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Explore Moscow’s underground

By Bob Taylor
Travel Better

There is no metro in the world more beautiful than the subway system of Moscow.

Josef Stalin called the stations “people’s palaces” because of their elaborate artistic and architectural designs that were the largest civilian construction project in the history of the USSR. Using a mostly volunteer workforce at a time when capitalism was suffering through the Depression, Stalin aimed to impress the world with his country’s technology, industrialization and art to demonstrate the superiority of socialism.

With elegant chandeliers, friezes, marble archways, bronze statues, stained glass windows and bas-reliefs, each metro station in Moscow was unique with its own character and personality.

The earliest stations are perhaps the most ornate and eclectic because of the intensity with which Stalin sought completion. Among the artistic depictions are representations with particularly Soviet cultural themes such as sports, industry, agriculture, history and, of course, the Bolshevik Revolution.

Moscow’s metro opened in 1935. Its first 13 stations became the primary underground locations to visit today.

Kievskaya, which opened in 1937, features ultra-lavish mosaics in the central hall celebrating the 300-year-old union between Ukraine and Russia. Today it consists of three connecting halls.

Another of Stalin’s “originals”, Kurskaya, dating to 1938, emphasizes mosaics that highlight the strength and fortitude of Soviet society.

Among the most beautiful, and perhaps most famous, Mayakovskaya, opened in 1938. Dedicated to the Russian poet Vladimir Maykovsky, it is one of the deepest stations in the city because it was also designed for use as a bomb shelter.

Believe it or not, another metro system, called Metro 2, was created beneath the one in use today to serve as an escape route for high government officials.

Not all of Moscow’s stations are grand. In the late 1950s when Nikita Khrushchev was in power, they became less extravagant, less expensive and more formulaic and undistinguished.

Because the system is color coded it is relatively easy to use, but it is useful to have a map written in Russian so that you can visually match the station stops.

Bob Taylor of Charlotte leads group tours and organized the Magellan Club.

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