Russia XI: Moscow Metro Part 3

Today we discuss a grand metro station that boasts heavy Baroque influence, elaborate chandeliers and intricate political medallions decorating its yellow ceilings – Komsomolskaya metro. Komsomolskaya lies on the Koltsevaya Line; this line is dedicated to the record of victory over Nazi Germany and post-war labour efforts. Yet Komsomolskaya stands out from the overarching themes with its main focus as a speech conducted by Lenin. Regardless of political views, one will be able to feel strongly for the struggle for independence portrayed in this station that looks more like a museum than a subway (or more like a museum than a museum does!) There’s more to the station than I can share here – you might want to walk through a passage (much like a bunker!) to an adjacent station (on Sokolnicheskaya line), and emerge in a modern-looking station starkly different from Komsomolskaya station! Make sure you’ll spend some time visiting the museum stations of Russia on your visit!

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Note: Some other stations of interest are:
Novoslobodskaya Metro Station (stained glass decorations)
– Mayakovskaya Metro Station (strong pre-WWII influence, brightly lit and wide)
– Elektrozavodskaya Metro Station (homage to pioneers of electricity and ceilings are lined with millions of lights)
– Prospekt Mira Metro Station (agricultural theme and situated near the Botanical Gardens)

Russia X: Moscow Metro Part 2

As a natural progression from the last mention of Arbat Street, I guess it wouldn’t come as a surprise for my discussion of Arbatskaya – the second largest (and deepest) metro station in Moscow, initially built as a bunker. Arbatskaya station almost has no corners – not literally – the walkways feature ornate white ceilings and arches with simple “Stalinist baroque” designs. Interestingly there are two stations of the same name on different lines. These ones in the photos are of the newer Arbatskaya on the Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya Line (the other is on Filyovskaya Line). If anyone knows the history behind this dual-naming situation, please share it with us!!

Another station worthy of mention would be the Ploshchad Revolyutsii Metro Station. The name would translate to “Revolution Square”, and this station is one not to be missed. Starkly different in style from Arbatskaya and Kievskaya that appear more like a heritage tour in a castle, Ploshchad Revolyutsii station looks like a modern museum. It is decorated with colourful marble and 76 bronze statues, depicting the people of Russia, flanking the arches. Some say that rubbing the nose of the bronze dog statue would bring good luck. I guess this gives me good reason to head back to Moscow!

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Next post – a station with yellow ceilings, intricate mosaics of military and history, one that is regarded as the most beautiful of Moscow …

Russia IX: Moscow Metro Part 1

It all seems mysterious and it doesn’t sound like the most luxurious way to travel. But when in Moscow – take the Metro. The luxury isn’t in the comfort of the seats or transport system – it’s in what you see. There’s so much cultural influence and history in each station I’ll almost like to write a book about it. Isn’t it amazing how each stop you make will bring different flavours of Russia’s history to life?

With insufficient knowledge of every station, history and art at this stage, allow me to share some pictures I took at the various stations. Let’s start with Kievskaya Metro Station. (The first picture isn’t Kievskaya, FYI.)
Kievskaya, with a strong baroque style, boasts colourful mosaics that line the ceilings and a grand mural at the end of the subway depicting civil scenes from Soviet history. Each mosaic portrays scenes of daily life in the USSR. This station was the first Moscow subway station to be completed after Stalin’s reign and was named after the capital of Ukraine.

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More to come in the next posts soon!

Russia VIII: More Peter the Great

As if unsatisfied by the previous comparison of Peter the Great vs Peter the Great, I decided to come back with more. Heading south of the Kremlin on the Moscow River, a prominent statue sits on the river bank – one with a great sailor on a tiny ship – standing as one of the tallest outdoor statues in the world.

Strange stories surround this statue created by Zurab Tserateli.
Many have complained about the inappropriateness of this statue in proximity to the architecture around it. Others have identified a lack of relation between the Moscow Fleet to the River. Even more (in fact a common story told when you visit the Moscow River) claimed that the statue was meant to be one of Christopher Columbus! That didn’t quite come as a surprise to me – looking at the composition of attire and action, one would indeed suspect so. So the story goes that Tserateli removed the head of Columbus’ and replaced it with that of Peter’s, leaving the original construct as it was! It may well look a little odd and despite attempts to blow up the statue, it is still worth the visit. Remember to check it out on your next trip to Moscow!

Russia V: Sergiyev Posad

After a lot of time spent in Moscow, it was almost imperative that I took a look at what was left of medieval Russia, a lot of which had been subdued by war and ideological differences. 70km North-East of Moscow and heading towards Yaroslavl, one would arrive at Sergiyev Posad, symbolised largely by the Trinity Lavra – one of Russia’s greatest monasteries established by St Sergius of Radonezh (also the Orthodox Church’s highly-venerated saints).

My memory fails me a little at this, but I could give a little story about St Sergius, originally baptised with the name Varfolomei. Varfolomei and his brother Stefan took off to lead an ascetic life after their parents’ death in the Makovets hills. He continued his stay in the forest as a hermit even after Stefan left for Moscow and eventually more monks came to settle around him to live by their own labour. After he had been ordained to priesthood, his disciples spread his teachings across Russia, resulting in many other establishments of monasteries. A settlement grew, resulting in what is known a Sergiyev Posad (a posad is a semi-urban settlement surrounded by moats and connects to a town or monastery). A self explanatory name, Sergiyev Posad grew in commemoration of St Serguius. St Sergius had little involvement in politics, but historians believed that his stance was a peaceful unity of Russian lands.

Today, the Trinity Lavra of St Sergius stands as a most important spiritual monastery of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Trinity Cathedral with its golden globes shimmer in magnificence from afar and one might note that after the 1917 Russian Revolution, the lavra was closed and buildings were assigned to civic/government use or declared as museums, just as the Tsar Bell had been destroyed. The lavra was returned to the Orthodox Church for a brief period under Stalin in 1945. The interior of each monastery is grand and eye-opening, which you will have to see for yourselves as you visit due to strict no-photography rules. Due to the many pictures I wish to put here, I’ve inserted a gallery instead, enjoy!

Religious beliefs aside, a visit to Russia should never neglect the numerous monasteries that hold so much history we’ve never heard of. Another interesting monastery is the Danilov Monastery sitting on the right bank of the Moskva River in Moscow and its bells were saved from melting through the purchase of an American industrialist. Many other interesting stories surround the religious buildings of Russia – if politics, religion and history does not interest you, maybe the architecture will. There’s always something to look out for in this wonderful country.

Russia IV: The Tsar Bell & Tsar Cannon

Who else but Russia could claim that they have the largest bell in the world?

Moscow is home for the world’s largest bell – also known as Tsar Kolokol (Royal Bell), which stands over 6metres tall on the grounds of the Kremlin, between Ivan the Great Bell Tower and the Kremlin Wall. This great bell was however, never rung, as it was broken during casting (How cool is that? We can now boast of the largest bell in the world that was never rung and can never be rung again!).

Back to the main story. This bell was commissioned by Empress Anna Ivanovna. The earlier Tsar Bells were all destroyed by misfortunes – the First Generation Tsar Bell stood within the original Ivan the Great Bell Tower, but which crashed to the grounds in a fire. The pieces were maintained and used to build the Second Generation Tsar Bell – again to be destroyed in a fire. The bell that you see in these pictures are the Third Generation Tsar Bell, much heavier and larger than its predecessors. This third bell sees relief work on the exterior depicting Jesus Christ, Russian rulers and other patron saints. However, during its creation, overheating caused a fire and a series of attempts to put out the fire resulted in severe cracks. What we see henceforth, is a major crack in the bell and a 11,500kg broken segment of the bell resting by the main structure today. The bell remained in its crafting pits for centuries and Napoleon had even threatened to move it to France as a trophy in 1812. He failed to do so, because of the sheer size of the structure. Interestingly, the bell had once served as a chapel.

Another structure that stands nearby is the Tsar Cannon. While the cannon isn’t of real functional use, it stands as a grand symbol also on the grounds of the Moscow Kremlin. According to history of its original locations, the Tsar Cannon was planned to be used to protect the East of Kremlin, but was moved later to the Arsenal. The Cannon has never been used in war.

This short write-up doesn’t suffice to explain the beauty and historical value I saw in the Tsar Bell and Tsar Cannon – I got home and started sketching each of them on various occasions. If time permits, visit Russia and see this for yourselves!

Russia III: Arbat Street

As I ran through my photo albums today I was instantly captivated by some very vibrant pictures in an album that isn’t exactly colourful. Exactly – the pictures of Arbat Street caught my eye amidst all other photos I took in Russia. This isn’t to say that Russia is a dull country – it isn’t! The architecture tends to be earthy and sterile in most cases, and photos are beautiful in summer, the white nights or in deep winter where the country boasts a curiously melancholic feel.

Regardless, here I wish to share some of the photos I took from Arbat Street.
Arbat Street extends for about 1km for pedestrians in Moscow. It is said to be one of the oldest streets of Moscow and used to accommodate prestigious nobility and high-ranking officials. Technically speaking, Arbat Street has been re-built after its destruction in the 1800s when Napoleon occupied Moscow. There is an Old Arbat and a New Arbat, but given my nature of loving things of the past, lets look a little more at Old Arbat hereon.

Arbat Street today is occupied by historic buildings (it really is only a few hundred metres away from the Red Square), along which you will see a blue building on No.53 – The Pushkin Museum. Artists and performers came to Arbat Street as a congregation area for craftsmen, leveraging its strategic location on a main trade-route. Arbat Street as it might appear, soon became a popular living area for academics and middle classes who took to its less extravagant nature as the richer nobles left for a more developed and splendid living style elsewhere.

Walking down Arbat Street was an entirely different experience from that in the Red Square – street performers, craft stalls and cafes ran down the two sides of the walkway and everything was vibrant, lively and colourful. While the history of the streets linger, a joyful spirit pervades the street. You will see as you walk on, a monument of Okudzhava (briefly, a poetic songwriter who founded a Russian genre “author-song”) on No.43 marking where he stayed, a gold Princess Turandot Fountain standing before the Vakhtangov Theatre (briefly, Vakhtangov is a Russian actor and director) and many other interesting sights. Pop into the beautiful Arbatskaya station and take a ride off to somewhere else in Moscow after that!

Touristy, maybe. Commercialised, definitely. I’m not for the F&B along Arbat Street and I don’t suppose you need to spend a cent there (though I now regret not getting some of the beautiful crafts for collection purposes), but it doesn’t harm to take a walk down the street and look at Russia’s art scene from a different perspective.

Russia II: The Red Square Part 4

So what’s been missing from the picture? If you’ve been following through from Part 1 til now, you might notice the starkly different architectural style that has been gathered on the Red Square. This time on the East of the Red Square (i.e. on the right of the State Historical Museum – remember on the left of the State Historical Museum stands Lenin’s Mausoleum) we see this:

The GUM (pronounced goom) is an acronym for the Russian equivalent of the “state universal store” and is the main department store for many international brands. Facing the Red Square, the GUM’s 242metres facade gives the Red Square yet another architectural wonder to boast of. Prior to the 1920s, the GUM was known as “upper trading  rows” and it was again, a unique and opulent building of its time, with its glass ceilings that looked nothing like the construction of St Basil’s Cathedral or the State Historical Museum. The GUM’s interior design is worthy of a visit even if you do not wish to splurge on the “exhibition of prices”. The GUM holds three rows of shop, each built on three levels. Some walkways doors act as dividers for the long rows of shops – it’s like walking from a chamber to the next – but there is no real division in the building, hence the extremely extended facade in the pictures above.

By 1917, the building hosted 1200 stores and was later nationalised, after which, a brief period saw to Stalin’s conversion of the GUM into his office space – I would have too, liked a little spot as my office in the brilliant building! I’m not a shopper, but this is one place you don’t want to miss when in the Red Square – even if it’s just to look at the wonderful architecture.

Moving on to some other other areas of the Red Square that I found interesting:
I had imprudently given little attention to the Resurrection Gates & the Iveron Chapel that you’ll pass through to enter the Red Square (there’s just so much history in this Square you couldn’t give attention to every part of it!), so here’s a little mention.

The Resurrection Gate symbolised by twin steeples used to have two golden double-headed eagles representative of Imperial Russia – but which was demolished during Stalin’s era to make way for none other than military demonstrations – heavy vehicles driving through the Square. Today what stands in its place is a replica. Between the doorways of the Gates stands the Iveron Chapel – originally a small wooden chapel that is today seen as a blue star-studded dome.

A bronze plaque marked on the ground signified Russia’s Kilometre Zero in Moscow – considered to be the centre of Moscow and is close by to the State Historical Museum. It is common to see many people standing on the Zero Kilometre medallion, throwing coins over their shoulders as they make a wish.

Enough said, I hope this has spurred some interest in visiting the area or giving some kind of orientation to the Square. There was just so much to learn about Moscow that it was imperative for me to start some kind of documentation for at least the Red Square. I must have missed many others and failed to do justice to the beauty of its history, so please share with me what you know too! Most importantly, remember to look out for these when you next visit!

Russia II: The Red Square Part 3

Nobody goes to Russia without looking at the Red Square in entirety. Having looked at the North of the square with the State Historical Museum, the (West?) where Lenin’s Mausoleum stands, let’s now look at the South of the Red Square.

South of the Red Square, one sees a very more colourful and vibrant scene, signified by none other than St Basil’s Cathedral. St Basil’s Cathedral is a Russian Orthodox Church (it has a much longer name – Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat) and marks the centre of Moscow. The Cathedral was erected in 1550s as ordered by Ivan the Terrible and interestingly, was the origin of “Red” Square’s name. The Russian word красно could be translated into English as red, or beautiful. The Cathedral, with its dazzling colours and unique architecture that was unparalleled in its years, was a beautiful addition to the state. The meaning of красно was shifted across time to mean “Red”, describing both ideology and the vast amount of red brickworks around the Square.

A statue stands in front of St Basil’s cathedral – looking oddly out of place, but not reducing the appeal factor of the Cathedral. Maybe it’s the colours, or just its unique architecture that makes the Cathedral nothing like the surroundings, that one will be instantly captivated by its magnificence. Anyway,  the statue dates back to 1818 and is known as the Monument to Minin & Pozharsky. Minin (standing) and Pozharsky (seated) had in 1612 contributed to the end of the Time of Troubles by driving Polish invaders out of Moscow. This statue stood originally in the middle of the Red Square as decided by Tsar Alexander I. However, with a regime change, the new government chose to use the Square for parades that demonstrated their military prowess, hence the statue was moved to where it stands today. Another interesting piece of history (I hope I remember correctly) – As many buildings were ordered to be restructured or removed, St Basil’s Cathedral was no exception, but with much protests that included even Stalin’s resistance to the destruction of the Cathedral, we can now see this amazing architecture as it is today.

In my next post – we finally move towards the East of the Red Square…

Russia II: The Red Square Part 2

Continuing from my previous post on the State Historical Museum, I wish to again talk about the Red Square and its amazing history. Next up on the discussion list is none other than Lenin’s Mausoleum. Lenin’s Mausoleum might be familiar to most – it is situated on the left of the State Historical Museum, taking the foreground of a yellow domed Senate Building that stands behind the kremlin walls, with the Senate Tower built right into the walls.

Lenin’s Mausoleum is the resting place (as of now), for Lenin’s embalmed body. The mausoleum is open for visitors – I recalled awaiting at the entrance of the mausoleum as solemn guards took their position inside the dark space. Much respect had to be shown – typically all electronic equipment were checked, and no photography, videos, etc were allowed. After a series of serious checks, watchful eyes followed as you enter. A surreal silence pervaded despite the many people walking in line into the mausoleum. I was intrigued  as historical facts raced in my mind  … but let’s leave that for you to experience when you visit Moscow.

For those who might wish to visit, you might want to know before-hand that you should never stick your hands in your pockets, fold your arms, wear a hat/hoodie or whatever when entering the mausoleum. I recall a Russian friend telling me to “keep your hands to yourselves” and not touch even the inner walls within. This clearly is no surprise – as in every state, ideology or the likes of it, one must show respect to others’ culture, belief and history. Notably, the State went through extensive measures to preserve the body and restore the mausoleum alike. As a note of history, the original mausoleum was that of typical wood, only converted to a stone tomb in the 1930s. The body has also been carefully preserved with great scientific means that I shall not (and cannot, with my limited scientific knowledge) discuss here.

Stalin shared the tomb from 1953 – 1961 until de-Stalinization began during Khrushchev’s era – his body was then re-buried at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. Tombs of various prominent figures such as Kalinin, Brezhnev, Andropov and more line the Kremlin Wall behind the Mausoleum – a sight one could not miss after exiting the mausoleum.

Years have passed and many have debated the burial of Lenin in ground. I am conflicted in my opinion for that. The mausoleum stands in magnificence, reminding many of the history of Russia and beyond; but a man has got to be put to rest in peace. We’ll leave the decision to those who have the power to make it – but for those of you who might be interested to visit – don’t wait no more!