The Moscow Metro serves as the subway of Moscow. With over 300 kilometers of track divided into 12 lines that serve 186 stations, the trains and tunnels of Moscow carry an average of 6.7 million people each day (with most weekdays seeing well over 7 million passengers in the system). The trains originally operated faster than their Western counterparts (by demand of Joseph Stalin, they were to operate at a higher speed than the New York Subway, at the time the world’s most famous underground train system, built in 1904), and today, they still manage to move at a fairly respectable clip. However, the Metro is not merely a series of trains and tunnels.
The stations of the Moscow Metro, first opened on May 15, 1935, are describes as one of Stalin’s most extravagant architectural projects. The original 13 stations, along with many others that were built later, together serve as one of the world’s largest galleries, with functional works of art at most stations ushering busy Muscovites about their daily tasks. These works were intended to depict a sort of “socialist paradise,” an extravagant reminder of the gifts of progress that the leadership of the Communist Party had given to the people of the city, gifts that promised a sort of “radiant future” built with the hands of the proletariat.
“The Kaluzhskaya Station was designed by the architect Leonid Poliakov. Poliakov’s decision to base his design on a reinterpretation of Russian classical architecture clearly influenced the concept of the lamps, some of which I planned in collaboration with the architect himself. The shape of the lamps was a torch – the torch of victory, as Poliakov put it... The artistic quality and stylistic unity of all the lamps throughout the station’s interior made them perhaps the most successful element of the architectural composition.”
The reflective marble walls, the bright colors, the high ceilings, and the opulent chandeliers at many of the more popular stops, however, are more reflective today of the architectural legacy that Stalinism left upon Russian culture. Indeed, the Metro in Moscow served as a prototype of other Soviet subways, each of which were to be constructed only for cities where the population exceeded one million (it is said that the size of the city reflected the size of the train system - for every million population, a city would earn the right from the central state planners to an additional train line).
The Moscow Metro, beyond being a much needed mass transit project, also was meant to serve as one of the world’s largest fallout shelter during the Cold War. Expanding from its role as civilian defense from air raids during the Nazi siege of Moscow, the train lines eventually spanned the city and were designed to be able to host its entire population (today at 11 million) in case of a nuclear attack. Indeed, at entrances, an observant person can still see where sections of floor were to be pulled up after the last evacuee has entered the tunnel.
Such plans as this have led to further rumors of a secret Metro, supposedly an extensive system built to transport the national leadership in times of war down deep tunnels that lead from the Kremlin and all government buildings to a secret city somewhere below Moscow’s Ramenki District, near Moscow State University. Whether or not this is true, the government has nonetheless opened a special museum for visitors curious about such things near the Taganskaya Metro Station, called Bunker 42, or the Cold War Museum. A trip on the rumored secret Metro, however, is not guaranteed for foreign guests.
A total of 34 ceiling mosaics with the theme "24-Hour Soviet Sky" were supposed
to symbolize the bright Soviet future.
For most visitors to Moscow, the Metro experience will be that of beautifully constructed marble and granite, with stations that are reminiscent of palaces. It is truly the mark of a great city that such sophistication can be found within something so simple as a mass transportation network.