Does your Moscow trip center around Red Square? Does your excursion to St.Petersburg include the obligatory day spent at the Hermitage? First, of all – great! Why not visit the classic attractions that Russia’s two principal cities have to offer? While you’re at it: cruise the Golden Ring too.
However, it’s worth being aware of other, more obscure locations that don’t fit the mainstream tourist mould. These can add a little relief to a visit that ticks-off the expected boxes – or may even attract travellers with a wholly different agenda in mind.
For example, I find myself repeatedly drawn to the relative simplicity and poverty of Russia’s ancient wooden structures – more so than the grandiose opulence of St.Petersburg’s imported neoclassical style. There’s no right or wrong of course; it’s simply a matter of personal taste.
With that in mind, let’s examine a few places whose ‘taste’ is a little different to the flavour of most tourist brochures.
Bunker 42 – Going underground
Possibly the most diametrically opposite to a Golden Ring tour as conceivable, this location really has something unique to offer the inquisitive, the alternative and the non-claustrophobic. Cold War buffs and 20th Century historians will get a kick out of it too.
Commencing with a brief in 1949, at the start of East-West atomic brinkmanship, the Bunker’s core structure was hastily designed and subsequently completed during 1952. By 1954 – following the installation of environmental support and control systems- chosen surface dwellers from military and civilian life started their employment within the fake-lit catacombs, in preparation for the coming nuclear apocalypse.
One of the most remarkable achievements – aside from the structure itself- is the total secrecy in which the operation was executed – deep under central Moscow too! It’s depth of 65 metres was considered “safe” from the relatively archaic weaponry of the era, whilst it’s Taganka locale, handy for a mad dash from the Kremlin, should things upstairs go pear-shaped in a big way.
Front row seats
Having made the pre-nuclear sprint, the Russian executive – headed by Stalin himself- would be positioned to watch the end of the world in comfort and safety whilst the dull rumble of atomic thunder filtered down through the hardened ceiling. Bunker 42 was not only a refuge but also the Soviets ultimate command post.
It was fully equipped to control surface hostilities or broadcast unheard messages to a silent continent of ash, above. Finally, words of patriotic compassion to remote submarines and strategic bombers: having birthed their missile loadout and waiting out their time, fatally divorced from the remains of the Motherland.
The bones of futures lost
Although the bunker was the last command post up until 1986, it’s capabilities as a safe haven had long since been surpassed by the weapons of the time. In the event of a nuclear exchange: it’s final role would then (and now) be as a convenient, collective tomb for all assembled members of the Russian parliament. So with this realisation – and the later dissolution of the USSR – the facility was left as a somber anachronism and later: a tourist attraction for all ages! What would Stalin say?!
Next week we look at some of the attractions in this most alternative of theme parks. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. Dodge the missiles until next time.
Photo by Fastboy [CC BY-SA 3.0]