A Trip to the Underworld of Moscow
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A Trip to the Underworld of Moscow

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A little bit of history.

A few attempts to build a metro.

The idea of a metro was first brought up in Moscow in 1901, and the following year it was already given a project. The central station was supposed to be placed in Red Square near St. Basil's Cathedral. Trains with first, second and third class wagons, would start their way there, sporadically going under the earth, primarily moving over the surface. Nevertheless, the Moscow City Duma considered the project to be premature and turned it down, even though a metro already existed in all of the leading European cities, including London, Paris and Berlin.

The idea to build a metro was brought up again in 1923 in the USSR, but no one had enough experience nor the necessary knowledge to execute the project. That’s why foreign specialists from German company Siemens were hired to create the project, which they did in 1925. Siemens suggested that the metro should contain 80 km of tunnels and 86 stations. However, this project remained unimplemented as there was not enough funding for it.
Soon after the problem of building a metro was again very urgent. In the 20’s ground transportation was not enough, regardless of the growing number of streetcars, expanding of the bus park and invention of trolleybuses. Moscow became a capital and its population began to increase. So, in 1931 the government finally made the decision to immediately launch the preparatory work to build the Moscow metro – the fastest and the most comfortable way to get around the city.
This time everything happened so very fast that three years later on February 4th in 1935 the first trial train went along the railway, and then in two days eight trains were already running on their routes and transporting 25000 delegates of the 7th Congress of the Soviets of the Soviet Union. The first train hit speeds up to 5 km/h, and the first train driver had the most Russian name ever imagined – Ivan Ivanovitch Ivanov.
On May 15th, 1935 all 13 Moscow metropolitan red-line stations from Komsomolskaya to Sokolniki station were finally opened.
Since then the building of the Moscow metro never stopped. It was done enthusiastically and rapidly. More new metro lines were built, and, eventually, the metro turned into a whole World Beneath with its own rules, mysteries and fascination.

Interesting fact:

During World War II metro stations served as bomb shelters, as far as they are located deep underground, and this helped to save millions of lives. Around 200 children were born within their protective walls. The Moscow metro still serves as a Civil Defense object today.

Metro today.

Today, the Moscow metropolitan is comprised of 206 stations on 12 lines: 11 radial lines and 1 circle line with a total length of 333.3 km.
In addition, Moscow Central Circle (MCC) was opened in 2016 with 31 stations on it. It serves the purpose of a connector of metro stations that are remote from the center of Moscow.

Moscow Metro Map
Moscow Metro Map 2017

The development and reorganization of the metro doesn’t ever stop. There is a plan for building and opening new stations. Year after year new technologies and trains are introduced in the Moscow metropolitan. Since 2014 passengers can use free Wi-Fi in all the trains. It is the largest Wi-Fi network in Europe and it's unique by its architecture. Moscow is the only city where passengers have free access to Wi-Fi in trains during their travels by metro.

Another fascinating thing about the Moscow metro is that it has its own daily newspaper, METRO. Everyone can get an issue absolutely free of charge every morning near the entrance to the metro in order to learn the latest Russian and world news.

The Moscow metro also has its own website that is visited by nearly a thousand passengers a day, which makes it the most frequently visited Moscow website. This service helps people to get access to free Wi-Fi on the trains. In addition, the website offers such important information as news, exchange rates, weather forecasts, sales, cultural events etc. One can also recharge the balance of their Troika card using this website.

There is also a Moscow Metro App designed for the convenience of the passengers. It allows passengers to create a fast route from one station to another, learning the number and the location of the changes from line to line and approximate travel time. The information on closed stations, parts of railroads under renovation, and interruptions in train movement is regularly updated. The app also contains some information about the main sights of Moscow, their working hours and how to get there.

Car drivers will find a map of car parks in the app and the number of vacant places there. Physically challenged people are able to make a request to get help from the members of the Moscow Metropolitan Mobility Center, who will accompany them during their time in the metro.

In addition to this, the app allows one to recharge the balance of their Troika card using their bank card account, mobile phone account, Yandex.Money, Qiwi, or Webmoney payment systems. To activate the payment you need to press the Troika card to the yellow electronic reader in the metro. The Moscow Metro mobile app is available in Russian and in English for users of iOS and Android platforms.

It's becoming much easier for foreigners to use the Moscow metro each year. The names of the stations are declared in both Russian and English. There are also metro maps with information in English.

The Metro map is also very clear and easy to use due to the circle-radial structure of the rail lines.

Paying the fare

In order to ride a metro you will have to use contactless tickets, contactless smartcards or contactless bank cards (including ApplePay and SamsungPay services). There are turnstiles at the entrance of each station that you can pass with the help of one of the means mentioned above. On February 1st 2013 the Unified Ticket was introduced, which allows you to travel both by metro and by above ground public transport. On April 2nd 2013 the electronic wallet Troika was introduced (the sum of money that is charged for one metro ride is less than the sum for 1 ride when using a regular ticket) and tickets are good for 90 minutes. A fare for one ride as of January 2017 costs 55 rubles (regular ticket), 35 rubles (Troika card), or 40 rubles (bank cards, ApplePay and SamsungPay).

Interesting fact:

In the past the access to metro stations was controlled by ticket collectors who checked real paper tickets. There were also ticket gates with coin, subway token and magnetic strip card acceptance. And even though all those means of payment are not used anymore, there are people who are interested in the history of Moscow travel tickets. There is even a special website of the Club of Collectors of Moscow Travel Tickets where one can find information about tickets of different years that were once used in Moscow and the Moscow region. On an online forum, users discuss new tickets, tickets from the past, jubilee tickets, and trade some of pieces of their collections.

Cultural dimension.

It's worth mentioning that the Moscow metro is not only a convenient and fast means of transport, but it is also an architectural monument full of beauty and mystery.

The Moscow metro stations are truly unique and enchanting, each in their own way. They are continuous winners of international metro station contests and are included in construction and design textbooks as perfect examples of fine architecture.

It’s as if the mirror, marble, granite and glass elements of the metro stations reflect Russian history, from the revolutionary romanticism of the 1920’s to the utilitarian minimalism of the 2000’s.

Top 5 Most Beautiful Moscow Metro Stations:

Komsomolskaya Station Moscow Metro

Komsomolskaya Station.

It looks like an underground castle with a luxurious and solemn interior.  The prevailing theme of its decoration is the Russian people's struggle for independence.

Kievskaya Station Moscow Metro

Kievskaya station – reunion of brotherly peoples.

This station is devoted to the union of Russia and Ukraine, and to the Soviet Ukraine. There are 24 murals depicting hard-working people of Soviet Ukraine on the walls.

Ploshchad Revolutsii Station Moscow Metro

Ploshchad Revolutsii station – the most "soviet" metro station.

This station has sculptures that are placed in a particular order from October of 1917 to December of 1937. Border Guard with a Dog is the most famous sculpture. There is a legend that says anyone who touches the nose of the dog will be lucky.

Novoslobodskaya Station Moscow Metro

Novoslobodskaya station — intelligentsia temple.

This is one of the most colorful and brightest stations. Moscow citizens call it either Underground Fairytale or Stone Flower. The architecture is gracefully simple, but this simplicity is well conceived. The main decorations of Novoslobodskaya are 32 stained glass pieces of incredible beauty.

Mayakovstaya Station Moscow Metro

Mayakovskaya station – forward-looking station.

It is rather futuristic. The station hides a lot of symbols and messages both for contemporaries and for the next generations. It is named after the soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. You need to read his poems between the lines in order to understand their message, and you need to see the station in real life to understand its appeal. The station symbolizes faith in the future; back then, in the times of USSR it was a symbol of faith in achieving communism.

Another interesting thing one can find are themed trains running in the metro tunnels. These trains are named after events or anniversaries, or in the framework of themed campaigns.

Cinema Legends Train Moscow

For example, the train Cinema Legends is devoted to the International Moscow Festival. You can see this train running the circle line. Each wagon addresses films directed by famous Russian film makers: Sergey Gerasimov, Nikita Mikhalkov, Stanislav Govorukhin, Karen Shakhnazarov, Alexander Alov, Vladimir Naumov, etc.

70 Years of Great Victory Train Moscow

Another themed train worth paying attention to is the 70 Years of Great Victory train. Passengers can examine unique photographic recordings, posters and newspaper clippings of wartime in its wagons.

William Shakespeare Train Moscow

In addition, when riding the blue metro line you can come across the most romantic train on the Moscow metropolitan, which is devoted to poetry. Its interior decoration is constantly changing. In different years passengers had the opportunity to admire Chilean and Italian poetry, and learn more about poems by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Vladimir Nabokov, Mikhail Lermontov and Sergey Esenin.

Nowadays, Shakespearean Passion is the main theme of the train's interior. It is devoted to celebrating the Year of Language and Culture of Great Britain and Russia, and the 400-year anniversary in memory of William Shakespeare.

To celebrate 82nd anniversary of the Moscow metropolitan, on May 13 and 14 in 2017 a Train Parade ran the circle line. Passengers had the chance to ride all kinds of metro wagons: a Sokolniki retro train, Ezhik (Ezh 3), Nomernoy, Yauza, Rusich, Oka, Moskva. During the last two days they followed each other running the circle line.

A great number of excursions are organized daily in the Moscow metro by the Moscow Metro Excursion Desk and Moscow Museum, where anyone can book an excursion if they wish to do so.

Also, Vystavochnaya station offers a free Center for Career Guidance where all comers can explore every single detail of the Moscow metro and even try their hand at driving the train with the help of special simulation device.

Center for Career Guidance Moscow Metro

A magnificent project, Music in Metro was created in order to entertain passengers on their way to work, home or anywhere else. This program provides space for street musicians to play high-quality live music for passengers. But you can’t just take your instruments down to the subway and start playing. These musicians have to audition for this project in front of a jury of professional musicians. Only the best of the best are allowed to perform for and delight the subway passengers. Passengers can learn about the repertoire of such performances beforehand. The schedule is available on the website music.mosmetro.ru.

Places of music performance:

  • Northern vestibule of Mayakovskaya station.
  • Vestibule of Kurskaya station.
  • Vestibule of Vystavochnaya station.
  • Dostoevskaya station, towards the exit to the Russian Army Theatre, near the portrait of Dostoevsky.
  • Vestibule of Borovitskaya station. 
  • Subway passage of Polyanka station.
  • Distribution hall of Kitay-Gorod station.
  • Subway passage to Okhotny Ryad.
  • Subway passage to Ploshchad Revolutsii.
  • Subway passage to Teatralnaya.
  • Change for the Sokolnicheskaya (red) line. The upper platform with the heavily inclined escalator and the bottom platform of the escalator.
  • Vestibule of Taganskaya station.
  • Change to Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya (blue) line.

Even Russian celebrities such as Lolita Milyavskaya, Grigory Leps, Valery Syutkin, Boris Grebenshchikov, Egor Kreed, and many others took part in the Music in Metro project.

Over the period of its existence the Moscow metro has become quite a mysterious place, shrouded in secrecy and legends. They say there are ghosts that train drivers encounter every now and then. Those "lucky" train drivers refuse to tell about those terrifying experiences, as there were cases when such drivers were made to go to the psychiatrist and were dismissed after that. Paranormal activity, legends about mutated animals, time travel, abandoned stations, and the mysterious Metro-2 that might exist but we will never know as no one will ever tell. Is it true or is it no more than a fascinating story? It's up to you to decide!

In 2005 Russian writer Dmitry Glukhovsky wrote a novel, Metro-2033, describing post-apocalyptic life of the Russian people down in the subway after the nuclear war of 2013. The action takes place in the Moscow metro where people settled down in times of war as it was impossible to survive on the surface where the radiation level was dangerously high. The subway was protected from those adverse conditions through prompt actions of Civil Defense services. The author included real station names in the book, which makes the plot even more realistic and compelling. The novel has been translated into different languages (German, French, Czech, Chinese, Thai) and published in diverse countries, including audio book format. Also, a computer game based on the book under the same name was released. In view of the huge success of the book, Dmitry Glukhovsky wrote a follow-up titled Metro 2034, followed by Metro 2035. He has united all three parts into an international literary project, The Universe of Metro 2033.

It is true that in the real life Moscow metro there exists a whole different universe where millions of people living Moscow spend a significant amount of their time. The metro is many-sided: it’s state-of-art and it's throbbing with history. The Moscow metro is deservedly considered to be the most beautiful subway in the world, but you can only know for sure if you come and see for yourself.

Margarita Voronova

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A Trip to the Underworld of Moscow
A Trip to the Underworld of Moscow

10 Responses

  1. Shona says:

    So interesting, who would have thought the metro would be a museum too. The art and design is so unexpected and it’s a huge system. I know where I’ll be heading when I get to Moscow.

  2. Tracy says:

    I have wanted to visit Moscow for a long time – hope to catch the Trans Mongolian to or from there one day! But one reason I want to visit is to see the famous metro and those beautiful stations! Stunning! And free WiFi – other countries need to take note!

  3. Travel Lexx says:

    When I was a kid, I didn’t really appreciate the grandeur of the metro as much as I would now. While I have been to Moscow a couple of times, I would really love to go back and explore it properly and, of course, ride the metro. Love the idea of themed trains and all that beautiful architecture! I’ve played the Metro 2033 video game and I hope the real thing is a bit safer!

  4. “Beautiful” isn’t usually an adjective ascribed to metros, but in Moscow’s case, it fits. That place is like a really nice museum. Heck, even the other Soviet metros are pretty nice looking compared to Western ones.

  5. This is stunning! Funny, I saw a documentary about the Moscow metro a few months ago and I’ve been wanting to visit it ever since.

  6. Anisa says:

    Wow there are some really beautiful metro stations. Sounds like that is the way to get around Moscow. Will keep that in mind whenever I get to visit. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

  7. I’m heading to Moscow later this year and this post was so interesting to read. I’ll keep in mind all the infos provided in your post. #TheWeeklyPostcard

  8. Anda says:

    OMG, the Moscow metro stations look like palace halls. I’d love to go to Moscow and visit many of it’s other attractions, but the metro would be high on my list. Thank you for sharing this on #TheWeklyPostcard

  9. This is the most fabulous, thorough guide to Moscow’s subway system!! I definitely would like to see many of them! I LOL’d at the name of the first Russian train driver! I can’t believe how long it took to get the project underway and how quickly it functioned! Pinned for later!! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

  10. Okay, I’ll admit to hoping for seedy stories of gangsters in the Moscow Underground when I first saw the title. But this turned out to be a great read. We had no idea the Moscow Metro system was so large! We’ve seen some pictures from the beautiful stations, but we always appreciate seeing more. They are truly beautiful. We would really love to visit Moscow, and certainly explore the Metro! Thanks for linking up with us for #TheWeeklyPostcard!

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