Buildings with escalators climbing up or stepping down into deep tunnels and people briskly going up and down to reach their platforms, to catch their metro rail may sound ordinary. But if I tell you that people enjoy going about this routine in a well lit, beautifully decorated ambiance with sculptures, mosaics, murals and painted art and their train running among it, you might think I am either lying or speaking out of a box. No one would believe me if I tell them that’s how the Moscow underground metro stations are built until the unbelievers either get to see it for themselves or see images from the pictures posted.
The underground metro stations are “palaces under the ground” that form part of a railway system that covers over 330 kilometres. It is claimed to be the 5th busiest metro in the world. The metro operates between 5.30 in the morning to 1am at night. An average of 7 million people use the metro everyday and I was happy to be counted as one among them.
How did this all happen? It was at the beginning of the 19th century when the Russian splendour and the Tsar’s luxury equalled that of Emperor Louis the XVI of France and the lifestyle of its empress Marie Antoinette. Let’s build palaces underground and play with real trains they must have thought and that was when and possibly how this idea of the underground luxury Metro would have been conceived. It was born under the Russian empire but the first world war halted its progress. The end of Tsardom brought it to a complete halt. Maybe the communist regime loved the idea of underground luxury train stations because they continued the project in line with the expansion of Moscow. I was told that these underground stations were built from out of tonnes of marble, brought from Armenia and the Ural mountains. It provided work to the poor and weight to the labour force. Russian determination saw the dream come true.
The Muscovites stunned the world with their rare dream come true and are very proud to say that the whole world stood amazed at the monumental art, ceiling mosaics, marble columns, colourful walls, that amazed the world, when the first metro ran over the rails on the 15th of May 1935 to cover all the 11 stations. The success and popularity made the Muscovites develop many more stations that came to be admired as masterpieces of art and splendour. Bronze statues, mosaics by famed artists were added decorating its walls creating an exciting new world to its working class.
These Palaces during the Second World War became bomb shelters, hospitals, libraries, cinema halls and food courts. They say that about 150 children were born during the said time and it also sheltered about 500,000 people during night time. It also served as bunkers for the Red Army and the trains kept rolling along among all the commotion. It was only for one day that was on 15th October 1941, which day was when all the Metro stations were blacked out and trains stood cancelled. It was when Hitler’s army reached the gates of Moscow.The retreat of the Germans saw the Russians back into business expanding the metro underground growing in size as equal to the expansion of the city above it.
It is a no mean achievement to build as many as 44 astonishingly beautiful stations. Although I could not visit all the stations, though I traveled through many of them, My wish to walk through the deepest Metro station in the world at “Park Pobedy” which is said to be 84 metres underground, still remains unfulfilled. Trains cater every two minutes and it is the best way to travel to Moscow. The only hitch for many tourists could be the signs which are only in Russian. But once you get used to the alphabets and remember the places you need to go, the map helps. Clean as crystal these stations shine and mirror the lights shining from luxurious chandeliers, deco lights or lampstands.
Standing in any of these stations you will notice a good number of tourists flocking behind guides holding high their national flag or just a folded umbrella.
You could also see them in groups listening attentively to the narration of their guide or spend your time watching them trying to take as many pictures or maybe a perfect picture of the things they like, which eventually turns out to be many.
A bronze statue of a guard dog beside a soldier attracted a lot of attention. I noticed many Russians rub the dog’s nose as they passed by and overhearing a guide explain to her group that since its inception in 1953 people believed that it brought luck. The next thing I saw was what I could not believe. I saw the whole group of about twenty Chinese tourists scramble to rub the dog’s nose.
There were many more such statues and most of them were about the ordinary citizens and their chores who happen to be the unknown, unsung heroes of the Russian revolution. There was yet another statue of a women farmer tending a few hens and I waited for some guide to tell another story but Moscow had a lot more attractions and so I left the woman to tend her chicken at peace. Maybe in a few year’s time I would possibly hear one but if there was none then be sure I am going to trend one, whether you like it or not.