Opened in 1935, the Moscow Metro was one of the USSR’s most extravagant projects. Its stations, with their lavish and ornate interiors, were conceived as showcases of Soviet success, and aimed at making the city the world’s capital of Communism. Follow Kiki Deere’s tour of the most spectacular metro stops to learn more about Russia’s past.
Today, Moscow’s Metro is a walking museum of Communist design, with underground halls and palatial vestibules decorated with mosaics, marble, bronze statues, stained-glass windows and bas-reliefs – to name a few. Whether you’re travelling one stop, or fancy taking a leisurely tour, there’s something to learn at every station.
BEGIN WITH BEAUTIFUL MAYAKOVSKAYA
Undoubtedly one of the world’s most beautiful metro stations, Mayakovskaya was named after the renowned Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. The station is famous for the wonderful 34 oval niches that adorn the ceiling depicting “24 Hours in the Sky of the Soviets”. The mosaics within portray life in the USSR: tractors plough endless kolkhoz fields, fruits ripen and Soviet youth are hard at work or resting after a long day of labour. The ticket hall is covered with marble and limestone from Georgia, while the resplendent floor combines white marble with grey and pink granite. In 1938, the station was awarded the Grand Prize at the New York World Trade Fair.
POETRY AT PUSHKINSKAYA
From here it’s just one stop to Pushkinskaya, named after the Russian poet Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin. Illuminated by splendid nineteenth century chandeliers, the hall features marble columns with brass insertions devoted to the poet, each displaying his best-known lines. The passage that leads to the adjoining station of Chekhovskaya contains an elegant bust of the poet himself.
CELEBRATE THEATRE AT TEATRALNAYA
One stop further south is Teatralnaya, named after the Russian for “theatre” due to its proximity to a number of auditoriums, including the world-famous Bolshoi. This station, a cultural heritage sight, has a vaulted ceiling decorated with coffers and bas-reliefs fitted into diamond-shaped niches, celebrating the creative arts. The porcelain figures feature members of the Soviet republics in national dress performing folk dances and playing traditional musical instruments. The chequered floor is composed of black and yellow granite slabs; round marble pillars and lamps with bronze rims illuminate the hall.
HOP OFF AT OKHOTNY RYAD FOR RED SQUARE
An underground passageway connects Teatralnaya to Okhotny Ryad, where passengers alight for Red Square. The station, whose name over the years was changed a grand total of four times, is home to a mosaic portrait of Karl Marx, another clear reminder of the country’s communist past. Curiously, however, this is the only station on the original metro line where the materials used were imported from outside the USSR. Italian Carrera and Bardiglio marble dominate among white ceramic tiles and spherical lamps.
FIND GOOD FORTUNE AT PLOSHCHAD REVOLYUTSII
From Okhotny Ryad, passengers can connect to the station of Ploshchad Revolyutsii, or Revolution Square, where red, golden, white and grey Armenian marble embellish the hall and the floor is lined with granite. Seventy-six life-like bronze figures sit majestically in arched niches, personifying the glorious past and resplendent future of the USSR. Among the sculptures are revolutionary workers, sailors, athletes, peasants and soldiers. All manner of superstitions have settled around the statues, from stroking the nose of a frontier guard’s dog for luck in exams, to rubbing a sailor’s pistol early in the morning to wish good fortune for the upcoming day.
GET ILLUMINATED AT ELEKTROZAVODSKAYA
Three stations east is Elektrozavodksaya, named after a nearby electric light plant. This spectacular station has 318 circular inset lamps lining the vault. Construction was halted at the onset of World War II, but was subsequently resumed in 1943 when a new theme arose as a result; a series of beautiful bas-reliefs depict the struggle faced by forces returning home from the front.
HUNT FOR FOSSILS AT ARBATSKAYA
Heading west from Ploshchad Revolyutsii is Arbatskaya. Once home to a mosaic portrait of Stalin, made of jasper and other semi-precious stones from the Ural Mountains, which was eventually taken down in 1955. The red Crimean marble that now features contains clearly visible fossils and is lit up by large brass chandeliers, while the vault is decorated with floral reliefs.
CROSS BORDERS AT KIEVSKAYA
Two stops along is Kievskaya, with its elegant interior displaying a series of frescos devoted to life in Ukraine. The station, named after the city of Kiev, was designed to showcase the strong relationship between Russia and its neighbour. The central hall displays a mosaic panel celebrating the union between the two countries.
AN AURA OF MAGIC AT NOVOSLOBODSKAYA
From here, the circle line leads to splendid Novoslobodskaya, adorned with 32 stained glass panels displayed in ornamental brass frames and illuminated from within, lending the station an aura of magic. An intricate mosaic panel produced in Riga decorates the end of the platform.
PORTRAITS OF HEROES AT TAGANSKAYA
Further along is Taganskaya, with its splendid 48 majolica panels displaying portraits of Red Army heroes. Each of the bas-reliefs represent servicemen, from pilots to sailors, while twelve gilded chandeliers illuminate the central hall. The southern end of the platform formerly displayed a relief panel of Stalin, which was later replaced by a composition that included a portrait of Lenin and the emblems of the USSR. This panel was eventually removed to make way for an underground passageway.
Did you know…?
1. The Moscow Metro is one of the world’s busiest undergrounds, carrying 9 million passengers daily.
2. A female voice announces stations when travelling out of the centre, while a male voice signals trains are moving towards the centre. This led to the saying “your boss calls you to work; your wife calls you home”.
3. On the circle line, moving clockwise announcements are spoken by a male while counter-clockwise they are spoken by a female, so that visually impaired people are aware of their direction of travel.
4. The stations served as bomb shelters during the Second World War, or Great Patriotic War, as it is referred to in Russia.
5. In 1941 Joseph Stalin addressed his party in the grand hall of Mayakovskaya station.
All photographs courtesy of Moscow Metro.
If you want to explore more of Russia, you can buy the Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget, and learn some Russian phrases to help you get around. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.