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Moscow metro - Russia’s historical and cultural symbol - turns 80

May 15, 2015, 18:47 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
© TASS/Nikolay Galkin

MOSCOW, May 15. /TASS/. Moscow’s metro is 80. Its first line opened to traffic on May 15, 1935. These days the network of underground rail lines it is not just an essential means of public transportation that keeps life in the city going. It is an integral part of Soviet and Russian history and lifestyle a museum of architecture and sculptural art.

Moscow metro, whose first line became a reality in 1935, was conceived by the then Soviet leader Joseph Stalin as an imperial style palace available to factory workers and peasant farmers, author, essayist and newspaper editor-in-chief Aleksandr Prokhanov told TASS. The underground stations were adorned with marble, bronze statues, crystal chandeliers, mosaic and paintings, all matching the canons of the Socialist realism tradition. Few know that the first stations of Moscow’s metro had parquetted floors. In just several months’ time the wood turned dark and scratched beyond repair. Soon it had to be replaced with ceramic and stone tiles.

The chief organizer of Moscow’s future equivalent of London’s Underground and New York’s Subway, People’s Commissar Lazar Kaganovich, had to address safety issues, such as the security of the underground railways in wartime first and foremost. This explains why passengers entering the oldest stations, built back before World War II, still have to make their way to the trains through long and curvy corridors, capable of easing the effects of the blast wave, should an air bomb directly hit the station’s entrance on the surface. During World War II the deepest metro stations were used as bomb shelters for thousands of Muscovites, who were hiding there during Nazi bombardments.

One of the central stations near the Kremlin was used as a reserve office of the High Command.

"The post-war effort to finalize semi-finished metro stations, build new ones and lay new lines at a time when the soil on the graves of Red Army soldiers was still fresh reflected Stalin’s emphatic wish to hurry with healing the scars of war and ‘planting blooming gardens’ all over the nation’s scorched land. The metro was expected to symbolize this drive for building an earthly paradise, symbolizing the Soviet Union’s triumph not just on battlefields, but also in peaceful, creative endeavor," Prokhanov said.

The editor-in-chief of Russky Mir (Russian World) magazine, Georgy Bovt, describes the metro network is an essential element of Muscovites’ daily environment.

"My apartment is close to the Mayakovskaya metro station, one of the most beautiful ones of all. When a boy I was fond of getting inside to take a ride on the escalator and gaze at the ceiling, with Aleksandr Deineka’s wonderful mosaic panels, with tree branches in bloom and planes flying across bright blue skies. There was a time when almost every passenger on the metro trains was reading a book or a newspaper. University students were hurriedly leafing through their notes on the way to an exam. These days many have iPhones, iPads, e-book readers or some other electronic gadgets in their hands: time flies. With today’s terrible traffic jams Moscow’s metro is a blessing," Bovt said.

The head of culture studies at the Higher School of Economics, Vitaly Kurennoi, points out that Moscow’s metro is also a great tourist attraction, where city guests are fond of posing for a picture or a selfie against the background of solemn sculptures and collonades. It is a socio-cultural artifact that helps visitors and migrants from remote provinces get better accustomed to the basics of modern urban civilization.

Moscow’s metro consists of twelve operating lines, totaling 327.5 kilometers in length and having 196 stations. On weekdays, it carries an average of 8.5 million passengers. Over the 80 years in operation its passenger traffic has exceeded 145 billion. A total of 4,300 engine drivers operate its rolling stock. In terms of traffic intensity, reliability and traffic volumes Moscow’s metro firmly holds first place in the world.

Special ceremonies timed for the Moscow metro’s 80th anniversary have brought together the heads of 23 underground railway networks from other Russian and foreign cities, such as Berlin, Madrid, Beijing, Singapore and London, whose Underground is the oldest in the world. The heads of the Moscow and Beijing metros have concluded an agreement of cooperation.

The festive events included a review of the Moscow metro’s old-time vintage and newest trains. The most advanced Moscow metro cars will boast mobile phone chargers, folding seats, bactericidal lamps and air conditioners with sensors. During the whole month of May all pre-recorded announcements on the Moscow metro trains will be made by Russian film stars, performing artists and TV celebrities. Speaking at the ceremonies Moscow’s Mayor Sergey Sobianin said that Moscow’s metro will grow 50% within years. Many more new stations and a second, larger circular line will be commissioned.

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