My nature gravitates to the wonderful haphazardness  of  places that have evolved over time – through layer on layer of human decisions about what to build in this space, in this generation.  A controlled and enforced environment immediately arouses my inner anarchist.

But –  shock horror – I may have uncovered a streak of inner Stalin.    Before you do it, let me denounce myself.  Of course he was an abomination, a mass murderer, a megalomaniac. I admire nothing about him … except…. there’s that little glimmer… how would it be, to be able to decree the shape and design of things based on a philosophy?

This thought arose from two consecutive days in Moscow, when we had two quite different experiences of the “underground”  –  the Moscow Metro, and the Novodevichy Cemetery.

There are more parallels than just in the pun.

The first stations of the Moscow Metro were opened in 1935.   Wikipedia has a great entry, which covers not just the technicalities – but also the philosophical base.  It’s worth a read – especially the sections on Glorification, Mobilisation and Social Engineering.  But the Local Version, as explained to us by our guide as we piled on and off the carriages in the breath-taking stations, was that Stalin believed that the workers should have the experience of being in palaces for the people, as they made their way to and from work.

So those first 13 stations were miracles of marble, of light and reflection.  The light-fittings are stunning.

Marble from the demolition of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour got recycled into this more glorious purpose.

Then as more lines were added, you get themes emerging … the station that celebrates the addition of the Ukraine to the Soviet Union ..and the one which has bronze statues of heroes, including farm workers, sports people, a glorification of ordinary folk  …

Once Russians built churches to celebrate great events.  I guess it’s just a continuation of the tradition.

See the gleam on the hunter’s dog’s nose – it’s patted for luck.

I’ll put more photos below this post.

Now the Metro has something like 9 million passengers per day.  You pay 28 roubles (less than a NZ dollar) for travel as far as you want to go.

Looking at the our fellow travellers (that expression has a different resonance here), I think it was only us goggle-eyed tourists who were actively noticing the art and architecture; the locals were buried in their iPods or that protective cocoon we grow when we’re too close to too many strangers.

But still it seems to me that at a subliminal level we are affected by the environment we’re travelling through, and I hope that the workers are still having their souls lifted by beauty.


And so to the Cemetery.   It’s the Novodevichy Cemetery, outside the walls of the 16th Century Novodevichy Convent.

It had been a cemetery since the end of the 1800’s  –  but  –  Stalin had ideas.  He was busy demolishing medieval monastries, and their evicted famous remains needed somewhere to go… so the Cemetery was redeveloped into a place of monumental symbolism.

Andrei Tupolev – aircraft designer

Over the last 80 years, 27,000 significant and famous people have been buried or re-buried here

– and you need to be judged as very special to get among the last remaining spaces.


What intrigued me was the way the monuments are used to define the spirit of the times and the people.

The amount of military hardware sculpted in stone!

And then not far away – hands holding a red crystal marked the grave of a heart surgeon.   (Aleksandr Bakulev)

Krushchev captured in the sculptor’s revenge

And the ironies.  Khrushchev disliked cubism, and publicly criticised the sculptor Neizvestny’s work. Guess who was commissioned to do his memorial – and what style was used.

Boris Yeltsin – a quick learner –  dictated the form of his own memorial:  a depiction of the Russian flag.

Special for me, was finding the sculpture of the founder of Circus Nikulin, which we’d visited the night before. His dog was sculpted near him – and fresh flowers showed he had frequent visitors.

Circus founder and friend

Raisa Gorbachev always has flowers too.

She is sculpted with her favourite lilacs – and there is a real affection for the first of the fashionable Russian First Ladies.

Depending whether you were drawn down a lane of dancers and musicians – or a lane of generals (there seem to be more of the latter) – you got another glimpse into the complexity and contradictions that mark this place.

And perhaps what we see now in both the Metro and the Cemetery is the natural evolution of a dictated environment into one that’s shaped by the people who now populate it.

“Was Lenin relegated down to the back of this Station?” we asked. “No, he’s always been been here.”

Once police and dogs may have produced anxiety. Now a dog-training exercise provides reassurance.
Decoration in the Kiev style

The stained glass throughout this station is to evoke the great Russian Houses