The Moscow Metro is the world’s second most heavily used metro system after the Tokyo’s twin subway. It has nearly three hundred kilometres of track, twelve lines, and one hundred and eighty stations.
Whilst visitors to London would be unlikely to consider the ‘Tube’ to be a tourist attraction in Moscow the Metro is a ‘must visit’ place and not just for getting around the city because each station has a unique design using elaborate decorations and materials from all over the country, including granite, quartzite, limestone, twenty kinds of marble, semiprecious stones and are decorated with plus bronze sculptures, majolica panels, stainless steel columns, glittering chandeliers, bas-relief friezes, stained-glass panels, murals, and mosaics.
The first plans for a rapid transit system in Moscow date back in the times of the Russian Empire, however were postponed by the World-War-One, the October Revolution and the Russian Civil War. The construction started in June 1931 and the Central Committee of the USSR Communist Party envisioned the stations as‘palaces of the people’ and used to illustrate the achievements that socialism brought to the Soviet Union’s workers and peasants.
Planning the subterranean visit was a little daunting at first because the map of the Metro is like trying to make sense of a knitting pattern with the station names all stubbornly named in Cyrillic letters with no concessions to an English speaking visitor but after a while it began to make sense and we planned a route to see the best of the stations mainly using the brown circle line which acts at some point crosses all the other radial lines and making it difficult therefore to get really badly lost.
There is an interesting legend about the origin of the ring line rather like the Tsar’s finger on the Saint-Petersburg to Moscow railway line. A group of engineers met with Stalin to inform him of current progress and as he looked at the drawings he poured himself some coffee and spilt a small amount over the edge of the cup. When he was asked whether or not he liked the project so far, he put his cup down on the centre of the Metro blueprints and left in silence. The bottom of the cup left a brown circle on the drawings. Interpreting this as a sign of Stalin’s genius, they gave orders for the building of the ring line, which on the plans was always printed in brown.
Each line is identified by an alphanumeric index, a name, and a colour. On all lines, passengers can determine the direction of the train by the gender of the announcer: on the ring line, a male voice indicates clockwise travel, and a female voice counter-clockwise. On the radial lines, travellers heading toward the centre of Moscow will hear male-voiced announcements, and heading away will hear female-voiced announcements.
So, with plans carefully made we purchased our tickets and took the escalator down in a journey to the centre of the earth and spent an unusual evening hopping on and off the trains as we ticked off the stations that we wanted to visit most. After one stop on the orange line we joined the circle line at Prospekt Mira and followed the map to those we wanted to see. Being underground we were immediately disorientated so I cannot be sure of the route we took or the order in which we saw them but these were our favourites:
Close to the Kremlin and Red Square Ploshchad Revolyutsii (Revolution Square) has a main hall with a series of marble-lined arches, decorated with seventy-six life size bronze statues each of which represents an ‘everyday hero’ from the revolution and the early Soviet state, workers, peasants, farmers, engineers, scholars, parents, sailors, soldiers and other proletarians who had a role in Russian history. There is a legend that by rubbing the nose of the bronze dog of the Frontier Guard, you are guaranteed luck in passing an exam and this leads to a regular influx of students around the statue during the exams periods throughout the year. So, just in case I ever take another exam…
The trains come by every ninety seconds or so and soon we hopping on and off as though we had been doing it all of our lives. We stopped at Mayakovskaya which won the Grand Prix for urban design in the New York World’s Fair in 1938 and with columns of marble and stainless steel is considered one of Moscow’s most beautiful.
Kievskaya built during a time of great famine, in the mid-1930s, the murals and mosaics depict idealized scenes of rosy-cheeked well-fed peasants enjoying the fruits of their labour.
The graceful Komsomolskaya with its yellow ceilings and bronze reliefs and then what I am prepared to declare my absolute favourite – Novoslobodskaya where stained-glass panels gave the impression of the interior of a cathedral but where ordinary people, factory workers, farmers, architects and painters, replace the Patriarchs and the Saints amid ornate flowers and stars.
We finished at Taganskaya decorated with fourteen large triangular majolica panels which include cameo portraits of heroes of the Red Army and intricate floral designs.
Curious as it may sound I am happy to confidently declare that the Moscow Metro was one of the highlights of the visit to Moscow providing a wonderful evening’s entertainment for just a few kopecs and so good we thought we might return the following evening and see a few more of the stations that we had missed tonight.