Underground Palaces: Moscow Metro Magic
On Monday, February 15, 2016, the Moscow Metro opened its 200th station, Salaryevo. Passengers were reflected in its polished stone floors, and Mondrian-like color blocks covered the walls beyond the tracks. More modern and streamlined than the elaborate stations in the city center, Moscow’s latest addition to its enviable metro system ties the southwest suburbs into the spider’s web of the city’s underground routes.
The web of metro stations has been “growing at such a rate that the can’t keep up,” says John Seckel, Director of MIR’s affiliate office in Moscow, Russia. In the last few years there have been nearly two dozen tunnel boring machines worming their way under the outskirts of the city. 18 new stations have been opened since 2010.
An American ex-pat from Wisconsin, John has been living in Moscow for nearly 20 years.
“I would say that the Moscow Metro is one of the easiest metro systems to use in the world. I have traveled to many countries and used many metro systems and there is not one that compares to the ease of the Moscow Metro.”
Riding at rush hour, however, takes some getting used to. “One aspect of taking the Metro that you have to get used to during peak times is how close you are to other people. I remember times of being so close that I could almost pick up my feet without falling down because I had people packed all around me holding me up.”
The Metro first opened in 1935, and today there are more than 200 miles of track in a system that serves nearly 2.5 billion travelers each year.
For nearly 20 years, while Stalin was in power, Metro stations were dug deep, to double as bomb shelters. They were designed and decorated like underground “People’s Palaces,” intended to show the success of the Soviet system.
Some of the more extravagant Stalinist city center stations are Kievskaya Station, its walls clad in framed mosaics showing happy Ukrainians under golden skies; Ploshchad Revolutsii, its black Georgian marble setting off 76 bronze sculptures of Russian workers and soldiers; and Mayakovsky Station, with its slender stainless steel pylons and graceful arches forming domes highlighted with mosaics. Stalin gave his Anniversary of the October Revolution speech here in 1941, deep underground where he and his audience were safe from air raids.
Komsomolskaya Station, a Baroque Gem
One of the most beautiful stations, baroque butter-yellow Komsomolskaya, was inspired by this wartime speech invoking Russia’s historical heroes. The grand station is trimmed with white plaster filigree and crystal chandeliers, and its eight monumental mosaics show such heroic figures as Alexander Nevsky and Dmitry Donskoi winning Russia’s struggle for freedom. (The mosaics depicting 20th century events often had to be updated to reflect when political leaders fell out of favor.)
After Stalin died in 1953 (and was erased from some of the mosaics), there followed years of Metro austerity under Khrushchev, whose motto was “kilometers at the expense of architecture.”
Economical and Humdrum
For 30 years or so, the Metro opened lots of stations, but they were nowhere near as deep nor as opulent as the Stalinist stations. They were streamlined, low-cost and efficient, like the Khrushchyovka, the mass-produced concrete apartment blocks that sprouted across the Soviet Union under Khrushchev and his successors.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, throughout the 80s and 90s, the stations that opened were workmanlike and functional, though not often outstanding, making use of the standardized pillar-trispan Novaya Sorokonozhka (new centipede) design familiar from other, more mundane, metro systems the world over.
Back to the Future
But then came the oligarchs and the oil money, and the Metro edged back toward greatness for a time. In 2010 the handsome Dostoyevskaya Station opened its doors amid controversy – psychologists worried that the gloomy scenes from Dostoyevsky’s novels, portrayed in black, white and gray stone, might cause riders to fling themselves onto the tracks, a fear that turned out to be unfounded.
The newest stations, Ryumantsevo and Salaryevo, are gleaming modern artworks made for the suburbs, and many more new stations are expected to open before 2020.
Again, MIR’s John Seckel: “New types of wagons are coming on line that have A/C, digital announcements for the next station and free WiFi if you register in the system. Comfort has finally become an issue.”
Ride the Moscow Metro with MIR
You can ride the Metro to admire the gorgeous city-center stations on these MIR itineraries, as well as on a custom, private tour created to your specifications. (MIR Metro tours typically take place during off-peak hours when trains are not overly crowded.)
- Mongolia to Moscow: A Trans-Siberian Railway Adventure
- Russian Winter Wonderland
- Insider’s Russia: Moscow & St. Petersburg Redisovered
- A Chronicle of Russian Cuisine & Culture
- Essential Russia
- Trans-Siberian Express Between Beijing & Moscow (Eastbound / Westbound)
MIR has 30 years of travel experience to Russia, with affiliate offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Siberia offering on-the-ground support, and tour managers that clients rave about. MIR’s full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”
MIR has specialized in personalized, private journeys experience and we love to take your ideas and weave them into a trip tailored especially for you. Travel wherever, however, and with whomever you like, relying on our expert assistance. Contact us to find out more about our custom and private travel expertise – each trip handcrafted to your interests, dates and pace.
Top photo: One of the Moscow Metro’s palatial stations, Komsomolskaya. Photo credit: Jonathan Irish
PUBLISHED: March 7, 2016