14 October 2009
The People’s Palace
Back in the 1930s Stalin decided Moscow was in need of a metro system, so he demanded one be built (yes, it was that easy). Practically overnight, the underbelly of the city was turned into one of the world’s largest and most extensive metro systems in the world. So fast, in fact, that nothing worked at first. As the story goes, Stalin was riding the first train just days before the planned opening when it suddenly stopped just inches out of the station. The architect froze, thinking this was his time to go. Perhaps surprisingly, Stalin turned, put his arm on the man’s shoulder and said “no problem. Why don’t we work out the problems before opening it, yes?” Close call.
It was finished in 1935 and to do this day remains an architectural marvel. It is as if the Soviet Union took all of its most beautiful art, culture and raw materials and stuck them 250 feet underground for safe-keeping. Gorgeous chandeliers, bronze statues and the world’s largest tile mosaic adorn station after station. It simply takes your breath away.
You might at first find this a bit odd but think about it: what could be more “of the people” than a subway system and what could be more Communist then making the place most exemplary of the common man beautiful beyond reason? What’s even more incredible is the price - 50 cents to ride anywhere in Moscow! Compare that to the $9 value meal at McDonald’s, $10 entry fee to the Kremlin and $80-a-night hostel and you can see why we road the darn thing around for days. Cheap thrills I tell ya. Cheap thrills.