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Notes From the Underground Part III: The Green Line
Text and photos Ray Nayler

For Muscovites, the stations of the Metro can become haunted with memories and associations. There are the stations near where one works, or lives, stations where you met a date, stations forever associated in the mind with types of food, with bars, with a particularly stormy or spring day, or with the New Year, with a chance meeting or a walk in the park. For me, Prospekt Mira station will always carry the melancholy feeling of early, lonely days in Moscow, rainy walks home, the fluorescent yellow fire of maple leaves falling in autumn. But no line is more central to my life in Moscow than the green line, Zamoskvoretskaya. I have lived near two of its stations. In addition, the green line was the first I ever rode, on my first visit to Moscow—boarding at Domodedovskaya and getting off at Teatralnaya—under a pure June sky with the spires of the Kremlin before me.

M. Aeroport

Construction of the green line began, along with the dark blue line, as “Phase 2” of Metro construction, in 1935. The green line opened for service on September 11, 1938, originally extending from Teatralnaya, (which was at the time called Ploshad Sverdlova) to Sokol. In 1943, during the height of the Great Patriotic War, the line was extended to Avtozavodkaya, formerly named Zavod Imeni Stalina. For the purpose of this article, we’ll follow the green line in its 1943 variant, starting at Sokol and riding to Avtozavodskaya, taking in all the original stations along the way.

Sokol, meaning “Falcon,” takes its name from one of the first communal settlements in the Soviet Union, which existed from 1923 to 1930, and counted a number of famous artists, scientists, and educators among its ranks. The construction of Sokol is atypical for the Moscow Metro, with a central platform divided by a single row of graceful, arched columns and a “double-vault” construction. Like many of the early stations, Sokol was built in a neo-classical style, with each column embellished by a wooden bench around its base. But don’t try sitting on these benches during the morning or evening rush, for fear of a fractured kneecap: Sokol was never designed, with its narrow platform and connecting bridges, for the load of passengers it now receives.

M. Paveletskaya

Aeroport, next along the line as we head south, is a beautiful early example of Moscow Art Deco design, with an airy architecture that suits its name. This was the first “single vault” station to be constructed, with a network of intersecting lines, like the contrails of planes overhead, originating from fan-shaped limestone panels alternated with red and brown marble. Also notable is the beautiful metalwork over the arches leading to the platform on either end. The vault of the station was assembled above ground in sections and then lowered to its present location just beneath Leningradskiy Prospekt.

Dinamo, which serves the eponymous sports complex and stadium, is one of the most cave-like of Moscow’s Metro stations, with pylons dimly lit by backlit onyx panels from Armenia in honeyed tones. The pylons are topped with ceramic medallions allegorizing numerous Soviet-era sports, a total of 60 medallions immortalizing 21 sports, for the entire length of the central hall and both platforms.

Belorusskaya serves the eponymous train station, with trains heading west for Minsk and points beyond. However, the station is clad with pink marble from Birobizhan, ironically one of the easternmost areas of the Soviet Union and where a failed attempt by Stalin at establishing a “Soviet Zion” while protecting European Russia from the “scourge” of Judaism. At the blind end of the station, almost hidden in the shadows, is a bust of Vladimir Lenin, more often than not accompanied by a Muscovite with a cell phone to his or her ear trying to finish a conversation in relative privacy before catching the next train.

M. Mayakovskaya

Mayakovskaya is considered by many to be the most beautiful of the stations on the Moscow Metro. The Light, Art-Deco pylons are built not of concrete, but of marble-clad steel, a new technique in the 1930s and one that labeled the architect, Dushkin, as a lunatic by many of his colleagues. The construction of the station in muddy, water-saturated ground appeared to be a disaster from the beginning, with failures in the initial phases, and even a recommendation by foreign consultants to scrap the entire station design, build it deeper underground and in a style similar to Krasnaya Vorota. But the project pushed forward, and the station was completed without a single accident. From its very opening, a game that youths would play at Mayakovskaya (and one you can still see played today) is to press a ruble coin against the grooved stainless steel pylon and push it upwards. If done correctly, the coin will travel up and over the arch, following the steel track all the way down the opposite pylon.

The engineering of Mayakovskaya is impressive. But more impressive, perhaps, is the Art Deco decoration of the station. The 35 steel pylons are clad in pink rhodonite, and in the lighted niches created by each vault, 34 mosaic panels by the artist Aleksandr Deyneka, depict 24 hours in the Soviet Sky, with each Mosaic beautifully illustrating an aerial theme celebrating Soviet advancement.

In keeping to our goal of following the line’s 1943 incarnation, our tour bypasses Tverskaya, which was added to the line in 1979. Tverskaya is worth mentioning as we pass, however. It is the first station in the world added to an already constructed metro line without the interruption of train service, taking advantage of a piece of reinforced straight track that had been set aside for just that purpose during the line’s original construction phase.

Teatralnaya, the original southern terminus of the green line, started its life as Ploshad Sverdlova. The shadows left behind by the original name can still clearly be seen on the walls of the station behind the current Teatralnaya letters. Additionally, there is a plinth at one end of the platform where a bust of Sverdlov stood, though the bust is now gone and Sverdlov’s name clumsily chiseled away. Sverdlov was one of the leaders of the October Revolution and first head of state of Soviet Russia, before the existence of the Soviet Union. He was also integral to the Bolshevik plot to murder Tsar Nicholas and his family. He died in Orel during the 1919 Spanish Influenza outbreak. The white marble of Teatralnaya was taken from the destroyed Cathedral of Christ the Savior, making this a Metro station of many ghosts.

M. Avtozavodskaya

Novokuznetskaya, opened during the Great Patriot War, is suitably laden with panels of the Red Army in combat. Seven hexagonal ceiling mosaics celebrate wartime industry, bas reliefs of a combative Red Army line the ceiling’s base, and bronze portraits of other wartime heroes such as Aleksandr Nevsky and Kutuzov decorate the pylons of this station. The ornamented marble benches lining the platform were removed from the Cathedral of Christ the Savior before its demolition. Unlike other metro stations, which have had their old lighting systems replaced with fluorescent lights, the floor lamps of Novokuznetskaya give the station a shadowy melancholy that befits its opening during one of the bloodiest battles in history: on January 1st, 1943, during the encirclement of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad.

Paveletskaya is a high-traffic station serving the Paveletskiy train station, with trains departing to the southeast of Moscow. The platform has a series of high white columns decorated with the Hammer and Sickle, and a soaring, high ceiling, echoing, in a bombastic style, the much cleaner lines of Mayakovskaya. This station has been drastically rebuilt twice, originally opening as a London Tube-type station, then in 1953 being redesigned as a column-type station. In 1987 the station had to be rebuilt once again following a devastating train fire, during which parts of the station were heavily damaged. Our ride terminates at Avtozavodskaya, another station designed by Dushkin, who was responsible for Mayakovskaya. Originally named “Zavod Imeni Stalina,” The station’s ceiling soars above you, supported by gracefully widening columns clad in light pink Oraktuoy marble. The walls are clad with the same marble, and decorated with enormous mosaic panels of wartime production, including a tank assembly line with a female worker in kerchief, more than vaguely reminiscent of the “We Can Do It” posters circulating in the United States at the same period of time. Avtozavodskaya is named for the ZIL limousine factory nearby, which turned to military vehicle production during the war. But more importantly for me, Avtozavodskaya is home.

Next month we will explore the second half of the Moscow Metro’s “Phase 2”—The Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya, or dark blue Line.

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