Subways, or at least public railway systems, are high on the agenda once again in the region. Dubai has opened its first automated monorail, to mixed response, and in other countries there is much debate in regard to their own future where mass transportation is concerned. Public transport doesnít have to be the vacuous dirge that is most likely predicted for the region. By looking internationally, one hopes that designers and architects of the regions proposed systems may take inspiration from the likes of London, New York, or as we highlight here - Moscow.
The stations of Moscowís subway system have often been called ďthe peopleís palacesĒ, for their elegant designs and lavish and profuse use of marble, mosaics, sculptures and chandeliers. Built during Stalinís rule, these metro stations were supposed to display the best of Soviet architecture and design and show how privileged the lifestyle of the Russian people was.
Although plans proposing the construction of an underground train system in Moscow were drawn up in 1902 and again in 1912, the outbreak of WWI, and later the revolution, delayed the start of the project for many years. The first line, the Sokolnicheskaya Line, was tunneled and built mainly by forced laborers and was finally and ceremoniously inaugurated on 15th May 1935, boasting just 13 stations.
Today the Metro system has grown into an enormous network of 11 lines and over 160 stations, with new stations opening every year.
Up until 1955 the metro was named after Lazar Kaganovich, one of Stalinís most trusted advisors and an instrumental figure in the construction of the metro, but the system was renamed the V. I. Lenin Moscow Metropolitan Railway.
During WWII the cityís metro stations were used as air-raid shelters and many of the larger stations were used for important political and tactical meetings.
During the war the Chistiye Prudy station was used as the nerve center for Supreme Command HQ and the Soviet Army General Staff.
Mayakovskaya, one of the largest stations on the Gorkovsk-Zamoskvoretskaya Line, was used as a command post for the cityís anti-aircraft batteries and on 6th November 1941, hosted an underground ceremony to celebrate the 24th anniversary of the October Revolution, for which a podium with a bust of Lenin, surrounded by banners, was set up in its main hall, trains were stopped at its platforms and sumptuous buffets arranged within them and hundreds of seats brought into the station to accommodate the invited Party members.
Those wanting to glimpse the best interiors that the Moscow Metro has to offer should take at look at some of the stations mentioned below.
Station Kropotkinskaya (known until 1957 as ďPalace of SovietsĒ) stands on the first line to have been inaugurated in 1935 and was sumptuously designed and decorated by the architect Dushkin. Built to serve visitors to the proposed new Palace of Soviets, the stationís columns and walls are faced with marble taken from the demolished Cathedral of Christ the Savior, for whose nearby site the new Palace was planned. The ends of the stationís supporting columns are carved into five pointed Soviet stars and the stationís interior is more akin to an underground palace than a functioning station.
The Dushkin-designed Ploschad Revolutsii Station was opened on 13th March 1938 and abounds with bronze figures of the creators of the new socialist order, nestled into niches between the stationís broad columns. The sculptor Manizer created a total of 76 magnificent statues of soldiers, workers and collective farm workers, as well as a heroic sculpture of the soldiers and sailors who defended the Young Soviet order, placed at the top of the station escalator.
The next line to be opened was the Gorkovsk-Zamoskvoretskaya Line, in which the Dushkin-designed Mayakovskaya Station is by far the most architecturally impressive. The station features glistening chrome columns and soaring vaults adorned with mosaic panels depicting ďA Day in the Land of SovietsĒ, designed by the artist Deineka. Coming from the escalator commuters first see happy Soviet workers rising with the dawn, combining happily in the fields and toiling in the factories before returning to their beds as the sun sets in the last panel.
In the midst of WWII on 20th November 1943, Novokusnetskaya Station was opened as a show of continued Soviet strength despite the raging armed struggle being fought by the country. The station was designed by Baranov and Bykov and patriotically decorated with heroes from Russian history, including the great Russian military commanders Alexander Nevsky, Dmitry Donskoy, Kuzma Minin and Prince Dmitry Pozharsky, Alexander Suvorov and Prince Kutuzov. The stationís mosaic decorations were designed by Deineka and created during the siege of Leningrad by the craftsman Frolov and later brought to Moscow. The marvelous marble benches that adorn the station platforms were taken from the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, just before it was demolished.
In the 1950s probably the most luxurious station on the Circle line was opened - Komsomolskaya, designed by the architect of the Leningradsky Station, Shchusev. A veritable palace to the might of the Russian army, the stationís ceiling is adorned with mosaic panels designed by Korin and depicting the countryís great military leaders from Alexander Nevsky and the 14th century Dmitry Donskoy to the famed Alexander Suvorov and Prince Kutuzov, the great Russian hero of the Napoleonic Wars. The mosaic panels were created using ancient Byzantine techniques and include in them tiny squares of colored glass, marble and even granite. One of the stationís original panels, entitled ďHanding over the Guardsí BannerĒ, featured Stalin holding a banner, while an officer kneels and kisses it. After the 20th Party Congress, in which Krushchev denounced Stalin, the mosaic panel was removed and another featuring ďLeninís Speech to the Red Guards before Their Journey to the FrontĒ was put in its place.
In January 1952 Novoslobodskaya Station was opened. Designed by the architects Dushkin and Strelkov, the station is perhaps the brightest and most ornate station on the Moscow underground and features beautiful stained-glass windows crafted in Riga and a stunning mosaic panel entitled ďPeace Throughout the WorldĒ by the famed Korin.
We also recommend you take a peek inside Arbatskaya, Belorusskaya, Kievskaya and Park Kultury to gaze at the mosaics, chandeliers, marble columns and stunning stucco-covered ceilings.
It will take a lot to get the regionís commuters out of their cars and on to public transport, but with a system as inspiring as Moscowís, who would bet against it?
First Published in Men's Passion Issue #17 November 2009