The Moscow of today is a bustling metropolis that in most ways resembles any typical western city. However, the recent Soviet past is never far below the surface of this intriguing destination. Here are five Moscow locations that allow the visitor to experience a taste of the communist history that remains very much a living memory to millions.
A visit to the famous Red Square, overlooked by the foreboding Kremlin and the exotic St Basil's Cathedral, is a must for any visitor to Moscow. Impressive though the square is, there is one focal point which is unmissable for all travelers with a sense of history: the tomb of the revolutionary leader Lenin. In past years, there was a constant queue of Russians waiting patiently for their turn to file past the remarkably well-preserved body of the man originally known as Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov - although whether the majority of those paying their respects were doing so willingly remains open to question. Nowadays there are a dwindling number of genuine native mourners, but tourists who wish to view the embalmed Bolshevik should observe a proper sense of decorum under the ever-watchful eyes of the impassive military guards.
No matter how low the living standards of the USSR's citizens, it was an imperative of the Soviet leadership to project an image of success to the outside world, and this Stalin-era subway stop is a prime example of the riches that could be lavished on the Party's favored projects. The Moscow subway system in general is perhaps the most opulent in the world, in distinct contrast to many of the streets above, but Komsomolskaya stands out even among the splendors of its stations. Festooned with chandeliers, Corinthian columns, and Baroque-style ornamentation, Komsomolskaya is a subway station that's more about projecting an image of imperial power than it is simple mass transit.
After the collapse of the USSR, many communist-era statues and monuments across the country were destroyed by the vengeful populace, but many surviving sculptures and remnants have been collected here in a seemingly ad hoc, open air museum. Expect to see around 700 pieces from the huge collection on display at any one time. Situated close to the Park Kultury subway stop, this array of Soviet artifacts is a haunting reminder of a failed regime that until relatively recently seemed to be all-powerful and all-encompassing to its subjects.
Visitors to Red Square may already have paid their respects at the monument to Soviet hero Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space, but an earlier pioneer sadly took rather longer to be commemorated. Stray dog Laika was plucked from the streets of Moscow in 1957 and given the dubious honor of becoming the first living being to orbit the Earth - dubious, as travel was on a strictly one-way ticket. Her space race achievement, however inadvertent, remained officially unacknowledged until a small monument was erected in 2008 on Petrovsko-Razumovskaya Alley in the Aeroport district of the city.
We may live in troubled times, but for sheer paranoia and constant threat of global doom the height of the Cold War still stands alone in history. This huge underground bunker system was built on the orders of Stalin to allow the survival of himself and the senior communist party members in the event of nuclear war. It could sustain 3,000 inhabitants for up to 90 days thanks to its huge stores of food and medical supplies, along with two deep artesian wells to provide fresh water. Top secret at the time, it is now a little more accessible, with public guided tours conducted by guides wearing authentic KGB uniform for that added frisson of Cold War atmosphere.
During the years of the Cold War and the arms race, Moscow remained a city unknown and unknowable to the majority of westerners. Although many traces of the old regime have been wiped away, today's visitor can still catch glimpses of the city's previous identity, making Moscow a fascinating, if sometimes slightly troubling, place to experience.