The famous Moscow subway system is not only a very efficient way to move between various places in this enormous city; it could as well be called an enormous museum where each station is like a different hall. Obvious differences: you use the subway trains to get from one exhibition hall to the other, and there is no central entrance to the Moscow Subway Museum. While its primary function is, of course, to transport people from one station to the other, and this is probably the case for most locals riding its frequent trains every day, the visitor might well end up taking trains just to visit the stations themselves - without even leaving the underground world. The remarkable thing is, that even the regular stations (not all of them are masterpieces), are well-kept and well-designed. Functionally speaking, the underground runs with the inevitability and precision of a military operation. This helps to allow the Moscow subway to carry more passengers than the London and New York subway combined. It also gives a peace of mind: it almost does not make sense to run to catch a train: you know that the next train is about to arrive anyway. A clock above each track indicates the minutes and seconds passed since the departure of the last train.
For foreigners to use the Moscow underground, it is vital to be able to read Russian to board the train in the right direction. Fares for the subway are not as low as they once used to be, but still reasonable, especially considering you can travel the whole network for a standard price. What has stayed the same, is that below every escalator, there still is a Russian lady supervising the escalator. Ever since my first visits to Eastern Europe, which used to have the same system and similar trains, it has puzzled me what those ladies actually do. They sit still in a small booth, behind a panel with a few buttons. On my many rides on subways, never did I see them actually use one of those buttons. Once you start using the subway, at some stations you will be baffled by the design and decorations. There are stations with stained glass panels, others with mosaics; some in baroque style, others in Art Deco; some full of sculptures, others with more abstract items; some with a clear political message, others teaching the subway traveler about history. Bottom line among all stations is the promotion of communism, singing praise to the war heroes, the unity of the Soviet people. Many stations have a message, it is the form that differs.
On one of my rides on the Moscow subway, I ended up not going to my original destination, but stopped at all stations on the Koltsevaya, or Ring, line, soaking up the art of the places, just like I would have done in any museum. Most of the stations, I would visit like I would any interesting museum: slowly moving from one piece of art to the next, taking time to study a sculpture, a mosaic, a panel with bright colours. In some occasions, I would study the ceiling, or the crystal chandeliers, the frames around the art; in some stations, there are still communist symbols like the hammer-and-sickle. Using the subway is, in a way, also like stepping back in time: while in the world upstairs communism has disappeared and replaced by a raw form of capitalism, the underground world still hails the good sides of communism. In fact, the Moscow subway system was only started in the mid-1930s, under Stalin, and grew into a very efficient way of transportation, carrying a staggering nine million passengers each day. While the frequency of trains is legendary and indeed helps to make this system work seemingly flawlessly, the only thing I missed was a clearer signaling of station names. On my underground quest for discovering beautiful stations, I never felt pressed by time, missing many trains and knowing that the next one was about to arrive. It was a special feeling to use the subway like this: a station would temporarily flood after the arrival of a train, the crowd would disappear and the train depart, leaving behind an almost empty station, until the arrival of the next train. The Moscow subway system shows that functionality and form can be a perfect combination.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Moscow subway stations (Russia). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Moscow subway stations. Read more about this site.