of the 19th century.
This first renovation was the station’s Cinderella story moment and changed the character of the station beyond recognition, transforming it into a much grander building resembling palace architecture of the Italian neo renaissance.
Notably, the station’s former brick elevation was changed, making it light in colour, in direct line with the recommendations of Tsar Alexander I’s 1817 Decree, that stated that all important city buildings should be painted in light, tone-down colours.
Because Białystok station was rebuilt so many times over the years, leaving no fragments of the original plaster or its original paint, before its most recent renovation in 2020, studies had to be carried out on the paintwork of a horse transportation building in the town of Starosielce with a similar architecture and from the same time period in order to confirm the cream-yellow colouring which would have been used for the station.
The turn of the century palatial transformation didn’t last long, however. During the first world war in 1915, the station was burned down by the withdrawing army of the Russian Tsar after a German offensive. The damage to the station was extensive and only support walls and columns were saved.
Rebuilding of the station began straight after the war and completed so well that when First Marshall of Poland Jozef Piłsudski paid a visit to Białystok in 1921, the city was presented to him starting from the train station.
The effect of the post-war restoration was described by poet-novelist Maria Dąbrowska, who wrote, “Let’s rejoice that the interiors of the station are so beautifully restored, Warsaw itself cannot claim to possess such a buffet hall. Tall, ascending to the ceiling with its white walls, below which glowing lamp bowls are lit up. In the background enormous windows, indigo from the dusk, piled up on a buffet, are piles of flaming oranges..”
The station survived in this impressive state until the Second World War, during which it was destroyed again, this time as a result of Russian bombardment in July 1944. It was rebuilt in the years 1946-49, but this was not to be its final restoration of the 20th century.
In the 1980s, the decision was made to subject Białystok station to a modernisation, which was begun in 1989 and lasted until 2003. This renovation entirely changed the structure of the main hall, which until then hadn’t possessed any historical references. A mezzanine was added which could be reached by a winding fan-like staircase with a stylized balustrade.
A return to the past was also a key feature of its most recent renovation, completed in autumn 2020, as part of which the decoration of the main hall was restored based on archival photographs from the beginning of the 20th century.
The renovation combines elements inspired by the neo renaissance with a return of most elements of the old grand interior such as the coffered ceiling, cast iron columns, friezes or flooring made from back and white elements arranged in the shape of a chess board.
Adding to this, modern solutions have also been integrated, such as photovoltaic panels on the station’s roof.
Today, the station resembles the palatial grandeur of its heyday, allowing visitors to admire a historic building and feel the atmosphere of Białystok’s majestic train station from the turn of the 19th and 20th century.
This article was sponsored by PKP.