I want to bring attention to the Moscow metro system. It is the most incredible subway system I have ever seen. There are twelve lines, and they sprawl over the city like a giant jellyfish. Every station has marble floors, chandeliers, and is impeccably clean. Most have artistic mosaics or reliefs on the walls, in the manner of ancient Greek sculptures or early Byzantine churches. Trains come about every three minutes in the off times—in rush hour, they come guaranteed every 45 seconds.
Even with such frequent trains, the wagons are always packed. It’s very noticeable that the city is larger than New York when rush hour hits and a steady stream of people flood the escalators, moving like an unending centipede.
Each metro station has escalators instead of stairs. The stations here are so far below ground that they double as bomb shelters (they are also so deep that 20,000 prisoners who were slave labor used to build the metro died due to complications with tunneling). Every metro ride has about a two minute escalator ride following it.
The whole metro system was Stalin’s love child. He spent millions of dollars on it when it was installed in 1932. It was called the “Underground Paradise of the Proletariat–”a much needed paradise, when most families lived in crowded communal apartments, were 8 – 15 families shared one bathroom and one kitchen. An effective propaganda measure, the metro was presented to the people as a gift from their government. Though the people usually lived in squalor, the government had given them the present of the metro, and the citizens were incredibly grateful.
The citizens of Moscow still have extreme pride in their metro. While riding it two days ago, one woman started chiding a drunk man who was sitting on the bench next to her. “In the 80s,” she said nostalgically, “People were respectful of the metro! No drunks allowed! No dirty shoes allowed! Now, everything goes.” This sort of nostalgia for the order of the Communist regime is common—the Communist past of the country is impossible to ignore. Almost every metro station has borders of intertwined scythes and hammers around its light fixtures, or red stars at the center of every stained glass window.
Also, everybody, absolutely everybody rides the metro here. In New York, taxis are popular, but here, they are unreliable and unsafe, so the metro serves all 11 million of Moscow’s residents, from the richest oil barons to the poorest pensioners. It gives an interesting mix on the morning commute, and each line has its specific riders. I live about 45 minutes from the university where I study. Each morning, my trek starts on the unassuming Sokolnicheskaya Linaya. But after five stops, I transfer to the Kolchestaya Linaya—the “circle” line that rings the center of the city and connects every line to the other. This line is always full of most traditional Muscovites imaginable: women in huge fur coats, completed with a fur hat; young Russian students on the cutting edge of Euro fashions (read: lots of metallic fabric, high heeled boots, and intense make up), and the old generation of babushkas who aggressively elbow their way to any possible seat.
I wanted to get some good pictures of the metro stations, but it’s illegal, and I’m not hoping to get arrested during my first weeks here in Moscow—maybe the day I fly out I’ll snap a couple shots.