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Moscow underground system (the metro) is not only the most successful means of transportation, but the popular meeting point, the collection of engineering and artistic concepts and to a large degree the embodyment of Soviet/Russian state policy.
To make the most of this trip, schedule it for Saturday or Sunday, when it is too hot, too cold or rainy outside, and when there are not so many people inside. On any day be particularly careful at the stations which are situated near railway stations (Kievskaya, Komsomolskaya, Kurskaya, Belorusskaya, Paveletskaya, etc.), since these places are notorious for pickpockets. On weekdays you will find the metro is almost unbareably crowded at all times of the day. During winter care should also be taken walking into the metro stations with ice on your shoes as the floors are all marble and become extreamly slippery.
If you get tired of travelling underground, you can break the trip at Park Pobedy, exit from the metro and take a walk in the park.
Besides single tickets you can buy magnetic cards for 5, 11, 20 or more journeys and get a discount. The card lets you pass the entrance barrier. You can use one card for several people by passing it back over the barrier. The barriers are kept open but close at lightning speed if you try to go through without inserting a valid ticket or if you fail to take it from the machine after it has been read.
The entrance to the metro costs RUR 50 (as of 01.06.2016). You do not have to pay extra when you change the line.
Start the trip around Moscow metro from Mayakovskaya station, because: a) it is in the center; b) it is close to Tverskaya, on which most hotels are situated; c) it is not a change hub, so you cannot use the wrong entrance; and d) it is beautiful.
Mayakovskaya is one of the early constructionist stations (1938), it’s columns are decorated by a very untraditional material – rolled steel. It is also a deep station, that is why in 1941 it hosted headquarters of anti-aircraft defense and even a Supreme Soviet session.
If you walk from the escalator to the opposite wall along the distribution hall and look at the ceiling you will see “One Day of Soviet Country”. It starts in the morning with blooming cherries, develops into the afternoon with a paratrooper, into the night with airplanes and into early morning again with pioneers and factories. Mosaics are assembled by Vladimir Frolov according to the sketches by Alexandre Deineka.
Since the time of its creation, Mayakovskaya was a point of a funny exercise. They say, that if you launch with enough force a RUR5 (previously 5 kopeck) coin in the archway between the distribution hall and the platform, it will travel all the way through the steel gutter and land on the other side of the arch. You can try several times until you draw too much attention.
Mayakovskaya – Belorusskaya (change to Belorusskaya circular)
From Mayakovskaya, go in the direction of Belorusskaya, get off and change for Belorusskaya circular.
Moscow metro is structured as a circle crossed by nine lines. From now on the stations on the ring line will be referred to as “circular”, e.g. Paveletskaya circular, and to the stations on other lines as “radial”, e.g. Paveletskaya radial.
Do not stay too long in Belorusskaya circular unless you want to see the scenes of happy life in Soviet Byelorussia. This station was built in the 1952 and is relatively modest compared to other stations of the period. You will see them later.
Belorusskaya circular – Novoslobodskaya – Komsomolskaya circular (change to Komsomolskaya radial)
From Belorusskaya circular, go to Novoslobodskaya , get off the train and enter the distribution hall. Novoslobodskaya is, perhaps, the most loved stations of Moscow kids. Its fantastic stained glass ornament looks like a promise of a fairyland and feels terribly Russian, although stained glass has NEVER been a specific Russian craft. The trick is the shape of arches between the distribution hall and the platforms – contoured with a gilded plaster lace, the arches remind of kokoshniks – Russian women’s traditional head-wear. Built in 1952, the station could not remain without the symbols of Soviet epoch – happy Soviet people. Higher above the ground, in some of the false-windows you can find images of a piano player, painter, energy engineer, architect, etc.
Now, get back to the train and proceed to Komsomolskaya. Komsomolskaya circular is the apotheosis of the so-called Stalin empire style. Its obtrusive white marble and plaster decoration creates the impression of solidity and eternity – exactly, what any empire style is about. The station is so generously decorated with gold mosaics, that it has only one rival in Moscow metro – Kievskaya circular. Starting from the wall at the end of distribution hall mosaics on the ceiling chronologically reflect Russia’s glorious military history.
Enough of 50s for the time-being! Change the line for Komsomolskaya radial and get into the birth place of Moscow metro. Komsomolskaya radial is a firstling of Moscow underground system. Built in 1935 by enthusiastic youth from the International Union of Young Communists, Komsomolskaya is a sample of underground constructionism – the avant-guard style of big revolutionary hopes, which was later gradually ousted by the new Soviet empire esthetics.
Being the oldest and one of the busiest stations in Moscow, Komsomolskaya radial, maybe, does not look as impressive as Komsomolskaya circular, but its constructive decision is no doubt a winning feature. Two-level distribution hall, allowing to separate the flows of people coming from the three railway stations above, is a daring project. Until the very recently this pattern remained unique in Moscow until the project was used as a basis for a modern Bulvar Dmitria Donskogo station.
Komsomolskaya radial – Okhotnyi Ryad (change to Ploshchad Revolutsii)
From here, take a train towards Okhotnyi Ryad, where you get off and change for Ploshchad Revolutsii . With its bronze sculptures, Ploshchad Revolutsii has become the best known and most photographed station in Moscow. Built in 1938, when the Stalin purges and terror started to transfer a considerable portion of population to forced labor camps and silence the rest, the station gradually developed a sad connotation about it.
Due to the shape of the arches between the distribution hall and the platforms, the sculptor Matvei Manizer had difficulty in fitting his characters in the available space. As a result only a figure of a young pioneer is standing. All other characters are either seated or down on one knee. The inventive popular mind has transformed this fact into an allegory to freedom in Russia, saying the on Revolution square the whole Russian people is either sitting (meaning serving a prison term) or kneeling.
On a brighter side, there is a figure of a frontier guard with a dog. Somehow, Russians picked up this dog as a symbol of good luck, which is very evident by the color of its nose. If you believe in luck, you may also rub the dog’s nose. Who knows…
Ploshchad Revolutsii – Arbatskaya – Park Pobedy
Take a train from Ploshad Revolutsii to Arbaskaya station, where get off and enter the distribution hall. Look both ways if you are in the middle. Arbatskaya is the 2nd longest station in the metro and the longest underground station (its rival – Vorobyevy Gory– is situated on a bridge). Built in 1953, Arbatskaya, however, has nothing to do with the empire style, rather it looks like baroque with its white walls and sophisticated lamps.
From Arbatskaya take a train towards Park Pobedy. If you are tired of the metro, you may get off the train at Kievskaya and look at this brightly decorated in red and white 1953 station. You can also see the mosaics depicting happy Soviet life in Ukraine. But if you plan to stay underground you can proceed straight ahead to Park Pobedy and get off there.
Park Pobedy (Victory Park) is first of all about finely polished red and white marble. Actually this is not one, but two stations, which are the deepest in Moscow metro (64 meters below surface). On one station you arrive, from the other you go back to the center. The second station is built “in store”, later, they plan to develop a transfer hub around Park Pobedy. Today Park Pobedys are cool and shiny, which is a pleasant contrast with older, more worn stations. One of the stations is decorated be the enamel panel dedicated to the Patriotic War of 1812, the other – by the panel dedicated to the Great Patriotic War (the name, under which WWII is known in Russia). The author of both panels is Zurab Tseretelli.
Park Pobedy – Kievskaya (change to Kievskaya circular)
Attention! Kievskaya transfer hub is almost always a busy place, which makes it highly attractive to pickpockets, who are so plentiful here that they are actually conspicuous to a trained eye. To leave them empty handed, keep your documents and money in front: either in a neck purse or in a belt purse or in the inside pocket of your suit/jacket. Also when you stop to look at mosaics, try to stay face to face with each other or form a close semi-circle, so that nobody comes in between you.
After you run through Kievskaya radial with its folk motives in decoration, change to Kievskaya circular and admire its huge mosaics. Unlike in other Moscow metro stations, mosaics in Kievskaya circular are situated rather low on the walls (not on the ceiling like in Mayakovskaya, neither above pylons like in Kievskaya radial). Being so close to them you can inspect them in every detail.
Kievskaya circular was opened in 1954, when the Soviet Union was celebrating 300 years of union between Ukraine and Russia. So the theme of the station is everlasting friendship between the two peoples. The station was designed by Kiev architects, so it looks distinctively Ukrainian with its whitewashed walls and rich plaster ornament pained in ivory color. Huge hanging lamps give enough light to study the stages of Russian-Ukrainian relations. Under each panel there is a marble scroll with the name of the scene.
If you do not share the pathos of Russian/Ukrainian friendship, find a mosaic somewhere in the middle called “Fight for Soviet Power in Ukraine”. There are three men in military uniform looking anxiously into the distance. Have a look at the soldier in the left bottom corner of this picture. Doesn’t he look like sitting in front of a laptop and talking on mobile phone?
Kievskaya circular – Oktyabrskaya – Paveletskaya circular (change to Paveletskaya radial)
From Kievskaya circular take a train to Oktyabrskaya and get off for a minute to see another theme of Moscow underground – the military one. After you’ve seen the splendid Komsomolskaya circular, richly decorated Kievskayas, shiny Park Pobedy and fairytale Novoslobodskaya and Arbatskaya, Oktyabrskaya can appear somewhat reserved. But for this trip it is essential, since it takes you a step back in time to 1950, when the main theme was the tribute for WWII heroes, rather than new Soviet imperial ambitions.
In Oktyabrskaya distribution hall you feel as if inside an antique mausoleum (especially if you are lucky to visit when there are not so many people). Its white marble pylons are connected across the relatively low ceiling by decorative bands, each of which begins and ends with a symbol of a tomb. Above every tomb there is a plate and a portrait of a war hero. Plates are left without inscriptions, so anyone could remember their relatives or acquaintances. The hall is lit by torch-like lamps. At the end of the hall there is a technical exit, which is locked by a cast-iron railing and decorated by bright blue shiny wall behind. Despite the somber appearance of the station, this heavenly blue false-exit is a popular meeting place.
Get back to the train and proceed to Paveletskaya, where without looking too much around, change for Paveletskaya radial and proceed to Novokuznetskaya.
Now you are one more step back in time: in winter 1942/43, when the outcome of WWII is not yet certain, the Soviet forces are still fighting for Stalingrad and Leningrad is under siege. Same as Oktyabrskaya, Novokuznetskaya has a lot of Roman patterns, it is also abundant with white, gray and black marble. I brought you here, however, not so much for the military theme, but for mosaics on the ceiling. They were assembled in besieged Leningrad by Vladimir Frolov. In the city, starving, freezing and bombarded severely, the 68-year-old master was assembling piece by piece outrageously peaceful scenes. Peach gardens, blue skies and pink airplanes. After he shipped his creations along the frozen Ladoga (the only route connecting Leningrad with the big land) truck route, he returned home and expired in three days.
Novokuznetskaya ceiling, decorated by a pattern copied from a Roman tomb, is broken by patches of Frolov’s blue skies as a symbol of triumphant life.
From Novokuznetskaya you can go direct to Teatralnaya, Tverskaya, Mayakovskaya or Belorusskaya. All these stations are on the same line and all of them are along Tverskaya street. Alternatively, you can change from Novokuznetskaya to Tretyakovskaya and take a stroll of Zamoskvorechie district, described on the following page.