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Inside the 'revolutionary' Soviet airport that was once the height of luxury but now faces demolition in Armenia
13:30, 20.09.2018

It looks like a monolithic space-city straight out of science fiction, but in reality it was one of the jewels in the Soviet crown.

Terminal 1 at Zvartnots airport in Armenia once welcomed Kremlin VIPs and visitors from across the USSR. Now it sits abandoned, under lock and key, and facing demolition.

After it was built in the 1970s, more than 2,500 passengers crowded through the country's most modern airport terminal every hour.

For them, it was the height of luxury with a restaurant high up on the central control tower and views across to the Armenian capital Yerevan.

Now stepping inside Zvartnots, once the crossroads of Europe and Asia, is like being transported back four decades.

The grand entrance hall and the soaring concrete and marble walls are now crumbling. The cracked ceiling is leaking, and the runway viewing windows are broken or missing.

But British architects are leading international calls for it to be saved from the wrecking ball. These exclusive photographs show the iconic revolutionary building and capture the last pictures of its ghostly interior.

'I realise the new prime minister has a lot on his plate, but I hope his conscience will lead to a change of plan. Whatever you think of the old Soviet Union, the buildings from this period were extraordinary and adventurous, a piece of history.'

Inside Zvartnots, the baggage carousels lie frozen at the moment the airport saw its last flight in 2008. By then the Soviet empire had collapsed and Armenia was an independent country.

Today the escalators are silent and the heating system broken down. Stubs of old tickets to Moscow and beyond lie strewn on the dusty floor.

Alongside derelict check-in desks and security machines, old signs for trolley hire, shopping, and the city-centre hang forlornly in the grim half-light.

Abandoned offices are scattered with papers, once important, now simply rubbish.

Maintenance manager Karen Torosyan shows us round by flashlight, up and down dark concrete stairways. He said: 'This airport was the best of its kind. When I worked here it was always busy. It's sad to see it like this, but time moves on. A road flyover and some metal bridges connecting arrivals and departures, have already been pulled down. They were in a dangerous condition.'

The owners want to demolish more of the old airport to make way for a multi-million pound expansion of the new international terminal. But they are being fought by the daughter of the original airport architect.

Anahit Tarkhanyan's father, Artur, was part of a prize-winning team that made the original Zvartnots terminal a symbol of Armenia, featured on postcards and tourist brochures.

Now Anahit is running for mayor of Yerevan, with a mission to fight the demolition. 'The airport has been stolen from the people. It's part of our heritage and history, but many don't realise what they're giving up. We're a land-locked country with poor roads. The old airport could be renovated to be the centre of a network of regional airports. We've got the backing of international architects, including British.

'The airport was truly revolutionary – it was just 15 metres from your car to the plane. There was a special underground luggage delivery system, and a plane refuelling pipe that ran round the airport, emerging at the underbelly of each aircraft. Unheard of in 1976.

'Also, in Soviet times everything was regulated – even the thickness of the paint on the wall. But my father got round all that by always leaving room in his designs for later expansion.

'Most of all, he designed for the people. Armenians are scattered all over the world, so for homecomings he made sure the arrivals balcony looked down on waiting families below. It was all very emotional.'

Clem Cecil, of SAVE Europe's Heritage and director of London's Pushkin House, the Russian cultural centre, said: 'The Zvartnots building is a classic of its kind – it should be saved. It was built in a period when Stalin's grip had been broken and Soviet architects were experimenting with international influences.

She added: 'Zvartnots is very cutting edge and reflects the excitement of the times. The problem is it's been under-appreciated and vulnerable. The fact there's a growing effort to save it is good news.

Inside the 'revolutionary' Soviet airport that was once the height of luxury but now faces demolition in Armenia
Inside the 'revolutionary' Soviet airport that was once the height of luxury but now faces demolition in Armenia
Inside the 'revolutionary' Soviet airport that was once the height of luxury but now faces demolition in Armenia
Inside the 'revolutionary' Soviet airport that was once the height of luxury but now faces demolition in Armenia
Inside the 'revolutionary' Soviet airport that was once the height of luxury but now faces demolition in Armenia
Inside the 'revolutionary' Soviet airport that was once the height of luxury but now faces demolition in Armenia
Inside the 'revolutionary' Soviet airport that was once the height of luxury but now faces demolition in Armenia
Inside the 'revolutionary' Soviet airport that was once the height of luxury but now faces demolition in Armenia
Inside the 'revolutionary' Soviet airport that was once the height of luxury but now faces demolition in Armenia
Inside the 'revolutionary' Soviet airport that was once the height of luxury but now faces demolition in Armenia
Inside the 'revolutionary' Soviet airport that was once the height of luxury but now faces demolition in Armenia
Inside the 'revolutionary' Soviet airport that was once the height of luxury but now faces demolition in Armenia
Inside the 'revolutionary' Soviet airport that was once the height of luxury but now faces demolition in Armenia
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