Komsomolskaya Station-Interior

Underground Palaces – The Moscow Metro

Published: August 1, 2014

Even if you’ve seen pictures, you’re not prepared for the Moscow Metro System. For visitors, one of the great surprises of this historical city is discovering the beauty and cleanliness of its underground palaces. It’s worth a few hours in the afternoon or late evening (avoid rush hour 4-7) to ride around and see the amazing interiors of this famous system. You’ll see, especially with the older stations (center and ring stations) that an immense amount of thought and creativity went into making each station unique, with a specific theme and elaborate artwork.

The Moscow Metro is also internationally renowned for its efficiency. Every day 7-9 million passengers use the metro.

It’s not by chance that the art and beauty of the Metro are awe-inspiring. The construction project was the culmination of Soviet and Stalinist ideals. It was an early example of the industrialization, modernization, and shared community spaces that had been promised to the people. Stalin, who first authorized its construction, said that the proletariat entering the metro should feel like nobility. There is a distinctive palatial, even reverential feel to the stations, which was intended to emphasize the light of the sun, and give patrons the feel of their светлое будущее (radiant future.) The art of the original stations embodies the efforts and achievements of the Soviet Man, and the revolutionaries who predated him. At Площадь Революции (Revolution Square), for example, there are statues of all the various citizens (including animals) who aided in The Revolution. You will notice discoloration on statues where people have touched them for good luck.

The Metro opened officially in 1935, with 13 stations, mostly along the current red line (Сокольническая Линия), with a spur along the current blue line. The major part of the original system ran through the city center, with termini at the city’s two major parks – Sokolniki in the north, and Park Kultury in the south. Citywide celebrations, parades, concerts, and awards given to workers accompanied the opening. Today, it has already expanded to 12 lines, and 194 stations, with 80 new stations, including an entire new ring being planned over the next 10 years.

One of the first maps of the Moscow Metro. This shows the original 13 stations.
One of the first maps of the Moscow Metro. This shows the original 13 stations.

Fun Facts about the Metro:

  • The original excavation revealed the Metro would be very difficult to build, because of the soft makeup of the soil and the presence of underground water. Just in one stretch, (between Sokolniki and Okhoty Ryad) there were four underground rivers. This is one reason why the stations are very deep.
  • Artwork at Novoslobodskaya
    Artwork at Novoslobodskaya

    Though it had been planned and worked on since 1902, the vast majority of excavating, tunneling, concreting, and track laying was accomplished in a very concentrated amount of time, between 1933-1935.

  • The Metro officially employed a peak of 75,000 people in 1934, though it is thought that some of the labor force was augmented with prison labor. Almost all the excavation was done with hand tools.
  • During WWII the stations of the metro were sometimes used as an underground shelter. During the cold war, some areas were fitted with life-sustaining systems to be used as a nuclear bomb shelters.
  • It is now a more-or-less open secret that there is another, much smaller metro line, metro 2, which was built in case of emergency, to evacuate key military personnel and some civilians. Entrances to this system are located under Moscow State University, the Russian State Library, the Kremlin, and other important state buildings.
  • Average speed of trains along the metro is about 42 km/hr (about 29 mph)
  • The deepest Metro station and longest escalator are both located at Park Pobedy on the Blue Line. It is located 276 feet below the surface.
  • The Metro was exalted as a symbol of Socialism, and the Soviet Man was exalted within it. Riders were encouraged to dress nicely, not use foul language, and to behave themselves like upstanding citizens.
  • There are no garbage bins on the platforms where the trains go by. They were removed as possible safety threats.
  • It is rare to see people eating or drinking in the Metro. Russians will generally avoid eating in enclosed public spaces which are not intended for eating as it is believed to be unsanitary.

Find out more, and trace some sources at:

About the author

Sarah Parker

Sarah Parker is a University of Utah student working on an undergraduate in Business Operations with a minor in Russian Language. After The School of Russian and Asian Studies’ Russian as Second Language program in 2014, she will complete her degree and begin work on her career goal of increasing commercial trade between Russia and the Americas. She is seen here being chased by a bear near Pavlovsk.

Program attended: Challenge Grants

View all posts by: Sarah Parker