Those who enter the Moscow Metro enter a time-capsule of Russian history. Every station is a testament to the spirit of the nation's working class and celebrate the bravery that build one of the 20th century's greatest superpowers.
Palaces for the People
Amongst cheers the first metro line was opened on the 15th of may of 1935. The leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, used the opening to celebrate the Soviet Union's advancements in technology and ideology. The 11 kilometer long line with 13 stops was tiny compared to today's behemoth. The line was used in propaganda as an example of the bright Soviet future and was ridden by 285,000 on the first day.
Just 18 years before that the Russians cast off the 'chains of capitalism' in favor of a communist state. This meant that the extravagant baroque palaces of Tsars and Princes were replaced by brutalist and practical architecture for the people. Yet the communist government recognized the yearning of people for beauty and refinement of the Tsarist age. Thus explaining why the grandeur of the Tsarist palaces could now be found in the Moscow Metro. Glorious statues and exquisite art would form the basis of these 'Palaces for the People'.
Times long forgotten
Today it seems this yearning for their own palace has vanished as many metro users seem to be unaware of the history behind the grandeur. "Unfortunately I don't know why, but yes you're right, every metro station is absolutely beautiful, and each station has it's own history, 23 year old student, Sonia said. The same response was uttered by Maria while standing in Mayakovskaya Station; "she doesn't know something about the stations (pointing to her friend), and I don't know what to say," Maria said.
Only one person on a day long metro journey was able to reply with an informed overview. Business Trainer, Andrew was eager to share his knowledge while underground in Ploshchad Revolyutsii station. He correctly described the station as depicting the October Revolution and pointed out the important, everyday heroes of the time cast into bronze statues. There's no wonder the metro system is often referred to as the 'Underground Kingdom of Socialism.' "You can see the features of industrialisation under Stalin," Andrew explained as he pointed to a statue of a miner. Even if people have forgotten the history preserved in the Moscow Metro system, many people still stop by some of these statues on their commute, touching them for good luck and thus, over time, rubbing the brass into a colour of gold.
Test of Patriotism
All the grandeur and propaganda about the Soviet Union could not stop the forces of Nazi Germany from obliterating the Red Army at the start of World War Two. German troops came as far as occupying the furthest metro station on the line leading directly to the Kremlin during the Siege of Moscow. The days of the Soviet Union looked numbered, but strengthened by elite Ski-troops from Siberia the Red Army resurrected itself and delivered a devastating blow to the Wehrmacht, starting a counteroffensive that would not stop until the Red Army captured Berlin.
During this time the stations were used as shelters to protect people from Luftwaffe air raids on the city. Mayakovskaya Station was used to house the offices of the Council of Ministers and Chistyye Prudy would be closed off to house the headquarters of the Moscow Air Defences. Several stations started to house hairdressers, shops and Kurskaya Station got its own library. On the anniversary of the October Revolution in 1941 Joseph Stalin made a speech in Mayakovskaya Station declaring that "the Soviet worker would defeat the Fascist Block".
Although slowed, the war could not halt the development of the Moscow Metro, with 7 new stations being built during the war's duration. Its role in the defence of the 'Motherland' made the Moscow Metro more than a beautiful collection of tunnels and stations. It became a symbol of Soviet heroism and hard labor. Those two values would not only lead to the further expansion of the Metro system after the war but would also propel the Soviet Union into super power status.
Build by foreign hands
Although the Moscow Metro is considered as a patriotic symbol it is definitely not a 'Russia Only' project. Hard labor and art work was done by Soviet workers, but the Soviet Union missed the engineering expertise for the more difficult sides of designing a metro system. That's why, according to Michael Robbins in his piece titled 'London Underground and Moscow Metro', specialist from the London Underground were called to Moscow to help with engineering designs, routes and construction plans. They for example changed the minds of Soviet engineers about using lifts for the stations by presenting them with the advantages of using escalators.
After these British workers were expelled for alleged espionage a new batch of non-Muscovites would be brought in to work on the metro. Mike O'Mahoney in his book 'Archeological Fantasies: Constructing History on the Moscow Metro' describes how workers from regions like Siberia and Ukraine were drawn to Moscow. Materials also came from every region of Russia: "construction of the metro included iron from Siberian Kuznetsk, timber from northern Russia, cement from the Volga region and the northern Caucasus, bitumen from Baku, and marble and granite from quarries in Karelia, the Crimea, the Caucasus, the Urals, and the Soviet Far East".
Thus the Moscow Metro became not only a project of the city, but a project of the entire country and even the world. Venture in the Moscow Metro today and you will walk back into a time where Russia stood on the edge of collapse, a time where people were worthy of palaces and a true time capsule of the nation's 20th century history.