With as many kms as there are days in a year (364.9kms), the Moscow metro lines are spread across 214 stations, 44 of which are classified as Cultural Heritage. Come along and travel on the most beautiful metro network in the world!
The Moscow metro opened on May 15th 1935, but its project and concept dates back all the way to 1875, later debated more seriously in 1902. After many denials and other delays, such as World War I, the October Revolution, and the Civil War in Russia, its construction finally began in 1931, when the Soviet Union was already formally established. With 13 stations spread over 11 modest kilometres, it was with grandiosity that its inauguration occurred, and the day was marked as a victory for socialist technology and ideology – and consequently, a victory for Stalinism as well.
Politics aside, the Moscow metro is delightful to visit, with its grandiosity lit stations, astonishing works of art and intrinsic socio-cultural connotations, making more than a simple commuters journey, and more of a journey through the history of the people, their past and future.
- Although extremely busy, the Moscow metro holds the record of punctuality worldwide. With an impressive average of 90 seconds interval between each train, its punctuality is around 99.99%.
- The Moscow metro is one of the busiest lines in the world: since its beginning, more than 145 billion trips have been made, and about 2.4 billion people arrive at their destination every year by metro.
- Rumours has it that the stone of the Serpukhov Kremlin (built in 1556, and destroyed in 1934) was used to decorate the first station. It is also said that all the marble used in the metro, comes from the Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer, which has been destroyed in 1931.
- During the air strikes in World War II, the Moscow metro became a bomb shelter (as it happened in other cities also). About half a million people took refuge in the metro at this difficult time. The women and children slept in the train carriages that were parked overnight at the platforms.
- However, the war was not a reason to prevent the operation of the metro, which not only remained 100% operational, but even opened seven new stations during this time.
- By the time the attacks were more frequent, there were even shops and hair salons in the stations – the Kurskaya station, for example, even had a library. On the anniversary of the October Revolution in 1941, Joseph Stalin gave a speech at the Mayakovskaya station, about the defeat of the fascist regime.
- The circular line (line 5) is represented by the color brown. Apparently, during the planning of the metro line, Stalin placed his coffee on the metro plans, thus leaving a circle brown line in the center of the map. And that was how the brown circle line was proposed!
- Across the line, the next stations and connections are announced on the trains. In the radial lines, the trains that travel towards the center have a masculine voice announcing, and the opposite direction are announced by a feminine voice. In the circular line, the trains that circulate clockwise have the masculine voice, and the counter-clockwise the feminine voice. This solution originally came up to help blind people in their orientation, but in reality it helps almost everyone, especially travellers who are still learning how to navigate the intrinsic lines and stations.
- There is a metro station which is actually a bridge. Vorobyovy Gory was the first station in the world of this kind. In Moscow it still is the only station that is also a bridge.
- Every year, on the anniversary of its inauguration (15th May), there are music concerts and performances in the stations. The perfect acoustics make this the ideal way to celebrate the anniversary of the metro.
- Since 2015, there is a system of intelligent sensors to prevent suicides. These sensors stop the trains immediately, as soon as the line sensor is activated by an unexpected movement in the direction of the line, without any human intervention or action being required.
- The Moscow metro continues to grow: there are currently plans and constructions of 60 new stations across the line.
- Metro 2: rumours say there is a second subway line, called “D-6”, designed specifically for emergency evacuation in case of nuclear attack. This line connects the Kremlin, General’s headquarters, Lubyanka (the FSB headquarters), the Ministry of Defense, and several other secret locations. It is also said to have access to other civilian sites, such as the Russian State Library, Moscow State University, and two more standard metro stations. The latter would serve for the random evacuation of civilians. Supposedly, these stations are Sportivnaya and Sokolnicheskaya. This secret line was completed in 1997.
If you have little time and want to see some of the most beautiful stations without getting lost, just follow the route of the central line (brown line). Six of the 12 stations that make up this line are breathtaking, and rich in local history and culture as well. Here is my suggestion for a tour, starting at the Komsomolskaya station (where our accommodation is on the Trans-Siberian Route), clockwise (listen to the male voice announcing the next stations, if it’s a female voice, already know that they go in the opposite direction!)
Brown and Red Lines
By far the most extravagant of all stations, Komsomolskaya looks more like a grand ballroom rather than an underground station. It opened in 1952 during the second phase of line expansion. A true masterpiece in Baroque style, which honors Nevsky, Donskoy and other great military leaders in the golden mosaics that decorate the ceilings and walls.
It is the busiest hub of the whole line, as it serves the three main railway stations of the city: Leningradsky, Yaroslavsky and Kazansky, the latter where we catch our Trans-Siberian train.
Brown and Purple Lines
Opened on January 1, 1950, it is part of the first segment of the line, with the signature of architects K. Ryzhkov and A. Medvedev. Built with images of postwar extravagance, the overall design is based on traditional Russian motifs. The main focus lays on the 48 panels on each face of the pillars, with profiles of various Red Army and Navy soldiers, adorned with flowers. Lighting the station, 12 large gold chandeliers in the central hall with the same blue center.
Brown and Dark Blue Lines
The project for this station was selected in a competition in Ukraine, in which the Katonin, Skugarev and Golubev team came out selected amongst other 73 candidates. Its low, square pylons, lined with white marble and surmounted by large mosaics signed by Myzin, celebrate the Russian-Ukrainian unity. Both the mosaics and the arches between the pillars are delimited by elaborate gold finishings. At the end of the platform is a portrait of Vladimir Lenin. It was inaugurated on March 19th, 1954.
Brown and Green Lines
Opened in 1938, this station is part of the second stage of the structure of the line. Decorated with Belarusian national motifs, they include the rectangular abutment with pink marble from Birobidjan on the outside and black marble davalu in the passage to the platforms. The bronze floor lamps decorate the niches, and of course, at the end of the wing is the indispensable bust of Lenin.
Over the years this station has undergone modernisations that have slightly altered its original design. The national ornaments of Belarus were replaced by squares of black and grey marble. The walls also covered initially by ceramic plates were replaced by marble.
Glass panels that give the illusion of “melting” the walls form the central theme for this station, also inaugurated in 1952. It was designed by the architect Alexey Dushkin who long wanted to use stained glass as a central feature of one of his underground creations. Dushkin persuaded a renowned artist, Pavel Korin, to compose the 32 panels of glass art works, which served as the basis for the remaining design of the station. Each of these panels is framed by beautiful details made of brass.
Brown and Dark Yellow Lines
Opened on January 30th, 1952, and was designed by architects Vladimir Gelfreykh and Mikhail Minkus. Initially it was called Botanichesky Sad, given the proximity of the Botanic Gardens of Moscow State University. With arches covered in white marble and ceramic embossed friezes made of floral elements – it still keeps the botanical theme. In the center are low-reliefs of medallion portray the theme of agriculture in the Soviet Union. The walls of the station are lined with dark red Ural marble and the floor of the chessboard is made of gray and black granite. The ceiling vault is decorated with molds and the illumination comes from several cylindrical candlesticks.
Navigating In The Metro
Over the years, ticket prices have been increasing, but nonetheless remains fairly cheap and easy to navigate. At the time of publication of this article, each trip purchased at the station costs only 55₽. The most economical way is to buy a rechargeable electronic card (Troika), and top up as you need. Each travel with Troika costs only 36₽ – set price. In the Moscow metro we only validate our tickets at the, not at the exit, so the price is the same regardless of how long or how far you travel.
One must pay attention to the colours of the lines, and the feminine / masculine voices announcing the next seasons are quite useful for navigability as well. Since 2016 the metro has information and announcements in both Russian and English, and the Yandex Metro app is the most functional for navigability (also in Russian and English).
In the Moscow metro you don’t rush to catch the next train: the extraordinary punctuality stands at around 99.9%, and trains depart on average every 90 seconds. There are clocks counting these times at the starting point of each line, so you can attest to this punctuality yourself.
Also, there is free wifi across the entire metro network (as there is on most public spaces across Russia). Access is made by registering your mobile number, with confirmation by SMS, so it is recommendable that you get yourself a Russian SIM card, if you want to be able to use the free wifi everywhere. SIM cards are also available at super competitive fares, in various parts of the city, and it’s easy to get one.
All metro stations are open between 05h30am and 01h00am, and trains run between 06h00am and 01h00am. Within this time it’s recommended that you complete your travels… as I don’t have enough experience myself to tell you what happens outside these hours 🙂