Miniature Soviet Union in the heart of the Russian capital
Despite the rather formal and pompous name, the All-Russian Exhibition Center is a fascinating place. Its sheer size puts to shame some European states, beating the Vatican and Monaco.
It all began in 1935, when Joseph Stalin set out an ambitious plan to rebuild Moscow making it, in the shortest possible time, the showpiece capital of the world’s first socialist state. Some work was done but it soon became clear that Moscow was still far from the longed-for ideal. So instead it was decided to create a life-size model of a perfect city.
Located in what was then Moscow’s suburban marshland, the future center demanded massive construction efforts. Everything was planned down to the smallest detail, so when the site finally opened in 1939 it was two years behind schedule.
The new center proved a booming success. The first exhibition was meant to showcase the Soviet Union’s agricultural achievements. Each pavilion represented one of the union’s republics. The idea was that visitors, walking from one pavilion to another, had a tour of the Soviet Union.
Collective farms from across the Soviet Union competed fiercely for the honor of taking part. The exhibition winners were awarded medals and prizes.
After World War II, construction work started again. Every building had to celebrate the Soviet people’s victory in the war. A brand new entrance – the Triumphal Arch – sprang up, topped by a sculpture of a worker and a female collective farmer that fast became the exhibition’s symbol. Each pavilion was now dedicated to a key Soviet industry: Timber Industry, Atomic Energy or Shipbuilding.
The center’s look has not changed much since then. After you pass the main entrance, a fountain-lined alley leads to the “Central” pavilion, crowned with a star. There is also a statue of the leader of the Revolution, Vladimir Lenin, nearby.
The square behind is dominated by a massive fountain, called “The Friendship of the Peoples,” where statues of young women in national costume represent the Soviet republics. It is quite a challenge, though, to work out which woman represents which republic.
Further on there is another fountain, “The Stone Flower,” inspired by a collection of enchanting fairy-tales based on the legends of the Urals. Then you get to the “Aerospace” pavilion built to celebrate Soviet space exploration. There is even a copy of the “Vostok” launch vehicle used by Yury Gagarin, the first man in space.
In Soviet times, an entire day was not enough to see the grandiose complex. Visitors even took special buses to travel around it. However, when the Soviet Union collapsed so did the display of its achievements. Many pavilions fell into decay and were rented out, with the exhibition becoming a giant money-making machine.
Now the center is a monster market and a bargain hunter’s paradise. Yet its original purpose has not been entirely lost: hundreds of international exhibitions are held here every year. Moreover, it has also reinvented itself as a unique leisure centre: it is considered one of the best places in Moscow for rollerblading and cycling.