Stalin’s Metro

Stalin's Metro

The Moscow Metro hovers amongst the most impressive in the world. Statistically it is one of the busiest, most extensive, and deepest mass transit. I am not sure of all the records, but my favourite is that the station Парк Победы (Victory Park) contains the longest escalators in Europe (126 metres long) Here is a video of the trip if you want three minutes of virtual people watching.

Why is it so deep? Many will be quick to say that many metro systems can double up as bunkers during the war, and the depth at which Парк Победы sits would certainly help to protect people in the midst of a nuclear barrage from America. However, the station was only built in 2003, quickly putting any such claims to rest.

What I like about this station though is the theme which it keeps with the previous plans for the metro, one which is embodied by it’s lengthy escalators. Construction beginning in 1931 and the first stations opening in 1935, the Moscow Metro was a grandiose plan of Stalin’s to create a prole’s paradise underground. It drenched Muscovites in Soviet propaganda, and being so accessible there would have been a lot of people spending a lot of time absorbing it all in. The mixing of exquisite chandeliers and shiny marble floors with the Soviet mainstays of farmers, soldiers and factory workers creates a beautiful harmony. The aim of the party was beautifully laid out, and the impression is almost impossible to ignore; there is a beautiful romance felt when you travel through it. It even makes me feel proud, and I’m neither Russian nor Soviet.

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At the core of this idea is the verticality of the stations. In most of the older, central ones the designs incline the eye to look upwards. Chandeliers, mosaics (such as those in the picture below taken at Маяаковская), and murals encourage one to walk through the halls with your neck at a forty five degree angle. I took the picture here at Белорусская station, and it is one of many paintings which adorn the ceiling. Some people argue that this attempt to make civilians look up was an attempt to link Stalin to God, or rather replace God with Stalin. Perhaps this is true but I don’t really buy it. I think it more likely had the intention to make the observer feel small and humbled; a part of the great soviet machine being watched over by his heroic ancestors.

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This is especially evident on the escalators. Where else are you going to look except up. Slowly rising from the depths into an enormous white dome does stir you somewhat. And when at the top this emotion is met with soviet images it is a fast track to make you associate these grand ideas of beauty and inspiration with the society in which you love. It is a fantastic idea and I don’t know why it has not been repeated more in other metro systems of the world.

After Stalin’s death there was an attempt to lessen the glorification of the metro. Perhaps just to distance the new leaders from their questionable predecessors, it probably also had something to do with the cost I would imagine. Newer stations in the suburbs are quite dull affairs; clean, clinical and efficient. Pictured here is Митино, openened at Christmas, 2009.

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The opening of Парк Победы in 2003 was a return to the older style. A mural at the end depicting the victories in 1812, and 1945 is sure to stir patriotic emotions. It is elegant, smooth and rich in colour. I like to think that the designers took a leaf out of Stalin’s book when designing this. Once you reach the top of your three minute journey you’ve had a lot of time to think about those victories. A lot of time to think about how great your country is.

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