“The circular line is brown because Stalin kept his cup on the map and the coffee cup left a circular mark. The architect wasn’t sure if he should risk his life by asking if that is a metro line or not. They made a circular line and denoted it with coffee brown color” Our guide Airat from Moscow Free Tours organization was informing with great zeal, about a city he migrated to after growing up in Kazan and has seen the change from last days of Soviet Union to modern day Russia.
There are no points for guessing that Moscow metro was the first metro system in Soviet Union, being inaugurated in 1935 and a lot of stations from the era are influenced by Stalinist architecture and some of the underground stations at Moscow are so unique that they officially form a part of national heritage.
As we moved from one station to another amidst the evening Moscow crowd, we couldn’t stop noticing Sparkling chandeliers, impressive statues, imposing marble architecture and large metal gates to help seal the metro station in an event of a nuclear attack.
My favorite was the Mayakovskaya station, named after Vladimir Mayakovsky – a soviet poet, playwright, artist and actor. It is globally famous for its 34 ceiling mosaics depicting “24 hours in the land of the soviets”. After opening in 1938, this station located at the depth of 33mtrs has been used as an air raid shelter and anti-aircraft battery command post. On the anniversary of the October Revolution, on 7 November 1941, Joseph Stalin addressed a mass assembly of party leaders and ordinary Muscovites in the central hall of the station. During World War II, Stalin took residence in this place. The ceiling mosaic, apart from depicting the 24 hours in the land of the soviets, was also used to make people feel like they are looking at the open sky and how the sky would be with mosaics depicting aircraft, kremlin, parachutes, children, aircraft in the sky, amongst others.
Komsomolskaya was the first station we saw on the Moscow metro line because this is connected to Leningradsky railway terminal where we arrived from St. Petersburg. Two escalators descend into a large dome which is golden yellow with chandeliers lined up at regular intervals. There are 8 large mosaics which depict the Soviet struggle during the war. The station is an example of Baroque architecture which was famous in Europe in 17th and 18th century and looks more like a Royal palace.
During the tour we stopped at the Revolution Square metro station, named after the famous square under which the station exists. The station which opened in 1938 is known for bronze statues under each arch, which depict the people of Soviet Union. There are soldiers, farmers, athletes, writers, workers, aviators and children, a total of 76 sculptures across the station. The most famous amongst the sculptures is the dog which accompanies a frontier guard. It is believed to bring good luck if you rub its nose. We did and we also saw a lot many doing it while waiting for their trains.
Kiyevskaya is named after the nearby Keyevskaya railway terminal. Like Leningradsky or Belorusskaya, this means that the trains which depart or arrive at this terminal are going towards Kiev. Soviets had made life simple and easy for people to find. Keyavskaya – for trains going / coming from Kiev, Leningradsky – for trains going / coming from Leningrad, Belorusskaya – for trains going / coming from Belarus.
In case of Kiyevskaya, the design of the station was based on the competition conducted in Ukraine and this station celebrated Ukrainian – Russian unity. (The station still exists, even after the conflict of last few years). Kievskaya features low, square pylons faced with white marble and surmounted by large mosaics by A.V. Myzin celebrating Russo-Ukrainian unity. Both the mosaics and the arches between the pylons are edged with elaborate gold-colored trim. At the end of the platform is a portrait of Vladimir Lenin.
Belorusskaya has monuments illustrating scenes from the great patriotic war and is designed with National Belarusian motives. With white ceiling having intricate carving and marble on the sides, the station depicts the rich cultural heritage of Belarus.
Prospekt Mira is another station worth seeing. The station is dedicated to agriculture in the Soviet Union. While the walls are red Ural marble, the flooring is in chessboard pattern with cylindrical chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
Arbatskaya is large and deep (41m) because it is one of the many stations which double up as nuclear shelter. The station was built to replace a station and line nearby which was bombed by the Germans in 1941. The elliptical design of the station is not in sync with the other stations and it features low, square pylons with red marble and a high vaulted ceiling decorated with ornamental brackets, floral reliefs and chandeliers.
There is a legend that a metro system parallel to the older one was built in 1960s. Popularly known as Metro 2, this is believed to have a connection to Stalin’s dacha from Kremlin and act as shelter for high ranking Soviet officials in case of nuclear attack. Out of bounds for people, legend has it that no high ranking official has or has had access to the entire stretch to maintain secrecy.
There is something which we did not notice but came to know later while reading. The upcoming station is announced by a male voice on inbound trains to the city center and by a female voice on the outbound trains. We hope we make another trip to Moscow, possibly to board the Trans-Siberian railway and experience the metro again to notice this.