Photo entitled "The First Passengers on the Metro" (1935)

Photo entitled “The First Passengers on the Metro” (1935)


Muscovites marching with a sign that reads, "We have a metro!"

Muscovites marching with a sign that reads, “We have a metro!”

          The sheer delight being experienced by the people present in the photo to right is palpable. I was drawn to it immediately when I saw it on the Seventeen Moments site. It seems that the Moscow Metro system just has a way with making people excited, and understandably so. After a mere two weeks using it, I fell in love. I am now admittedly a metro snob, and when on any other metro system I long for Moscow’s alluring stations, frequent trains, and competent operators.

          Since its opening in 1935, the Moscow Metro system has served an important role in numerous different aspects of Russian life. In a cultural sense, the Metro not only served as a representation of the technological improvements taking place in Russia, but also as a source of pride for all those who believed themselves to be connected to it. In Russia: A History, Gregory L. Freeze discusses the importance of both the capital and its newly created modern transportation system in the Soviet thirties. He writes, “Moscow came to represent ‘the visible face of the Soviet Union…a model for the state, where power radiated out from the centre to the periphery’…The Moscow Metro, a massive engineering project that ‘mocked utility with its stations clad in semi-precious stone’, became an object of not only Muscovite but national pride” (Freeze 361). The pride stemming from the creation of the Metro system can be seen in the other photograph to the right. The slogan, “Есть Метро!”, meaning simply than “We have a metro!”, is evidence enough that the very existence of the metro system was seen as a major accomplishment in the eyes of the people. The esteem to which the metro was held by Muscovites can also be seen in how ardently they worked to establish it. E.J. Gitman, “chief of construction art” for the Arbat Square station, writes of the process behind the creation of that particular metro station. He muses, “I was surprised by the persistence and tenacity of the workers…Moscow proletariat would take on the most difficult, the most honorable part of the job”. The willingness of Russian works to labor so heavily to construct the system, and the pride they took in being a part of its formation, illustrates the cultural implications of the Moscow Metro.

          In addition to influencing Russian culture in the Soviet thirties, the Moscow Metro system had significant implications in other areas of Soviet life. On the site Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, James von Geldern discusses these implications in a subject essay on the Moscow Metro. He writes about “the first line of the subway opening in 1935” and says that the system “has continued to operate since as the finest system in the world…it demonstrated how effectively the socialist state could mobilize itself for great projects”. He goes on to say that, “In time of war it saved them from German bombs; in finer times, it served young people as a place to meet and fall in love. Although none of these things were mentioned in the original plans, they did great credit to the party that built the subway”. Von Geldern’s essay shows that the Moscow Metro impacted Russia by serving as a measure of Soviet competence to the rest of the world, by providing protection during times of war, and by making the political party in power more favorable in the eyes of the public.

Picture I took in the Arbat Square station

Picture I took in the Arbat Square station