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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Dream Palaces of the Moscow Underground
Text by Dr. Olga Zinovieva
Photos by Alina Ganenko

The Moscow Metro was opened in May 15, 1935, as a critical component of the city’s Stalinist Master Plan. It was constructed rather late in comparison with the London, Paris or New York City underground transportation systems. However, no other subway in the world could compete with it in the lavishness of the decoration and spaciousness of halls. Even the choice of the word “Metro”, short for “Metropolitan” meaning a rapid transit rail system for the capital city, emphasized the grandiose undertaking, instead of more common words, such as a subway, tube, or underground, used in other countries.

Mayakovskaya is considered to be one of the most accomplished and balanced stations

It proved to be a very strong manifestation of Soviet technological capability, artistic creativity and pervasive ideology, expressed in stucco and brass sculptures, mosaic pictures and stain glass windows. Several times a day, every passenger had to admire and absorb the myths of the heroic labor and the Communist paradise for all. The underground palaces evoked Russian fairy tales through many artistic methods, which included magic flowers and leaves on the wall and benches, intricate lamps and chandeliers, horns of plenty, as well as ancient helmets and shields, bows and arrows.

It was a truly national construction site, when hundreds of different productions were involved, supplying metal, bricks, cement, staircases, cars, as well as gentle marble, strong granite, sparkling glass and picturesque ceramic tiles. A special Art Commission was set up to contract the best architects, sculptors and artists across the Soviet Union. Thousands of young volunteers, as well as political prisoners dug tunnels under very harsh conditions, following the commands to “speed up” and “beat the deadline.”

In late 19th – early 20th century the city fathers studied and rejected a number of projects of the Moscow underground for diff erent reasons. The owners of the ground transportation, who did not want to lose their businesses, closed ranks and lobbied aggressively against these proposals. The Moscow Imperial Archeological Society was also against the construction. However, it was the overall economic and political instability, caused by the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, World War I and the Russian Civil War, which interfered with construction. Had the Metro been built earlier, it would have looked very similar to the industrial subways in London, Paris or New York.

The Plenary Session of the Communist party took the decision to build the Metro in 1931. Stalin’s dream of Palladian style was refl ected in the Metro to the most. The Soviet Leader, the Red Tsar, agreed to have less lines and stations at the cost of their ceremonial appearances and spectacular narrations on the walls and ceilings. Distinguished architects, sculptors and artists felt honored to be awarded state orders for the design and decoration of the new national project. The Moscow Metro has refl ected the history, political and economic situation of the country in full.

Mosaic plafond by Alexander Deineka
(Novokuznetskaya station)

Its circular and radial plan mirrored the city plan of circular and radial streets. The first radial line (1935), called the Red Line or Sokolnicheskaya now, went from Sokolniki Park to Park Kultury but it also had an extension to Smolenskaya, a part of the contemporary Light Blue Line. The stations were very laconic in expression, some in constructivist style without any decorations, such as Chistie Prudy for example. Among the most distinguished stations are Krasniye Vorota, where Ivan Fomin created the spirit of an ancient grotto and a very elegant and light Kropotkinskaya by Alexei Dushkin, which was designed to be the underground entrance hall to the Palace of Soviets, being built nearby but never accomplished. Komsomolskaya presented an attempt by Dmitry Chechulin to build an underground palace with columns crowned with capitals, staircases and balconies, decorated with gold plated sheaves of wheat in order to satisfy his Kremlin customers. Evgeny Lancere, an esteemed artist, made sketches of miners, working in this area and finally his majolica picture of the festive labor, was placed on the wall of the transition hall to the Ring (Brown) Line.

Already in 1937 the line from Smolenskaya was extended to Kievskaya and in 1938 a line was launched from Kurskaya to Sokol. The speed of the construction accelerated but the underground stations became more decorated to meet the demand of the totalitarian regime in monumental propaganda. Ploshchad Revolyutsii was Stalin’s favorite station according to his daughter Svetlana Allilueva, now a US resident. The station presents the Soviet Mount Olympus with gods of labor, agriculture, military service, agronomy, education, maternity, aeronautics, etc. Each expressive sculpture by Matvey Manizer gives an example to follow – work hard, study well, go in for sports, be aware of the enemies around you and be ready to defend your homeland at any time.

Today, Mayakovskaya, located on the Green Line and designed by Alexei Dushkin, is thought to be one of the most accomplished and well balanced stations. Its slim columns, faced with precious rhodonite and trimmed with stainless steel, transport the vaults upwards to windows which opened right to the skies, to the heavens. One can almost breathe the fresh air; see airplanes, balloons and paratroopers and admire mothers, who raise their healthy children to the skies. These are 34 mosaic pictures created by Alexander Deineka, who modestly called them “Twenty Four Hours of the Soviet Sky”. In 1938, a model of the station won the Grand Prix at the World Fair in New York; and in the late 1980s, it received the status of an architectural monument.

The idea of windows, which could take you from the underground straight behind the clouds, was very popular at that time. Oktyabrskaya ring station (Leonid Poliakov, 1950) has an iron-grill door with such a realistic blue sky behind it that it tempts you to take out a golden key and open the door to another world.

One should not deny the educational value of the Metro narrations. Elektrozavodskaya (Electrical Bulb Factory) of the Dark Blue Line (Vladimir Gelfreich and Igor Rozhin, 1944) guides us through the science history of the origin of electricity, as well as the invention and production of electrical bulbs. Marble reliefs by Gregory Motovilov portray engineers, draftsmen, workers, quality control people along with kolkhoz men and women supplying food for the workers.

One of the mosaic pictures by Alexander Deineka in the Mayakovskaya station

Illusive stain glass windows, brass flowers and stucco, outlining marble kokoshniks in the Novoslobodskaya station

Ploshad Revolutsii station, sculptor: Matvei Manizer, architect: Alexei Dushkin

During WWII, some of the stations served as bomb shelters and conference halls for the communist party. It is very hard to believe that the construction of stations never ceased during the whole military campaign – but it’s true. Seven stations were put into service during the war.

In 1950, the first section of the Ring Line (Brown Line) was opened to the public. The circle was completed in 1954, already after Stalin’s death. No wonder, that this is the most popular line amongst tourists. Its spectacular stations, transfer halls, staircases and tunnels reflect Stalinist mature post-war architectural style. It was meant to celebrate Soviet victory in WWII and the glory of Stalin’s Empire. The designers’ unrestrained fantasy brought together classical elements of folk art and cutting-edge technologies. The Komsomolskaya ring station (architects: Alexei Shusev, Victor Kokorin, mosaics by Pavel Korin, 1952) is a retrospective look of the Russian victories by regular regiments in shining mosaics. The Belorusskaya stations (architects: Ivan Taranov, Nadezhda Bykova, sculptors: Sergei Orlov and Saul Rabinovich, 1952), show partisans, common people, involved in the liberation movement, through imposing sculptures. Kievskaya station (sculptors: Evgeny Katonin, Vadim Skugarev, Geory Golubev, artist: A.V. Mizin, 1954) is an anthem to workers, collective farmers and engineers, guided by the Communist party. Park Kultury (architect: Igor Rozhin, sculptor: Saul Rabinovich) is a narration of how the Soviet people should spend their leisure time, going in for sports, singing, dancing and performing.

The Metro had a lot of sculptures, mosaics and reliefs of Stalin and Lenin. Semyonovskaya was called Stalinskaya once. Now, one can only see Lenin’s images; all Stalin’s portraits have disappeared from the underground stations for good.

In 1935-1953 more than 40 stations were built along the tunnels of more than 50 kilometers long. A unique underground museum of monumental art and ideology was created during this short period of time.

Prospect Mira
(Brown) Ring Station

Constructivist style
Park Kulturi station

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