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Notes From Underground IV: The Dark Blue Line
Text Ray Nayler
Photos Anna Kuznetsova

The dark blue line, Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya, numbered 3 on the scheme of the Moscow metro, opened on March 13, 1938 — before the green line but as a part of the same expansion project, Stage 2 of metro construction. What makes the dark blue line even more complex is the fact that its present-day configuration is significantly different from the original. Ever wondered why there are two stations named Arbatskaya and two named Smolenskaya? It’s because the Arbatskaya and Smolenskaya stations currently on the light blue line were originally stations of the dark blue line. They were closed down and replaced by new stations, and then reopened later as part of the light blue line.

M. Arbatskaya

For this article, we will explore the central stations of the dark blue line from Kurskaya to Kievskaya. This route will allow us to tour two of the original stations opened in 1938 as well as three of the more elaborate late Stalinist stations completed just after his death. These stations were destined to be some of the last of this heavily ornamented type, which would soon, under Khrushchev, be abandoned in favor of the standard, utilitarian stations known as “centipedes,” which differ only in the color of their tiles and a limited number of cheap decorations. The early stations of the Moscow metro are marked by two distinct factors above all others: the rise of a fanatical cult of personality around the figure of Joseph Stalin and the Great Patriotic War. Last month, we explored the green line down to Avtozavodskaya and saw a number of prime examples of Great Patriotic War-era stations, including Novokuznetskaya and Avtozavodskaya. The northeastern portion of the dark blue line offers more of the same, so this month we’ll concentrate on the central section.

M. Ploshchad Revolyutsii

Our tour begins at Kurskaya, which bears the classical ornamentation of the late 1930s. Built to serve the Kursky train terminal, this station is a triple-vaulted pylon station faced in gray marble from Ufa, with a mosaic floor of gray, black, rose-tinted and red marble. The arches are pseudo-Italianate, like many of the early stations, and the vents are covered in ornate metal grills with sconce-lamps protruding from them. The design of this station is simple, which contrasts starkly with the later stations. But before we arrive at those, we must stop at Ploshchad Revolyutsii, one of the most famous and beloved Moscow metro stations of them all.

Ploshchad Revolyutsii was designed, like Mayakovskaya, Avtozavodskaya, and other stations, by the architect Alexei Dushkin. This gorgeous station is an underground gallery of statues by the sculptor M.G. Manizer. Like the frescoes of an Orthodox cathedral, the statues are both art and teaching tool, seeking to illustrate visually the Communist ideology of the day. Each figure represents an idealized citizen of the Soviet Union, beginning with the Revolution and the Civil War and continuing through to the “blossoming” of the Stalinist era. There is a total of 76 statues in the station (there were originally 80, and you can guess who has been removed). Each statue except for two is repeated a total of four times: twice in each arch and on both sides of the station. The exposition was meant to begin at the western end of the station, which originally had only one entrance, the one onto Ploshchad Revolyutsii (Revolution Square). The gallery begins with revolutionaries — a bandoliered worker carrying a grenade, and a revolutionary soldier. The next arch shows a peasant in traditional reed sandals with a bolt-action rifle and a revolutionary sailor with a revolver that is constantly being broken by vandals. Continuing on, we find a female parachutist and a signalman from the Marat. The next arch has a girl with a rifle displaying her badge for marksmanship along with a border guard and his dog. You’ll notice that the dog’s nose is rubbed smooth and shiny from people touching it for good luck. The display goes on with athletes and students, parents and children, all of the pseudo-religious and idealized type common to Socialist Realism. The rest of the station’s designs are simple, so as not to detract from the figures crouched beneath the pylons. An interesting note to this station is that the statues were evacuated to the Urals during the Siege of Moscow, along with much of the city’s living population.

M. Smolenskaya

The next station along the line is Arbatskaya. Until 1953, trains from Ploshchad Revolutsii went to Alexandrovsky Sad, a station we will be discussing in next month’s issue. But beginning in 1953, the dark blue line was redirected via Arbatskaya and Smolenskaya to the dark blue station of Kievskaya, and this is the line we will follow today through three of the last Stalin-vintage stations on the Moscow metro.

Arbatskaya opened a month after Stalin’s suspicious death. One of the largest of the Moscow metro stations, second in length only to Vorobyovy Gory, the ornamentation of Arbatskaya’s white walls and ventilation grills is almost overwhelming, with flowers everywhere and vegetal chandeliers and lamps, a Stalinist Baroque masterpiece that Stalin himself never saw in operation. The station’s architecture was recently beautifully restored, and the white walls of the passageways and central platform blend smoothly with the palatial above-ground pavilion. Everything about this station says excess and grandeur, making clear Stalin’s imperial visions for Russia and rendering the station even more ironic in its hyperbole.

Smolenskaya is clearly done in the Empire style, with fluted columns at the four corners of its pylons, decorative classical cornices, and a black-and-white marble floor pattern that reminds one of nothing so much as a Roman temple. The western end of the station contains a white marble alto-relievo by Georgi Motovilov depicting the Red Army in battle, clearly seeking to

M. Arbatskaya

tie Soviet ideology in with earlier classical civilizations; roman shields and helmets decorate the station’s above-ground pavilions. The triumphal arches leading to the station from the Garden Ring, and the pavilion itself, call to mind Napoleon’s neo-classical Parisian structures, but the overall design of the station is geometrical and harmonious, a distinct relief after the gaudiness of Arbatskaya. Like Arbatskaya, Smolenskaya is one of the deeper stations on the line, built during the Cold War to serve as a bomb shelter and bunker in the case of nuclear attack. Until the construction of Park Pobedy in 2003, this was the deepest station on the Moscow metro.

The terminal station of the Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya line until 2003, Kievskaya is another quasi-Baroque, fanatical masterpiece of late Stalinism, featuring white Ural marble on the walls, patterned tile, and ceiling panels depicting an idealized version of Soviet Ukrainian life. A huge mosaic at the end of the station platform commemorates the 300th anniversary of the unification of Russia and Ukraine. This station is representative of a number of Moscow metro themes: Socialist Realism, pseudo-religious iconography (note the gold in the background of many panels, making them look suspiciously like church icons), and the idealization of the Soviet Union’s ethnic republics. It is unclear how far this increasingly ornamental and exaggerated style would have gone, if Stalin had lived longer, but the vagaries of history ended it here. And this is a suitable place to end our trip on the dark blue line across the center of Moscow.

Next month, we’ll ride the stations of the light blue line and a bonus — the Moscow monorail.

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