Moscow’s Metro

The Underground Palace 


by Ashish Malik


 

Living in any developed country, the people of that nation often times take luxuries and the convenience that these luxuries provide for granted.  It is not many times, while crossing Commonwealth Avenue that I contemplate of the infrastructure and the thought that went into making these roads, traffic lights, and all the other things we are so used to seeing everyday.  Every nation has some form of roads, bridges, and public transportation systems but few have those that they can truly boast about.  The people that live in Moscow have the ability to brag when it comes to their public subway, better known throughout the world as the Moscow Metro.

 

 Construction of the Metro began in 1932 when the political leader of the then Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, approved of the plan that had been in the works since 1901.  In 1901, the draft for an underground railway system was rejected due to the lack of funds and due to the lack of experienced engineers in this field.  Again in 1912, a plan was put forth but was it also was turned aside due to World War I.  Vladimir Lenin, approved of the plan in 1918 and the drafts were completed by 1922 but once again the lack of funds and experienced workers held actual construction off.

 

   By 1930, the need for a new public transportation was becoming more apparent as the population had doubled between 1917 and 1930 and as a result the trams and buses were overcrowded and unable to carry the demand of the people.  So finally, in 1931, Stalin approved of the construction of the Metro. People were excited by the announcement, of course, but many had heard it before and would not believe its validity until they saw actual construction take place.  The opportunity to view construction came in 1932, when, at last, the building of the Metro was under place (please see photos below).  Lazar Kaganovich (please see photo below), who was appointed by Stalin himself, led the construction of the railway.

 

Lazar Kaganovich

 

The construction of the Metro provided something to the people of Moscow that no other project or person could compete with.  It brought jobs to the city for thousands of people, who all took this public work as their own personal belonging.  Perhaps it is this feeling of personal possession of the Metro that made it become known as the “Underground Palace”, as workers poured their hearts to build the greatest single project the nation had ever endured. The first train test was held on October 15, 1934 and on May 15, 1935, thirteen stations opened up for general public use.  325,000 people boarded and made use of the brand new subway that day alone.  Being underground, most boarders probably only had heard of the immense beauty that the Metro carried and no doubt were in awe when they saw that the words that they had heard were indeed true.    

 

The Metro combined the ideological and artistic shifts occurring during this era over all of Eastern Europe.  Much attention was paid to the aesthetics in the design.  During Stalin’s era, the expectations for reform and improvement were high and this project coincides with those hopes and exceeds them as well. The marble walls of the Metro vary in color, design and texture.  No ordinary stones were used to form the passageways through which thousands pass daily.

 

An example of the lengths gone by to make the stations resemble near perfection is that the oldest stone used was a pink marble that dates back 2 billion years, half the age of earth itself.  Each station contains uniqueness in design and it should be quite clear that painstaking care and genuine detail was put into each element of the Metro.  (please see photos below)   The Metro now consists of four major lines.  The First Line was completed by 1935 and the Second Line was build later that decade.  The Third Line has some history to it.  During 1939 to 1944, Russia was involved in the Great Patriotic War.  This line was constructed as a memorial to the resistance of the people during this period.  The Fourth Line was completed in 1954, soon after the death of the person who made the Metro possible, Stalin.

 

 The Metro has endured and survived more tests than just the constant grind of people everyday.  During World War II, the Metro was used as a shelter.  It being underground, withstood the war and protected those encased within its walls.  Some of the stations are five stories deep, hence showing their security as a bomb shelter.  It is strange that the stations can be described as being so delicate “as public palaces, [that are] ornately decorated with chandeliers, sculptures, mosaics, and stained glass”1 can be so sturdy to survive the harshest of conditions.  The underground life of the Metro, known as the Perehod, is quite the adventure itself.  There are little stores lined up selling items like cigarettes, vodka, and even illegal merchandise like music and videos.  There is a line of elderly women who sell various items ranging from Metro tickets to food.  Like American subway systems, musicians showcase their talent by playing for the boarders, who often compensate the players.

 

Unfortunately, the Metro is also full of beggars, who range from little children to full-grown men who are war veterans.  Since the Metro first opened, its routes have expanded tremendously but the people of Moscow do not view the Metro as only a transportation system but also much more.  It is a symbol of a product that remains from Stalin’s era.  Each station is like walking into an underground, imaginary palace that even sixty years later from when it first opened, is still given respect and treated as not a governmental possession but rather as their own personal belonging.   

 

A picture of jubilant workers during the early construction of the Metro.

 

Another picture from the early days during the construction of the Metro.

 

 

 

 

Bibliography  

1http://www.capecod.net/~rbf/d_Russian_Travel_METRO.html  http://www.forevermore.com/metro/  
http://www.moscow-guide.ru/Transport/Metro.htm
 http://www.moscow-guide.ru/Culture/Metro.htm  
http://www.moscow-guide.ru/Culture/Metro.htm
 

          

    

 

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