15 OF MOSCOW'S MOST BEAUTIFUL METRO STATIONS
When in Moscow, there is a good chance you visit its most accessible museum - the city's incredible metro network - at least once a day. Many stations hardly resemble transport hubs and look more like cathedrals, ballrooms, and art galleries. A few stations still feature busts of Lenin or communist icons that convey overtly symbolic messages. In other words, to step into the Moscow Metro is to discover a socialist time capsule: this is a spectacular underworld featuring intricate mosaics, ornate chandeliers, marble columns, baroque plasterwork, all invoking a feeling of grandeur and sharing an architectural narrative built into them.
The Moscow Metro opened on May 15, 1935, and consisted of just one line and 11 stations. Back then, the population of Moscow already stood at approximately 4 million people, and it desperately needed more means of transportation. Josef Stalin had ordered the architects to build something that would symbolise his rising regime and serve as "palaces for the people". The sky was the limit: the city invested 20% of its budget in the building of the underground. Even the World War II did not interrupt the works. Rumour has it Stalin had also ordered to build a parallel underground system for the government and KGB that would connect the Kremlin with the airports. The myth of the Metro-2 has never been denied or confirmed, but there is indirect evidence that these tunnels do actually exist.
As of November 2016, the underground network encompasses 13 lines, 203 stations, and 338.9 km of railways. Unlike many other things in Russia’s capital, the metro is not only extremely efficient but also really cheap. One trip costs RUB50 (€0.75/$0.8), regardless of distance and travel time. You can also buy a Troika card (RUB50) and save about 35% on every means of public transport in the city.
To save you some time in this bustling place (and to give you some inspiration), I went on a quest to find the most impressive stations of the Moscow Metro. Here is what I found.
KOMSOMOLSKAYA // RED LINE
Komsomolsaya (Russian: Комсомольская) on the Red Line is one of the very first stations of the network. Due to its location under three major railway stations, it's also one of the busiest hubs of Moscow, so the station was designed with a particularly high volume of passengers in mind. It features tall limestone pillars and an upper gallery to navigate rush crowds.
KOMSOMOLSKAYA // CIRCLE LINE
If you've heard about (or seen pictures of) the Moscow Metro before, I bet this is the one station you recognise. It is an apotheosis of Stalinist Empire style and surely isn't one to forget easily - just look at those limestone and blue-grey marble pillars, grey granite floor, Baroque ceiling decorated with mosaic panels adorned with smalt and precious stones. The panels symbolise the Russian fight for independence and freedom throughout history.
KIEVSKAYA // CIRCLE LINE
Kievskaya (Russian: Киевская) is yet another name shared by a few joint stations. The one on the Circle Line was promoted by Khrushchev as an antithesis to the other two Kievskaya's that he was not fond of. The decorations follow the style of socialist realism which corresponds to an ideology rather than an art form. Themes of the 18 mosaics represent the friendship between the Russian and Ukrainian people and include, for example, Pushkin in Ukraine, Public Celebrations in Kiev, and the Battle of Poltava.
KIEVSKAYA // DARK BLUE LINE
Another station named after the Ukrainian city, it boasts intricate artworks, mosaics, and frescoes that depict life in Ukraine as well as soldiers during the October Revolution and the Civil War.
MAYAKOVSKAYA // DARK GREEN LINE
This station, named after the Soviet poet (and my favourite) Vladimir Mayakovsky, is famous for the 34 mosaics on the ceiling that represent "24 Hours in the Land of the Soviets." and depict a Soviet future as envisioned by the poet. Located 33 meters beneath the surface, the station became an air raid shelter during the World War II. Mayakovskaya (Russian: Маяковская) is often considered as the most beautiful station of the metro network.
PLOSHCHAD REVOLUTSII // DARK BLUE LINE
The station is decorated with sculptures flanking each corner of each column. A total of 76 pieces, they are arranged in a certain order: from parents with their children to athletes, students to farmers, industrial workers to hunters to soldiers. Some of the sculptures are said to bring good luck if you rub them. You can easily tell which ones they are: for instance, the frontier guard with the dog whose nose now shines brightly.
TAGANSKAYA // CIRCLE LINE
While the station's design is inspired by Russian folklore, the overall theme of the panels is war. In the marble pillars of the archways that remind of kokoshniks (Russian women’s traditional head-wear), panels depict profile bas-reliefs of ships, sailors, airmen, and other servicemen of the Red Army and Navy. This combination of styles immediately catches your eye and draws you to study the frames in detail.
NOVOSLOBODSKAYA // CIRCLE LINE
Built in 1952, Novoslobodskaya (Russian: Новослободская) is known for the stunning 32 stained glass panels that set into one of the pylons and illuminated from within. The panels are decorated in a floral theme and feature, for instance, the odd musician, sailor, artist, architect, or engineer in action.
PARK POBEDY // DARK BLUE LINE
At 84 metres (276 ft) below the surface, this is the deepest station of the Moscow Metro and is the third deepest in the world. The escalator ride to the ground takes about 3 minutes. Park Pobedy (Russian: Парк Победы) is a joint station, with both platforms of identical design but done in opposite colour schemes. The station showcases two mosaics depicting the 1812 French Invasion of Russia and World War II
ELEKTROZAVODSKAYA // DARK BLUE LINE
Elektrozavodskaya (Russian: Электрозаводская) is named after the electric light bulb factory nearby. Not surprisingly then, the station is very well lit, thanks to the 318 inset lamps on the ceiling. Pylons are decorated with grilles depicting hammer and sickle as well as 12 marble bas-reliefs symbolising the nation’s struggle in the War
BELORUSSKAYA // CIRCLE LINE
Following its name, the station displays panels about life of the Belarusian people. One of the panels shows three women holding a hammer and sickle wreath, with the letters CCCP (see picture above), but it initially depicted the women reaching to touch a bust of Stalin. Whereas Lenin's face can still be found all over the metro (and Russia), all signs of Stalin were removed in 1956, three years after his death.
KRASNOPRESNENSKAYA // CIRCLE LINE
Opened in 1954, Krasnopresnenskaya (Russian: Краснопресненская) is named after a street nearby. The station's theme is the revolutionary movements of 1905 and 1917.
DOSTOYEVSKAYA // LIGHT GREEN LINE
Moscow is the hometown of Dostoevsky, so it is only fair the city named a station after its celebrated child. This newly opened station displays a portrait of the writer as well as references to his famous works through striking murals. The murals (done in the Pietra dura technique) are inspired by scenes from Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, and The Idiot and have an eerie feel to them. Apparently, not everyone was impressed by the mural with a murder scene as some people complained at the opening. The author of the mural responded: “What did you want, scenes of dancing? Dostoyevsky does not have them.” Fair enough.
ARBATSKAYA // DARK BLUE LINE
Arbatskaya (Russian: Арбатская) was initially meant to serve both as a bomb shelter and as a Metro station, hence it's size (the 250-m platform is the second-longest in Moscow) and depth (41 m underground). The station is decorated with red marble pylons and an arched ceiling with floral reliefs and chandeliers.
PROSPEKT MIRA // CIRCLE LINE
The original name of the station, Botanichesky Sad (after the Botanical Garden of Moscow State University), set the theme with floral elements and an overall colour tone. The vestibule was recently reopened after one year's worth of major refurbishments works.
With over 2.4 billion passengers per year, Moscow Metro is the busiest network outside Asia. In order to take the photos posted here, I had to wait until late evening (22:00-01:00, to be precise) on a Sunday. So, if you want to explore the stations on your own, I'd suggest avoiding peak hours, unless you want to immerse yourself in the life of a local citizen. Otherwise, you can take one of the many organised tours (for example, this one). For your convenience, I marked all the stations mentioned in this post on the map with red stars - click here (in PDF).
Happy travels! x