Exploring Moscow Metropolitan Subway

Exploring Moscow Metropolitan Subway
11 April 2014

Exploring Moscow Metropolitan Subway

When you arrive in Moscow, there is something you cannot miss: the subway. Usually we consider it as a means of transport. But here it is more than that! Metro stations are real works of art of socialist realism: they are called “underground palaces”. I urge you to go stroll in different stations, just to admire the architecture, which is by the way absolutely awesome. Of course, it also has its downsides: carrying over 9 million passengers a day, it is not uncommon to find in crowded trains and queuing to take the escalators! But do not worry, as a good Muscovite, you get used to it!

A little history, just to educate yourself and show off in front of your friends. The idea of a metro in Moscow  emerged with Tsar Alexander II in 1870, but the project was abandoned when he was assassinated. The first lines were built using the Moscow general plan designed by Lazar Kaganovich in the 1930s, and the Metro was named after him until 1955 (Metropoliten im. L.M. Kaganovicha) : victim of de-Stalinization (= abandon the cult of personality and denounce the “excesses” of the period of Stalinism), there was no question that the subway bears his name. Today it bears the name of Lenin. Soviet workers did the labor and the art work, but the main engineering designs, routes, and construction plans were handled by specialists recruited from the London Underground. Moreover, many British engineers were arrested because of the great paranoia of Stalin and his collaborators at that time (if you’re interested in this period, I suggest you learn about the Moscow Trials, Great terror and gulags). The first line was 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) long and included 13 stations. The line connected Sokolniki to Okhotny Ryad then branching to Park Kultury and Smolenskaya. Today, the Moscow Metro has 12 lines with 194 stations its route length is 325.4 km (202.2 ).

One may wonder why the Soviet Union went to a fair amount of effort to sublimate its metro. It is a perfect example of the Stalinist egocentrism excessive and magnificent. This shows in some ways to foreign visitors, the strength of the USSR: Moscow and its subway become the showcase of the Soviet regime.

According to Stalin, the architects and the artists had to design a structure that embodied svet (radiance or brilliance) and svetloe budushchee (a radiant future): creating a kind of an underground communist paradise and as a gift for people in return for their sacrifices. Light was really important, that’s why they used marbles ( 17 different kinds of marbles!). The chief lighting engineer Abram Damsky explained that light could be associate with the « radiant future » of the Party. The Metro was iconic also because it showcased Socialist Realism in public art.

Thus you can see in the Moscow subway, statutes, paintings, representing the Communist world, as well as representations of various artists such as Pushkin, etc. … I highly recommend you go to take a look at Oktiabrskaia Station, Plochad Revolioutsi, Kievskaya or at Vorobyovy Gory that comes out of tunnels to cross the Moskva.

Finally last anecdote. Some rumors speak of a second Moscow metro, deeper which was built under the direction of Stalin and the KGB. There are rumors that the length of the network exceeds that of “normal” metro that has four lines connecting the Kremlin, the headquarters of the FSB, or the Ministry of Defence, and so on…

On your turn to discover the secrets and wonders of the depths of Moscow!


This post was brought to you by Anne-Sophie, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz

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