I did not write much about the famous Moscow Metro. I rode it several times when I visited Moscow in 2014. Here is more information about it, if you are interested. One thing for sure, Russian engineering is outstanding, as you will read.
Moscow’s metro is one of the busiest and most visually stunning underground systems in the world. Created as a showcase for the Soviet Union, its elaborate, spacious stations are adorned with mosaics, marble statues and stained glass that tell the story of the communist state. When it opened in 1935, the metro had just 11 stations and attracted 285,000 curious riders on the first day. Today there are 206 stations and up to nine million passengers a day.
The stations were designed by various architects, reflecting different styles, going from art deco to faux Italian. They used tons of marble, mosaics, sculptures, and even chandeliers. They were meant to give workers a meaningful cultural experience, normally available only for the wealthy or government officials.
A few things I noticed, most obvious, no advertising. It feels like a time warp travel back in time. But what I liked most, aside from the long, deep stations that required a little fortitude on my part, was the natural air conditioning of each station, engineered into the design of each station. Coming from a warm and muggy outdoor, it is a most refreshing respite from the rigors of sightseeing and touristing. Imagine how the factory workers feel?
And I did not know this: A station manager controls trains coming and leaving the platform as she sits in a booth at Zhulebino metro station. Another visible change is the controversial replacement of many of the elderly women who used to sit in a booth at the bottom of the seemingly endless escalators, who were famous for telling passengers off if they sat down on the escalator steps. One attendant known by locals as Auntie Lyuda was famous for telling jokes on Mondays, reading poems and telling passengers to imagine they were in England – if passengers want to walk up and down the steps of the escalator, they should do so on the left. Now the attendants are mainly young men, and have yet to show any skill in bantering with passengers.
The Moscow metro’s immaculate stations are a mix of old and new. Get off at Ploshchad Revolutsii (Revolution Square) and you will see passengers going up to a statue of a border guard and rubbing his dog’s nose for luck. There are four such statues in the station, and all the dogs have shiny noses from the constant rubbing. Yes, I rubbed his nose, hoping for a safe and uneventful exit from Russia in the coming week!
A mosaic depicting Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin is located at Kievskaya metro station. The metro was originally named after Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, and the Bolshevik leader’s image was and still is found in stations throughout the metro: in statues, mosaics and a giant bust of Lenin on the wall in Ploshchad Ilyich (Ilyich Square) metro station. One station, Komsomolskaya is quite extravagant, and designed by the same architect as Lenin’s tomb. It has eight large ceiling mosaics made of semiprecious stones, including lapis lazuli and jasper. Other stations have opulent designs with gold, semiprecious stones, mosaics, and up to fourteen different varieties of marble!
One of my favorite stations is Novoslobodskaya, with 32 stained glass panels with political themes, quite common as you can imagine. They were meant to provide a message, to bring residents up to speed ideologically, as they rode through the metro. Needless to say, we are fortunate that dreary old BART, the “L”, and the New York subway tend to leave us alone in our thoughts.
Speaking of Vlad, Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin is also seen at Dobryninskaya metro station. The image of his successor Josef Stalin was also seen on the metro until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced him in 1956, prompting the dismantling of statues of him all over the Soviet Union (and throughout Siberia). At Dobryninskaya metro station, a mosaic shows a happy crowd holding up a photo of a cosmonaut. The photo previously depicted Stalin and the cosmonaut was parachuted in to hide the disgraced leader. Interestingly, Stalin wanted to “jump start” his new Russia with the metro.
And for you millennials: The metro now has free Wi-Fi and announcements in English are gradually being introduced across the numerous lines. In the more tourist-friendly stations, “selfie spots” have been designated on the floor to help passengers get the best photo with a metro architectural highlight in view. But there are great photo ops at almost every station, compared to our sterile stations in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco (BART).
For a bit of history about the Moscow Metro:
A station manager controls trains coming and leaving the platform as she sits in a booth at each metro station. Another visible change is the controversial replacement of many of the elderly women who used to sit in a booth at the bottom of the seemingly endless escalators, who were famous for telling passengers off if they sat down on the escalator steps. One attendant known by locals as Auntie Lyuda was famous for telling jokes on Mondays, reading poems and telling passengers to imagine they were in England – if passengers want to walk up and down the steps of the escalator, they should do so on the left. Now the attendants are mainly young men, and have yet to show any skill in bantering with passengers. Sadly, I was not able to meet Lyuda, or any of her platform performers.
How about a souvenir? The metro finally seems to have realized how iconic it is, and has introduced tourist stands with metro-related gifts. The souvenirs include an 8-cm model of the guard and the dog (rub the nose at home to your heart’s content for 2,900 rubles or $51.54) or coasters with famous metro mosaics on them, including one of Lenin. I thought $50 was a little pricey for a dust collector.