In the 19th century, the concept of an underground tube train sustained itself largely in the fanciful transcripts of science fiction novels. Numerous written fantasies of subterranean transit systems stemmed from the experiments of inventors like Alfred Ely Beach, who demonstrated his newly developed pneumatic transit system to the awe of men in top hats and ladies in corsets.
What was then a spectacular dream has since become grounded in reality, perhaps painfully so when you take a look at some of the world’s earliest subway systems, now visibly worn with age. But just last month, Kazakhstan became home to the newest subway system in the world, and photos of the transit system 23 years in the making show that Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedic portrayal of the country could not be further from the truth.
According to English Russia, construction on the Almaty Metro in Kazakhstan began in the Soviet era in 1988. After the fall of the USSR, the massive project came to a halt. The dream of an 8.5 km underground railway finally resumed track in 2005, and on December 1, 2011, the Almaty Metro opened its shining glass doors to the city. Approaching just two months old, the infrastructure still has the novelty of a theme park attraction. Transit employees sport clean, decorated uniforms and welcoming smiles, while riders are given yellow tokens and smart cards to take their public transit system for a spin.
The architecture of many of the stations retains the tubular aesthetic of early visions of the subway, with curving vaults decorated with marble and classical ornamentation, or clean swaths of solid-color paneling. Some are festooned with elaborate light fixtures and stained glass, giving a historic flavor to the station interiors. Evidently, the once revolutionary concept of underground transportation has not lost all its shine.
[All images via English Russia]