Imagine a grand hall with monumental chandeliers, marble columns and high ceilings – porcelain figures with gold-plated details gracing the ceilings, and bronze figures lining the columns. Imagine intricate mosaics within ornate relief frames, and illuminated stained glass. I bet you didn’t imagine any of this up to 84 meters underground, though.
What I’ve described above isn’t a palace or a castle or a cathedral. It’s Moscow’s metro system – famously the most beautiful metro system in the world, and it is nothing short of palatial. In fact, it is even nicknamed ‘The People’s Palace.’
We arrived in Moscow about two weeks ago with the Red Square, onion-domed cathedrals, and FIFA on our mind. We had no idea of the existence of ‘the People’s Palace’ and we had no intention of spending around 2 hours in one of the world’s deepest underground systems in the middle of a summer’s day – much less paying for it. But it quickly became clear that it was one of the must-see Moscow things, and so we met up with the guys from Moscow Free Tours at 3PM to descend underground.
Having been built in the mid-20th century, the metro system is the ultimate form of propaganda, instilled with images of a contributive community, victory in war, and the idea of ‘a radiant future’ via communism. The communist party even took up residence in the Mayakovskaya station during Word War II, and since the cold war it has been fitted with technology to effectively serve as a nuclear shelters. It is lavish and rich, and more importantly super efficient. Even today, you rarely have to wait more than 90 seconds for train.
With the historic Red Arrow between Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and the famous trans-Siberian rail, we already suspected that trains are central to life in Russia. But if you had any doubts that Russia is a train-centred society, the opulence of the underground will quickly convince you.
The underground tour quickly became the highlight of our short stay in Moscow, even being crowded with all the FIFA fans. Sure, you could just buy a metro ticket and check it out yourself, but it really comes alive when a local who knows can tell you the stories and myths and point out the details.
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Take a tour everyday with Moscow Free Tours at 3PM. €31, includes the metro tickets.
We also took their actual free tour, which is every day at 10.45AM and it was awesome!
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