Moscow is an amazing city, with a whole stack of interesting places to visit and famous sights to see. And yet, despite the wonder of St Basil’s and the majesty of the Kremlin, there was something I enjoyed far, far more – and for a mere fraction of the price.
I’m talking about Moscow’s Metro.
It’s not like any other metro system I’ve seen. It’s brilliant. And I don’t mean because it’s quick, cheap and the trains come very frequently, although those are all useful things. It’s because of the architecture.
Planning for Moscow’s metro began during the period of the Russian Empire, but pesky things like the First World War, October Revolution and Russia’s civil war got in the way. Construction finally began in 1931 and Moscow’s first metro line opened in 1935. Construction is still continuing today. As of 2013, it has 188 stations. And it’s apparently the second most heavily used metro system, after that in Seoul, with more than 9 million passengers per day during the week. Each station seems to have it’s own unique design however, which certainly sets it apart from all the others we’d seen. Parts of the Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya Line were built during the Cold War and designed to also function as shelters in the event of nuclear war. Fortunately this hasn’t happened.
Prior to Moscow we’d found Hong Kong’s subway the most interesting purely because there were occasionally different coloured tiles. And despite not having seen most of the world’s metro systems I’m putting it out there that Moscow’s is one of, if not THE most incredible.
The metro has many, many different lines and each is interesting. However it’s hardly feasible to visit every single station [although if I’d more time and was alone it would be pretty tempting to try!] and the most interesting stations are generally found on the lines built before the mid-1950s, after which Khrushchev insisted on more spartan decorations.
The construction of the Moscow Metro was arguably one of the USSR’s most extraordinary architectural projects, designed as a glorification of Soviet ideals and a way of making the most beautiful, extravagant architecture and design accessible to the people. Rather than being confined to the elite or the aristocracy, the magnificence of the Metro stations was open to the people – a glorious underground Communist paradise. The stations are littered with incredibly detailed ceilings including intricate decoration or brightly coloured mosaics reflecting the glory of Communism, designed to encourage the visitor to look above and unconsciously soak up the ethos of the Stalinist regime. Many stations feature unbelievably grand chandeliers – an entirely unnecessary extravagance in a train station!
We deliberately visited about fifteen stations just for the architecture, and many more because we had to stop there for museums and the like.
I took a lot of photos in the metro stations. My camera got a fair workout, and John was very patient with me! He definitely enjoyed them as well – it was kind of exciting to hop on and off the train and see what was awaiting us at each station.
About photography – we were told by a metro staffer at one station that photography wasn’t allowed, however according to the official website amateur photography is allowed in all stations, free, without a permit unless you are using a tripod or other stationary equipment. Professional photography requires a permit. Still, John insisted it wasn’t worth arguing over, as I’d already taken a few anyway.
We discovered that most tour companies in Moscow seem to run Metro sightseeing tours for about 800 rubles, but they seem to take you to about five or six stations in total – all of which you could visit on your own for virtually nothing. And I mean virtually nothing – we spent an entire day underground in the metro system and it cost us 30 rubles, the price of a single ticket. Tickets in Moscow are paper cards that you scan to enter the metro – a single ticket is good for only one entry into the system, and there’s no time frame [that I’m aware of] for your trip. We noticed everyone discarded their tickets after entering, and never saw inspectors inside the metro stations. So for 30 rubles, or maybe 60 if you leave for lunch and come back, you can spend the whole day in what I think is Moscow’s most amazing attraction.
I’m going to do the Metro over a number of blogs, as there are FAR too many pictures to put them all in one. The ones we thought were the most worth seeing, and killed a few camera batteries visiting, are as follows in no particular order:
- Arbatskaya [Арбатская]
- Belorusskaya [Белорусская]
- Elektrozavodskaya [Электрозаводская]
- Kievskaya [Киевская]
- Komsomolskaya [Комсомольска]
- Kurskaya [Курская]
- Mayakovskaya [Маяковская]
- Nakhimonskiy Prospekt [Нахимовский проспект]
- Novoslobodskaya [Новослободская]
- Partizanskaya [Партизанская]
- Ploschad Revolutsii [Площадь Революции]
- Prospekt Mira [Проспект Мира]