Moscow’s onion spires — on colourful St. Basil’s Cathedral, on the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, and on a multitude of lesser-known buildings—are perhaps the most iconic examples of the city’s architecture, but there are equally-impressive displays beneath the streets.
For just the cost of a subway ticket, you can access nearly 200 stations on 12 lines comprising more than 325 kilometres of track—and get a history lesson. Here, listed chronologically by date opened, are five of Moscow’s greatest Metro stations.
Mayakovskaya, on the Zamoskvoretskaya (2) Line
The Moscow Metro was conceived to be more than a system of transportation. A project that had long been in the planning stages, construction finally began under Joseph Stalin and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and it was intended to inspire. The Metro became public space in the service of Socialist Realism, a method and style of art inspired by Nikolay Chernyshevsky, who said that “art is no use unless it serves politics.” Under orders from Stalin, the artists and architects designed the stations in such a way as to embody svetloe budushchee (a radiant future).
Opened in 1938 during the second stage (Moscow’s Metro system was built and opened in four stages), Mayakovskaya is exemplary of pre-World War II Stalinist architecture, and of art deco. A full 33 metres below street level, the station platform lies under expansive vaulted ceilings supported by two sets of colonnades. Bright pink and white marble flooring reflects back the light from behind the 34 mosaics set into the station’s ceiling.
During the Battle of Moscow, the station was used as an air-raid shelter. On November 7, 1941, the anniversary of the October Revolution, Stalin delivered an address in the station’s central hall.
Elektrozavodskaya, on the Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya (3) Line
Named after the electric light bulb company nearby, Elektrozavodskaya has a low domed structure on which there are bas-relief representations of six pioneers in electricity and electrical engineering in its vestibule. Inside the main hall, the walls are red and olive marble, while rectangular pylons join the floor (also marble, in a chessboard pattern) to the half-pipe ceiling inset with rows of lights. The insides of the supports are decorated with bas-reliefs depicting the Soviet Union’s agricultural and industrial workers; grilles with the hammer and sickle adorn the outsides.
The opening of Elektrozavodskaya in 1944 heralded a shift away from pre-war art deco in architecture, and the likeness of the station was applied to a postage stamp in 1947.
Komsomolskaya, on the Sokolnicheskaya (1) and Koltsevaya (5) Lines
Located under Moscow’s busiest transit hub, Komsomolskaya is one of the most active stations in the Metro. To deal with volume of daily passengers in transit between the three nearby rail terminals, the station has an upper gallery above the platform.
Komsomolskaya is also perhaps Moscow’s most lavish station. Entry is into an imposing building fronted by a stand of Corinthian columns. Inside, travellers descend to one of two sub-stations. At the platform level, an enormous hall is topped by a sunny, yellow Baroque ceiling from which hang several grand chandeliers. The platform is lined with 68 marble-faced columns topped with pilasters, and on the ceiling, eight mosaics chronicle the Russian fight for freedom and independence. Komsomolskaya opened in 1952.
Novoslobodskaya, on the Koltsevaya (5) Line
Also opened in 1952, Novoslobodskaya is best known for the 32 back-lit stained glass panels set into the pylons at platform level. The pylons and the arches are faced with pink marble from the Ural region; a series of conical chandeliers light the center.
Kievskaya on the Koltsevaya (5), Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya (3), and Filyovskaya (4) Lines
Constructed in the fourth stage of the Metro, the three sections of Kievskaya station were opened in 1953—the year Stalin died—and 1954. Richly Baroque like Komsomolskaya, Kievskaya has all the ornamentation of the period: frescoes, mosaics, and chandeliers.
The design for Kievskaya was based on an open competition held in Ukraine, and all three stops reflect the history of and relationship between the countries. The frescoes at the station on the Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya line depict life in the Ukraine, and a large piece at the end of the platform commemorates the 300th anniversary of the country’s reunification with Russia. Ukrainian designs adorn the platform at the Filyovskaya stop, and on the Koltsevaya station, mosaics celebrate Russo-Ukranian unity.