Sokolniki

Nikolai Galkin/TASS
The historic train, tugging Moscow's first ever Metro car with passengers, pulled out of Sokolniki on May 15, 1935. The design of this station, created by architects Nadezhda Bykova and Ivan Taranov, won the Grand Prix at the 1937 World Exhibition in Paris. Sokolniki Station also crowned one of the earliest victories, scored by the Soviet Metro builders over nature. The Rybinka River, traversing the future Metro line, had to be clothed in concrete, and water had to be pumped out of the quicksand, which constantly threatened deluge.

In their humorous sketch M, published by Pravda on the occasion of the Metro opening, Ilf and Petrov, not without their trademark irony, gave a pretty accurate picture of how Muscovites felt about the Metro. They were blown away:

"Station" is perhaps too modest a word to use here. These are railway palaces. Thirteen palaces clad in marble, granite, copper and multicoloured tiles. You enter the railway palace at the top, and from on high, like a viaduct, passengers take the broad staircases, left and right, to descend onto the platform. We use the word "platform" only to describe the purpose of that place where people board the train. It does not look like a platform at all. It is more akin to a hall in some palace. It is lofty, it is clean, the pillars are of a gentle gray hue, or light pink with darker "veins," the sombre chandeliers give off unblinking milky light, and the walls are polished."

Now that we can compare Sokolniki with the more pompous Metrostroy masterpieces, the station looks like a hymn to understatement with no excesses at all in the finishing, and with the demure blue-gray marble of its rectangular pillars. The station's finishing has remained largely unchanged since 1935, with the exception of one significant element: the lighting. According to the architects' concept, the station was to be illuminated by large spherical lights hanging in between the pillars, plus smaller fixtures right above the tracks, in the caissons of the spans of the lateral naves. All these fixtures provided gentle, diffused illumination, like a swarm of hovering fireflies. Today the station is illuminated with fluorescent lights. It surely looks more "modern" in their bright light, but some of its original charm is gone.