Uzbekistan’s secret underground – in pictures

After the ban on photographing the Tashkent metro in Uzbekistan was lifted this summer, Amos Chapple, RFE/RL’s photographer went underground to reveal the art, architecture and nuclear-blast protection in Central Asia’s oldest subway system.

 

Photography inside the heavily policed metro was forbidden until June 2018 because of the military sensitivity of its second role as a nuclear bomb shelter

 

A moment between trains in Kosmonavtlar (Cosmonauts) station. The stop is famous for its dreamlike portraits of cosmonauts

 

Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, immortalised in Kosmonavtlar station. The ceramic wall panels fade from blue to black in imitation of Earth’s atmosphere

 

 

A cashier at an entrance to the metro. A trip costs 1,200 Uzbek soms (12p), making it the cheapest subway ride in the former USSR

 

A mosaic of freshly puffed cotton bolls inside Pakhtakor station. Uzbekistan is one of the world’s leading producers of cotton. It is still thought to use forced labour in its cotton industry, although a 2018 decree was aimed at ending the practice

 

A shimmering corridor linking two stations. After an earthquake devastated Tashkent in 1966, cautious planners reportedly reduced the depth and increased the strength of the metro, tunnelling within a few metres of the streets above

 

A ceramic mural is revealed as a train rolls out of Tashkent station

 

Mosque-like architecture inside Alisher Navoi station

 

A decorative panel inside Alisher Navoi station

 

A mural celebrating 2,200 years since the founding of Tashkent, inside Tashkent station

 

Commuters peer out at the novel sight of a foreigner taking photos of their metro

 

 

Gafur Qulom station, named after an Uzbek intellectual. During the Soviet period, planners required a city’s population to top 1 million before work would begin on a subway. Tashkent’s population reached the milestone in the early 1960s

 

A mural on the wall of the Tashkent metro

 

Many of the metro stations were ‘decommunised’ and had their names changed after the breakup of the USSR in 1991. Amir Temur Khiyoboni (Amir Temur Square) station (pictured) is the former October Revolution station

 

 

A latenight commuter in Ming O’rik (Thousand Apricot) station. Metro trains run from 5am until midnight

 

Commuters in Pakhtakor station. Tunnelling for the underground system got under way in 1971, and the metro opened in 1977

 

Characters from an epic poem by Oybek in the station named after the Uzbek poet

 

Most of the metro stations have humble entrances, giving no hint of the dazzling architecture below. Now that photography is permitted, however, the fame of the Soviet-era spectacle is likely to spread quickly

 

While the threat of a nuclear strike on Uzbekistan has faded, the new perceived menace of terrorism is reflected in signs such as this, declaring: ‘Awareness is a requirement of the modern era!’

 

This slab of steel is a blast door that would lock behind soldiers and civilians in the event of a nuclear attack