May 01, 2010

The City of Chagall

The City of Chagall
Over Vitebsk Marc Chagall (1913)

“Welcome to Vitebsk,” says Lydia as she greets us at the train station. The Vitebsk railroad terminal is a classic Soviet period piece – an assertive, ordered building dominated by polished marble and huge chandeliers. The station design was one of the finest efforts of Boris Sergeyevich Mezentsev, one of those railway architects who fell from favor soon after Stalin’s death. Some were assigned to out-of-the-way universities to write their memoirs. Mezentsev was luckier than most. He went on to work successfully in the Uzbek Soviet Republic and in Russia’s Volga region.

Today Vitebsk station is as efficient as on the day it first opened in 1953. This is a detail that Lydia is keen to impress on us. “We do things properly here in Vitebsk,” she says, going on to explain that Vitebsk is a world apart from St. Petersburg or Moscow.

From time to time a city or region becomes the nexus of a very special creative energy. A very particular creativity emerged in Vitebsk during the first quarter of the 20th century. At that time, this city 300 miles west of Moscow nurtured more artistic talent than most European capitals.

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