Standing on the Platform and Looking Up at the Waves (Toledo metro station, Naples, Italy)

A casual reader of this blog (they do exist, we’re not all transport/culture hard nuts here, you know) suggests we look at Toledo metro station in the Italian city of Naples. This is off the back of a recent “world’s most beautiful metro stations” feature in British newspaper The Guardian, in which Toledo station was mentioned. Long-time readers of this blog will already be familiar with two of the entries in The Guardian‘s feature, Southwark tube station in London and Arts et Métiers métro station in Paris. And if you stick with me in future I promise we’ll get to many of others as we go along.

Today, however, it’s the turn of Toledo, on Naples’ Metro network. Here it is:

Photo by CasteFoto [CC BY 2.0] via this flickr page
Inside Toledo metro station. The traveller on the middle escalator is taking a photo. Who can blame them? Photo by CasteFoto [CC BY-NC 2.0] via this flickr page

The station’s extraordinary decor is the result of a corporate art programme. This has been an unexpected but widespread phenomenon of the last few decades on metro systems around the world. London Underground has its “Art on the Underground” programme (one of its latest initiatives, the Labyrinth project, is well worth a look at). London’s smaller driverless metro network, the Docklands Light Railway, has an art programme of its own. Across the Atlantic, similar projects can be found at the New York City Subway and the Charlotte Area Transit System in North Carolina. There are plenty more around the world too.

Most of these art-on-the-metro programmes involve the installation of artworks within stations. At Toledo station, the city of Naples took a different approach, one that is more similar to that of the Stockholm metro or the Arts et Métiers-style reconstructions of entire parts of some Paris Metro stations. In other words, the entire structure of the station was treated as an artwork in its own right.

At Toledo, the project was overseen by Catalan architect Oscar Tusquets Blanca (1941-). He designed the biggest elements of the architecture/art in the station, though the station features artworks from other artists too.

The main theme of Blanca’s work at the station is the sea. Now I reckon this is a bit of a brave move, given that Naples is a coastal city and that many underground metro travellers have a fear of being flooded/trapped underground, which they try very hard to ignore on a day-to-day basis. But Blanca’s approach is so mesmerising that it manages to override such fears. To stand in Toledo station is to be transfixed by shimmering colour on a huge scale.

The main escalator shaft down into the station is lined with mosaic tiles. So far, so conventional – London Underground’s Jubilee Line extension (1999) made extensive use of such tiles. But at Toledo, they are transformed into a glittering work of art. They have been compared to a night-skyscape by many (and if you have fears about being underground this is by far the best way to think about it) but the sea was definitely Blanca’s inspiration.

The further down into the station you descend, the darker blue the tiling becomes, just like a Nemo-esque descent into an undersea world. But don’t forget to look up. Blanca’s artwork Crater de luz (Cone of light) is above your head, a funnel-shaped mosaic tiled void leading all the way to the surface and bringing light into the station. It’s enhanced by a web of LED illumination, which is actually another artwork in its own right. It’s called Relative Light and is by American artist Robert Wilson.

Crater de Luz by Oscar Tusquets Blanca, and Relative Light by Robert Wilson, Toledo metro station. Photo by CasteFoto [CC BY-NC 2.0] via this flickr page
Crater de Luz by Oscar Tusquets Blanca, and Relative Light by Robert Wilson, Toledo metro station. Photo by CasteFoto [CC BY-NC 2.0] via this flickr page

At the bottom of the escalators, wave-shaped relief forms faced with dark blue mosaic tiles spring from the walls. This is Olas, another of Blanca’s artworks which are part of the fabric of the station.

Olas by Oscar Tusquets Blanca, Toledo metro station. Photo By Andrècruz23 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Olas by Oscar Tusquets Blanca, Toledo metro station. Photo by Andrècruz23 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Alongside a travelator, another artwork continues the sea theme. This is By the Sea, You and Me, a seascape on two giant lightboxes, which ripples gently as an observer walks past, due to the artwork being printed on lenticular sheets. This is another artwork by Robert Wilson.

By the Sea, You and Me by Robert Wilson. Photo By Gigi Sorrentino (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By the Sea, You and Me by Robert Wilson, Toledo metro station. Photo by Gigi Sorrentino (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

If there’s a criticism of this startling station, it’s the inclusion of other artworks which do not directly relate to the immersive submersive experience that Blanca has created. These include Human Race, “a photographic study on the morphology of human beings” by Italian artist Oliviero Toscani; and The Flying, a mural of people flying with birds and aircraft by Ukrainian artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov (both artworks, and several others can be found in the guide to the station, under “further reading” below). Whatever the intrinsic qualities of these works, the station might have greater impact if it was all of a piece on a water theme. Less is often more, after all.

But for sheer chutzpah, Toledo is hard to beat. It’s the metro station where you can dive deep into the ocean without ever getting your feet wet.

bibliography / further reading

MetroNapoli’s official guide to Toledo station’s artwork, here

how to find Toledo metro station

follow this link to the beauty of transport‘s map of beauty

2 thoughts on “Standing on the Platform and Looking Up at the Waves (Toledo metro station, Naples, Italy)

  1. Amusing headline to this piece. You can stand on Dawlish station and look at the waves, in fact you can often take a shower in them even on the (up side) platform on the far side from the sea.

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