One of the long tunnels inside Bunker-42


Published: November 17, 2017

Excursion included in SRAS cultural program for Moscow Fall, 2017.

Bunker-42 was intended to be an underground fortification designed to protect the USSR’s top-ranking military and government officials (including Joseph Stalin) from nuclear warfare. It remained completely secret from citizens and foreign intelligence until 1995, when it was purchased by a private company and opened to the public as a Cold War museum.

Construction of the bunker began in 1950, shortly after the United States emerged as the world’s first nuclear power. After initial tests of their own nuclear weapons, scientists of the Soviet Union determined that a shelter 65 meters underground would protect its occupants from nuclear fallout. And so our tour began with a journey, via the stairs, 18 stories underground.

Bunker-42’s command center.

After our descent, we were greeted by a dry-humored guide in a full Soviet-era military uniform. Entry to the museum is only available with a tour group (but you can purchase individual tickets to join a group), and there was a less conspicuous handler in the rear who made sure no one wandered off. There are English-language tours available once to twice a day, but you’ll want to call ahead to find out when they will be on the day you want to attend.

Our guide led us through command centers complete with the (non-functional) computers that would have been used to initiate nuclear warfare, offices and transit corridors. He was incredibly friendly and fully involved with interactive “projects” that made us feel like we were living through the tensest moments of the Cold War. Despite the jokes, antiquated equipment and knowledge that it’s 2017 and mutually assured destruction will (probably) prevent nuclear disaster, the possibility of a nuclear attack feels very real inside Bunker-42.

Don’t worry — no nuclear bombs were deployed during this exercise!

Throughout the tour, we were not-so-subtly introduced to the theme of Soviet preparedness against American aggression: the US invented the bomb – and is the only country to have actually used it – therefore it was necessary to build a shelter. With different anecdotes about difficulties of the atomic age, and particularly the Cuban Missile Crisis, it’s something of a crash course in the Soviet and the modern Russian perspective of how the Cold War played out. It can be jarring to American sensibilities, if academically fascinating at the same time.

The bunker doesn’t feature any traditional museum “exhibitions,” instead functioning as an exhibition in and of itself. Don’t expect placards, artwork or declassified documents lining the walls — the bunker is just a (really cool, super safe) bunker. After the tour, you’re free to stay underground to dine in the cafeteria, or head back up the stairs to breathe some fresh air (elevators are available for those unable to climb the stairs). This museum is a must-see for anyone interested in experiencing a taste of Soviet mentality during the atomic age.

5-Y Kotelnichesky Per, 11
Open 10:00 – 22:00 daily
Prices starting at 1300 rubles
(excursion included in SRAS cultural program
for Moscow for Fall, 2017)

About the author

Katheryn Weaver

Katheryn Weaver is a student of rhetoric and history at the University of Texas, Austin. Her primary areas of investigation include revolution and the rhetorical justification of violence against individuals, state, and society. She is currently studying Russian as a Second Language with SRAS's Home and Abroad Scholarship.

Program attended: Home and Abroad Scholar

View all posts by: Katheryn Weaver

Museum Studies Abroad