“Our workers, travelling on the metro, must feel that it is working for them, and understand that every nut and bolt are the nuts and bolts of socialism,”
Lazar Kaganovich, 1930s
I was in London during the recent bombings here in Moscow, so I missed the chaos that followed. Unfortunately these types of random attacks here in the Capital have become all too frequent, and I was saddened to see some of my friends here already saying they didn't want to be in the Metro in the days that followed. For those of you who haven't been to Moscow, and might not be familiar with the wonder that is the Moscow Metro, I'll post a recent shot and give you my thoughts. This particular station is actually one of the newer stations in the system, and thus much more indicative of where things are going than where they have been.
The Moscow Metro is among the most impressive things one will find in a land with many impressive things to see, and has long been among my favorite aspects of life in Moscow. In my view the network is superior to NYC, London, and most if not all of the most famous metro systems (I have to admit I haven't seen Tokyo yet). Having been started in the early years of the Soviet Union, public transportation projects such as the Metro were a logical step for the young proletarian state. The first station opened in 1935 to much fanfare, and by WWII stations were being used as bomb shelters as the Nazi invaders approached. Today the system is around 300km long, has 12 lines, and 180 stations, with more on the way. They say on weekdays it carries 7+ million to their various destinations, and I believe it, although on weekends it's quite a bit less busy.
However, the real draws of the system are the exceptionally ornate stations, most of which were built from the 30s into the mid 50s, and were designed to make people feel like they were not actually underground, but rather in spacious, well lit, and airy worker's palace type environments. The Metro was to be a showcase for the urban laboratory that was Moscow after the Revolution. The themes vary by station, but are generally considered to be Socialist Realist and Art Deco designs, with war motifs replacing some of the earlier plans after 1945 and the end of WWII. They need to be seen to be believed, but many of the stations in that era come across as medium size museums, complete with bronze statutes, marble from floor to ceiling, stained glass, vaulted archways, and mosaics. Carrying such names as Park of Culture, Auto Factory, Partisans, and Mayakovsky, they glorify all the favorites of the Soviet State (although many were changed over time to reflect changing favorites!). By the 1960s however, Khrushchev decided to scale back much of design that went into the stations, and thus most stations completed in the 60s and 70s, tend to look the same, and be fairly bland in a cost cutting, mass production, Soviet kind of way. However, newer stations, like the one I have take here have moved more towards a cutting edge look, this particular one having been finished in 2007, that I think is actually quite elegant and sleek. Regardless, the Metro will always be a subterranean architectural history of the USSR and Russia of the last 100 years, indicative of who was in power, and what they felt the country should be focused on during their rule.
I remember from my first visit to Moscow as a student in 1994, I was given a monthly student pass, which at that time cost some 5 or so dollars, and with that small paper document, I was able to travel unlimited on the metro, auto buses, trolley buses or electric buses, and trams anywhere in the city. Having left Saint Louis, a model of suburban sprawl, and a place where one can't easily go 5 feet without a car (pretty tough before you get your license), to having a city of 10 million people at my complete access, was an amazing experience. Even today a single ride any distance within the system costs less than a dollar, and if people have to wait more than 4 min for a train at even 11pm they get testy and annoyed. At peak hours trains roar in to each station under a minute apart, and while crowded, it's a welcome relief from the congestion and gridlock on Moscow's roads. One other aspect of the system I love is that many of the more central stations are found deep underground (deepest station is Victory Park at 100 meters or 328ft), and thus serviced by some of the longest escalators in the world. However, these aren't just any escalators, they are super fast escalators that whisk passengers up and down at speeds 2-3x as quick as in the West, thus offering limited time to read or turn around to kiss ones significant other while in transit. Seeing old Soviet grandmothers hop on and off these burners like it was nothing, encourages one to just go along with it, and ensures that when once again in the West one usually wonders why the escalators don't seem to be going anywhere very quickly.
I hope to get some more interesting shots in the Metro, there is one shot in particular I'm seeking, but I'm actually concerned that this will be even harder after the recent attacks. Anyone carrying "pro" looking cameras has long been a target of the women who guard the turnstiles, and the police who roam the system and conduct inspections. Technically photography is forbidden in the system, but it seems the real concern are people with cameras capable of shooting in low light conditions, rather than the occasional tourist who will more than likely end up with a blurry mess due to the low light. It will be interesting to see if the authorities use the recent attacks as an excuse to clamp down even further on such activity in the name of anti-terrorism and state security.