It’s an underground city

Metro Museum director Viktor Chervyakov connects the metro's history and cultural significance to its everyday use of getting from home to work. Photo: Denise Kopyciok

Touring the museum alongside Viktor, the paintings to the left and the artificial window to the right look exactly the same as the ones at the real Avtovo metro station. Victor Chervyakov is the director of the museum. He’s been in the metro business since 1971. However, here at Primorskaya on Vasilyevsky Island, there is no underground palace but St. Petersburg’s metro museum — above the ground. It builds its repository by collecting important items from the metro system.

“For us what is valuable is that our museum is not only a place where we are showing machinery and architecture. The museum is also an institution of the social and historical memory of our staff,” Victor points out. With a smile and his tablet to operate the interactive elements during his tour, he is virtually leading us through the metro’s history: Pictures from the past, a collection of metro tokens and a recreation of old and new metro stations and their entrances.

“All of this is going to be history,” he tells us, “In a hundred years, we are coming back to look at it.”

For Victor, it is crucial to retain the spirit of metro’s history especially in big cities such as St. Petersburg where the metro system is an important mode of transport.

Well, every person spends a year, I guess, several hundred hours in the metro. It is, so to say, an underground city.

An underground city, still in progress and susceptible to change. Victor guides us to a small office at the end of a long hallway.

“These are bas-reliefs which were removed from metro stations in St. Petersburg,” he explains.

“This is Stalin.”

Of the four bas-relief sculptures that are kept in the Metro Museum, one is of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Source: Denise Kopyciok
Of the four bas-relief sculptures that are kept in the Metro Museum, one is of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
Source: Denise Kopyciok

The bas-relief of Stalin was originally at Stalinskaya metro station. But in 1960s, in times of the de-Stalinisation, the metro was renamed to today’s Narvskaya. The Stalin bas-relief was moved to a small office in the museum, away from public eye. Today there is only one underground artwork with Stalin left – at Ploshchad Vosstaniya, where he stands behind Lenin.

Victor Chervyakov points out the painting of the one and only mention of Stalin in the entire metro system. The Metro Museum has an installation of the same artwork which can be found at Ploshchad Vosstaniya. Source: Denise Kopyciok
Victor Chervyakov points out the painting of the one and only mention of Stalin in the entire metro system. The Metro Museum has an installation of the same artwork which can be found at Ploshchad Vosstaniya. Source: Denise Kopyciok

We follow him down a fake escalator. He stops and turns around: “Did you know, the women who are sitting by the escalators are exploited cruelly,” he starts.

“Do you know how?”, he eagerly looks at us.

“They are pedalling to transport the passengers!“ Victor smiles mischievously, proud of his joke.

As we follow Viktor further, a wall painting of old wagons transform into new ones.

“Do you know who this is?”, he points at a wagon where a man is sitting next to the window, reading a newspaper.

“Is it Gorbachev maybe?”

Victor laughs. “No, no,” he shakes his head, “that is me!”

Metro Museum director Victor Chervyakov talks about his passion for the metro system.
Source: Fann Sim

He taps on his tablet and a loud sound of trains passing starts. Then the wall wagon painting becomes vague and the sound stops. The wagons disappear past a certain point on the wall; the colours get dark, then black and white with golden stars – like a picture of space.

“Do you know what this is?” Victor asks, “This is transport in the future,” he smiles and points at the dark wall, “it’s teleportation!”

Victor’s favourite metro station is Pushkinskaya, “there is a breeze of poetry. There is a garden, nature and, sure our great Pushkin. He was one of the first one to mention the metro!” The great statue of Pushkin underground is right at the end of the platform in front of a big garden painting.There are always fresh flowers next to the statue. Rumour has it that the cleaning ladies are in love with Pushkin and place new flowers every day.

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