Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Moscow Metro

One of the original stations from 1935.
The Moscow Metro is justly famous, one of the great systems of the world and among Stalin’s more enduring contributions to Russian society. While it serves as a formidable system of functional infrastructure, its purpose is multifacted. Stalin wanted a tangible example of development that he could show off to the proletariat, who had endured the strain of the first Five Year Plan, meanwhile proving that the Soviets could outdo the West. British engineers were actually responsible for much of the original design. Many were arrested and deported on trumped-up charges of spying.

Crowded at rush hour.
Don't slip.
The first thing I noticed upon entering is just how deep the system is. Thousands of Muscovites took refuge in the stations during Nazi air raids (as Londoners had in the Tube a couple of years before), and parts of the government relocated into the depths, as well. The escalators do descend steeply. Some of the later lines were built even deeper in case of nuclear attack.

All stations are drawn according to relative location, interestingly - no external geography included whatsoever.
The network is more than three hundred kilometers long. Eleven lines crisscross the city, unified by a circle line that allows riders to avoid going all the way downtown before changing. Currently, the system is in the midst of a vast project to extend its length by nearly 50%. The rolling stock itself appeared old and sturdy, sometimes lacking air-conditioning. I’m sure that newer lines have more up-to-date cars. A single ride costs 30 Rubles, or a little less than a dollar, and generally, cars were crowded, despite the picture below.

The stations are noticeably clean. Clearly, the system remains a substantial source of civic pride, although the automobile seems to be the vehicle of choice for Russians with money. Rather than build all the stations according to static criteria, as, for example, the DC metro does, many lines have a distinctive architectural aesthetic. One can tell more or less when a line was built by its design. 
Note the marble pillars.
Hexagons! Just like the DC metro.
The lighting in this station is remarkable.
I believe this decor is intended to celebrate scientific achievement.

The original stations accord to an ornate, classical style that Stalin preferred, while those built in the sixties and seventies have a much more modern look to them. In most cases, the tracks run through the station in their own corridors on either side of the station, separated from a long central hallway by a wall with archways. This gives the stations considerable elegance. The eye is purposely drawn upward to ornate chandeliers and elaborate artwork that lines the central hall.

As one would expect, much of the art celebrates Soviet themes. However, the medium varies from fresco to mosaic to bas-relief to stained glass. The chandeliers, in particular, are magnificent and must have been especially impressive in the days when electricity was relatively rare.

A soaring interior.
Unfortunately, my camera had a hard time with the lighting conditions underground (I turned my flash off to avoid attracting attention). However, I hope that these pictures convey the utilitarian splendor of the stations.

Russian women love posing for photos. Apparently they start young.

Odd, elaborate entrance.

No comments: