In operation since 1935, the Moscow metro transports up to nine million people a day with expansion plans set to make it the world’s fourth largest subway system by 2020
This article originally appeared in The Guardian
The first designs for Moscow’s metro were submitted to city authorities under the reign of Tsar Nicholas II in 1902. Moscow wanted to rival earlier systems in London, Paris and Berlin (New York’s opened in 1904) – but the Russian city’s plans were repeatedly derailed: by the uprising of 1905, the first world war and the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Metro plans were finally approved under Joseph Stalin in 1931 and construction work is pictured here two years later.
The first line ran from Sokolniki (Соко́льники) to Dvorets Sovetov. Soviet workers carried out the construction under ‘Iron Commissar’ Lazar Kaganovich – at the cost of many lives – but the engineers were from the London Underground. Stalin’s secret police arrested many on espionage charges – apparently they had gained a dangerous knowledge of the subway and the city’s layout – and they were deported in 1933 after a show trial. Architect Charles Holden was one of the advisers, and the barrel-vaulted hall he built at Gants Hill on the Central Line echoes the standard Moscow station design.
An estimated 285,000 people rode the Moscow metro on the day it opened, 15 May 1935. Its construction was hailed as a technological and ideological triumph for socialism and Stalinism. After witnessing its first days, the German poet and playwright Bertholt Brecht wrote: ‘Now that the railway was built in accordance with the most perfect plans/ And the owners came to view it and/ To ride on it, they were the selfsame people/ Who had built it.’ Pictured: workers take the first ride.
A huge portrait of Vladimir Lenin at Biblioteka Imeni Lenina – one of the first metro stations to open.
Dvorets Sovetov, another in the first batch of stations, was named after Stalin’s planned Palace of the Soviets. The building – on the site of the demolished Cathedral of Christ the Saviour – was to be the tallest structure in the world and topped with a 100-metre statue of Lenin. The station was decorated with marble from the cathedral, but plans for the palace were scuppered by the second world war and it was never built. The station was renamed Kropotkinskaya in the 1950s after anarchist Peter Kropotkin, who was born nearby. The cathedral was rebuilt after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Ploshchad Revolutsii was among the stations opened in 1938, the second stage of the metro. It features 76 bronze sculptures by Matvey Manizer depicting the creators of the new Socialist order: including farmers, workers, soldiers and athletes. Many stations from the Stalin era have Socialist Realist themes, conforming to Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s maxim that ‘art is no use unless it serves politics’.
Mayakovskaya station – with its art deco stainless steel columns – was built in the same year. Each niche in the ceiling features a different mosaic by Aleksandr Deyneka.
One of the 34 Alexander Deyneka mosiacs in the ceiling at Mayakovskaya station: together forming a work known as 24-hour Soviet Sky.
Mayakovskaya metro station was used as a bomb shelter during the second world war, known as the ‘great patriotic war’ in Russia. Stalin made a speech in the station in November 1941 to celebrate the 24th anniversary of Bolshevik revolution, as the Nazis bombarded the city above.
Work on the Moscow metro’s third stage was delayed – but not stopped – by the war. Elektrozavodskaya station, named after a nearby lightbulb factory, was opened in 1944.
Crowds at the opening of Komsomolskaya station in 1952, part of the metro’s fourth stage. The station is decorated with Pavel Korin murals inspired by the speech Stalin gave in November 1941, when he invoked Alexander Nevsky and other historical heroes to inspire the Russian people as they struggled under catastrophic losses in the early part of the war
Komsomolskaya station – a baroque ‘palace of the people’ – is often considered the zenith of High Stalinist metro design. It remains ‘a symbolic expression of the magnificent results of the proletarian dictatorship’.
Kiyevskaya metro station – also on the Koltsevaya ‘ring line’ with Komsomolskaya and Novoslobodskaya – opened in 1954. Lighting in the metro was designed to create atmosphere rather than be purely functional
Mosaics and murals in Kiyevskaya station depict Russo-Ukrainian unity.
The large statue of Stalin in the vestibule at Kurskaya station was removed in the 1960s – but the lines from the anthem of the Soviet Union were renovated a few years ago: ‘Stalin brought us up on loyalty to the people … [and] … inspired us to labour and to heroism’.
After Stalin’s death in 1953, new leader Nikita Khrushchev condemned the excesses and ‘unnecessary luxury’ of the past. VDNKh station, started in the early 50s, was to be richly decorated with mosaics by Vladimir Favorsky along the insides of the arches – but Khrushchev’s crackdown led to the mosaics being covered with coats of thick green paint. The metro was to enter a more sober period under the slogan: ‘Kilometres at the expense of architecture’.
Tverskaya – opened in 1979 – is typical of the style of the 60s and 70s. Stations from this period were built more cheaply and many look almost identical.
Passengers on the Moscow metro in 1992.
Rimskaya station opened in 1995, four years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is named after the Italian capital, and its sculptures of Romulus and Remus sitting atop fallen columns ostensibly represent the mythical founders of Rome. Some commentators, however, saw parallels with a more recently collapsed empire.
Lubyanka (Лубянка) is home to the Russian security service the FSB, and is also rumoured to lead to a secret subway system built by Stalin deeper than the public lines. The Metro-2 network, apparently codenamed D6 by the KGB, is thought to have been constructed to connect key strategic buildings and allow the evacuation of high-ranking personnel in the event of a nuclear attack. Its existence has never been confirmed, but urban explorers the Diggers claimed they found an entrance to the system in 1994
Moscow metro riders enjoy free Wi-Fi. Most journeys with a Troika card cost 30 roubles (about 50p).
The Moscow metro is expanding fast. Myakinino station was the first to be built under a public-private partnership, with financing from Baku-born billionaire Aras Agalarov who wanted a stop at his Crocus shopping mall and trade expo centre. Strogino (pictured) was the 175th station when it opened seven years ago; this month the metro will mark 80 years with another new station, its 200th, at Kotelniki. Thirty-five new stops are planned to open over the next three years, and 75 miles of new track will make Moscow the world’s fourth largest after Seoul, Shanghai and Beijing.