The city of Moscow experienced a huge size and population boom following the industrial development and railway construction of the late 19th century. At this time, horse-drawn cars and trams were the main form of transportation, but soon the horses were not enough to fuel the city’s rapid expansion. As a result, plans were made for development of a new peripheral ring railway that would carry freight throughout the city. Many years later, underground lines for passengers were linked to the original railway. These lines quickly turned the railway into a booming metropolitan transit center, eventually becoming what is today known as the Moscow Metro. More on the development of the Moscow Metro after the break.
In the creation of the underground railway, which was to correspond with Moscow’s circular layout and run parallel to preexisting routes on the ground level, construction workers had to overcome many difficult barriers. The soil that they would be creating tunnels through was a mixture of sands saturated with water, dry sands, clays with water-bearing cracks, massive limestone deposits and quicksand. There were also four rivers crossing through the points where the future tunnels were to be built. To top it all off, most of the work was to be done by hand. Although many obstacles stood in the way, the city was willing to seek solutions to overcome them, for if the railway were successful, it would ease the heavy traffic flow at the surface of the city.
The large majority of construction for the Moscow Metro was completed in five stages. The first was completed in 1935, ran 11 kilometers and included 13 stations. The second stage of construction is notable for its popular art deco style combined with socialist messages in the stations’ artwork. As construction continued into the third stage, building work was delayed due to World War II, and war motifs replaced the socialist ones in the stations’ architectural designs. During this time, metro stations were also used as air-raid shelters and venues for Stalin’s public announcements. After the war, the fourth stage of construction began. The elaborate design work of the Moscow Metro is considered to have reached its peak during this stage.
Even more stations opened during the Cold War, marking the fifth and final major stage of the Moscow Metro’s construction (construction in this phase ended in 1959). The stations built in the fifth stage run deepest into the earth, as they were planned to double as shelters in the event of a nuclear war. However, because Khrushchev, Stalin’s successor, favored a more utilitarian design approach, the stations that were built during his time lacked the extravagance of previous ones. Many were made to look very similar to one another. They were also built with cheaper technologies that were often ill-suited to the railway environment.
The design of each of the Metro’s stations was adapted to the geographical constraints of the site and the historical context during which it was built. Not only did each station of the Moscow Metro have a unique design, but the stations were also the first in the world to be completely faced with granite and marble. The reflective, polished stone walls, high ceilings and elaborate chandeliers are meant to serve as a reminder of what Stalin created for his people in return for their sacrifices. They were designed to reflect his inclination toward outward expressions of nationalism, power and wealth.
Today, the Moscow Metro has over 300 kilometers of railways, 12 different lines and 182 stations. With an average of 6.6 million passengers each day, it is the second most heavily used rapid transit system in the world. Much more than just Russia’s first underground railway system, the Moscow Metro is an important architectural monument with strong ties to the country’s rich history and culture.
Architect: Robert Pogrebnoi and Yuriy Zenkivich
Location: Moscow, Russia
Project Year: 1935-1959
References: Moscow Metro
Photographs: Flickr – SergeyRod, Andrew Bossi, Lev Melnikov, Christopher Michel, Boris Bartels, jaime.silva, yeowatzup, Dmitry Kityrev; Wikimedia Commons – A.Savin