As all metro systems must, they begin with humble origins, and the Moscow metro is no exception. The credit goes to one Joseph Stalin in the 20s who first got the ball rolling with the project in the early days of his tyrannical rule. The Soviet politburo wanted a metro system that could be trumped as centre piece of socialist achievement, a daily reminder to Muscovites of the strength and unity of the national experiment.
Work on the Moscow Metro began in the 1920s and the first line was unveiled in May, 1935. A 11 kilometer stretch with 13 stations. Over time the network continued to expand to different parts of the city, and of course this expansion has continued to the present day with the city now host to around 200 stations. As of 2016 the Moscow metro is the 5th longest in the world and the busiest outside of Asia.
The Moscow metro showcases an almost schizophrenic range of architectural styles, from splendid Baroque, and Socialist Realism to Utilitarian and a Modernist styles. Each station reveals a small chapter in Moscow’s architectural, intellectual and political history. If you choose your route and stations wisely then the Moscow metro is a great way to immerse yourself in the spirit and history of the city.
The Moscow Metro was arguably one of the USSR’s most ambitious and extravagant architectural projects. Under the direction and command of Stalin the stations of the 30s, 40s and early 50s were designed as palaces for the people. He instructed the architects and artists to design stations which would embody radiance and brilliance and he wanted citizens to be dazzled and wowed by each station’s array of art and architectural beauty. The stations house marble and bronze statues, stained-glass windows, communist insignia, portraits and mosaics. You can find depictions of former revolutionary heroes dotted around the platforms alongside those of the common soldiers, farmers, and workers.
After the death of Stalin in 1953 the Communist party took steps to eliminate the extravagance in design and construction of the Moscow metro network. The policy of destalinization across the USSR meant that many of his images were removed from the Moscow Metro. The metro continued to be expanded but the new stations were devoid of the extravagance and pomp of the Stalinist era. Therefore the stations most worth visiting from a visual standpoint are those of the Mayakovskaya, Komsomolskaya, Kievskaya, Shosse Entuziastov, Elektrozavodskaya, Novoslobodskaya, and Ploshchad Revolyutsii Stations.
Today, the Moscow Metro has adopted a modernist utilitarian attitude to station design and while many lament the lack of ambition this represents others say this fits the city’s character. I think this is in part true, the network brings together the gaping contrast between old and new and showcases the enormous change the city has undergone in the last century.