Białystok

When Warsaw was being joined by the iron route with Vienna, Saint Petersburg, at that time the capital of the Russian empire, did not have such a connection with Western Europe. The construction of the railroad was started in 1951, but the Crimean War (and the huge costs it incurred) caused the works to stop. Stanisław Wysocki, one of the pioneers of Polish railway, took upon himself the difficult task of preparing the design. Eventually, the railroad to Warsaw was completed in 1862. Białystok was also one of the cities on the Warsaw-Petersburg Railway route.

The station in Białystok was built at the beginning of the 1860s. It was a standard facility of that type, constructed by Russians. Initially, it operated only small traffic, which regularly increased. At the end of 19th century, the station was extended and soon became a showcase of the city. It can be surprising nowadays what was offered to passengers. Light and spacious interiors, whose walls and ceilings were richly decorated with artificial marble, and waiting rooms divided into three classes. The one for the most affluent passengers offered velvet-cushioned chaise-longues, where they could sleep and rest, and the restaurant served dishes worthy of the Tsar's table. An additional advantage was provided by roofed platforms, where as early as 1908 there were three automatic ticket machines.

Unfortunately, the station's splendour was almost completely lost in 1915, when the Russian army, fleeing from the Germans, simply burnt it. In free Poland it was quickly reconstructed. Maria Dąbrowska then wrote: we are happy that the station's interior has been so beautifully renovated. Warsaw does not have such a dining room, indeed. Tall, with white walls searing towards the ceiling, under which the lamp bowls shine gloriously. Before huge windows, sapphire from the dusk, stacks of fiery oranges rise on the buffet, and Marshal Piłsudski often admired the station, passing Białystok on his way to Vilnius.

 

Worse times were brought by World War II. The station was destroyed by air bombs. Admittedly, it was rebuilt before 1949, but the previous grandness was merely a vague memory – luxury and exceptional comfort did not conform to successive programmes of the party with “working-class and peasant” origins.

 

It was not until the end of so-called real socialism that Białystok station gained new life. In 1989 an exceptionally long overhaul began, lasting 14 years. It was worth waiting for, however, as the results of the works are truly impressive. The city of churches, Orthodox Church temples, synagogues and palaces regained a real gem. Adjusted to contemporary expectations of passengers, it does not offer former comforts, but compared to other stations in Poland, it is certainly outstanding. In the rating by the newspaper “Gazeta Wyborcza”, it has been recognised as the most beautiful railway station in Poland. Moreover, it is well connected with the city, and in its vicinity we can also find a post office, small shops, and a large shopping centre.

 

A commemorative plaque on the building's façade reminds of numerous travels of Józef Piłsudski to Vilnius. Certainly it is worthwhile to stop here, in order to take a closer look, in an incomparable ambiance, at the history of Poland and railway.

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© Całość praw autorskich - Antoni Bochen, Filip Wiśniewski