VDNKh Exhibition Centre: The Mysterious Solar City
Our route starts here at the All-Russia Exhibition Centre Entrance, also known as VDNKh.
The concept of this trading complex was grandiose: to showcase the power and vision of the Soviet regime. The location was chosen very carefully. Geography, astronomy and geology all played a role. But we'll talk about that later on.
For now, look at the triumphal arch in front of you. It's a great example of Soviet pomp. The metal duet statue that it boasts is entitled "The Tractor Driver and Kolkhoz Woman", named after heroes of socialist labour. The arch is 32 meters high. We're going to walk through it now to enter the complex. Let's go.
My name is Ekaterina, and I'm going to be your guide. This is my neighborhood and I am excited to introduce the place I truly love to you. Its story started in 1939. In the past, VDNKh had pavilions dedicated to a particular industry or field. That could be engineering, atomic energy, arts and many more. And there was a time when the territory of the centre was larger than the country of Monaco. Today, it houses 250 pavilions.
VoiceMap uses your location to play commentary automatically, so you can just put your phone away and focus on your surroundings. I'll give you directions to keep you on track. There might be a bit of silence now and again, but you can just keep walking and my voice will kick in at each location.
The Moscow Wheel
As we walk, look to the right. You'll see The Moscow Wheel in the distance. Before the Ferris wheel in Sochi was built two years before the 2014 Olympics, this was the largest Ferris wheel in Russia. The Moscow Wheel has 40 passenger cars that are open or enclosed. Each rotation takes seven minutes. This Moscow attraction is famous for another record though. One person was able to spend 50 sleepless hours on the wheel.
As you walk, take a look to the left. In the distance, you can see Moscow's Ostankino TV and BC Tower. It's the highest tower in Europe and Asia. It's equipped with observation desks from which you can see the entire city as well as some suburbs on the outskirts of Moscow.
There is also a restaurant complex called “The Seventh Sky” on -- you might have guessed -- the seventh storey. Its tables stand on a circular platform with glass railings, which rotates slowly so visitors have an opportunity to admire the stunning city views.
The Pavilion of Peoples' Friendship
As you walk, look at the big white building in front of you. It's called "The Pavilion of People's Friendship". Initially, it was about the nations inhabiting the Union. Muscovites tend to call it the Central or First Pavilion. On its façade, above the columns, there are 16 metal coins. Each one of them represents a different Soviet Republic.
In front of the building, there's a statue of Lenin. I probably don't need to tell you, but Lenin was a Russian revolutionary. Under his command in 1917, the Russian Empire was dissolved and replaced by the Soviet Union. After his death, Lenin's body was embalmed and put on public display in a mausoleum in the centre of Moscow. The body is still there today and thousands of visitors come to view it throughout the year.
There is another interesting site situated here -- but you can't see it. Underneath the Pavilion of Peoples' Friendship, there's a secret bunker. 300 people can survive in it for a limited number of days and its exit is located right under the monument of Lenin.
Let's turn right here and walk along the front of the building.
Turn left here
Let's turn left here. I'll tell you a bit about the All-Russia Exhibition Centre as we walk.
When the first plans for the complex were proposed, it was suggested that the solar system could be reproduced in its structure. So, just like the planets rotate around the sun, the centre's facilities are arranged around the statue of Lenin.
Apparently, since the layout of the pavilions forms a Christian cross, the complex was also supposed to be a so-called "Soviet heaven".
But that's just gossip. Let's stick to the facts. About 20 hectares of this land were used for seed culture. The idea was to represent various agriculture products of the Soviet Union, so a huge garden was made from forest area. Approximately 10,000 trees were planted.
In 1939, over 3.5 million people visited the complex just after it opened.
Of course, the best companies competed to gain a chance to present their products in one of the trading centre's pavilions. That was an incredible opportunity! Participants were awarded with prizes, including golden medals and even cars and bikes. Not bad for taking part in a national fair, right?
The Peoples' Friendship Fountain
Follow the path to the right, to walk around the circle. As we make our way around, take a look at the fountain in the middle. We have reached one of the central spots in the complex. This is The Peoples' Friendship Fountain. It contains 16 golden statues of women. Like the 16 coins on The Pavilion of Peoples' Friendship, all of them represent the republics of the Soviet Union. They are dressed in gold national costumes. The Soviet Union’s weakness for grandiose things wasn't a myth. This fountain truly highlights this fact. By the way, it was the first fountain in the world to have an illumination system.
Armenia & Karelia Pavilion
Ahead of you, slightly to the right, you'll see the Armenia Pavilion. As you walk, I should tell you that it features some great wine-tasting stalls. If you want to go inside now, you can pick up the tour again at the monument in memory of Boris Yeltsin. To get there, keep following this path and turn right to leave the circle at the next opportunity.
There's also a pavilion with a wooden façade just behind the Armenia Pavilion. It's the Karelia Pavilion. Karelia was one of the Republics of the Soviet Union. Today it's divided between the Russian Republic of Karelia and Finland. The façade of this pavilion was made of stained oak. That's why not one little crack has appeared since it opened 70 years ago.
The 29 surviving pavilions of VDNKh are classified as international historical monuments today. The ones you see on the left are monuments of soviet-era architecture.
Turn right to leave the circle
Now leave the circle by following the closest path to the right.
The "Instability" Monument
As we walk, look to the left. You'll see a modest monument in memory of the first president of Russia, Boris Yeltsin. The monument consists of a slanted column with a jug on top of it. It doesn't look as sublime as the facilities we have already seen in the park. It's called "instability" – a metaphor for the 1990s in Russia. That was when the Soviet Union finally collapsed. The economy was torn to shreds. Yeltsin, who served from 1991 to 1999, is presented as an invisible hero. He tried to maintain a delicate balance in order to keep everything from falling apart. The All-Russian Exhibition Centre was opened up to joint stock enterprise at that time. Most of the pavilions were filled with temporary kiosks and cheap food stalls.
The Stone Flower Fountain
Let's turn left here. You've probably noticed the boastful fountain on your left, in the centre of the square.
It's the biggest fountain of the entire complex and is called "The Stone Flower Fountain". It's lavishly decorated and covered in semi-precious stones. The flower in its centre is made up of countless gemstones.
The fountain also boasts numerous figures of swans, and lots of fruits and vegetables are heaped around its edges. What a luxury! There were also some wild animals placed within the fountain. Later the sculptures were dismantled.
By the way, what kind of flowers are made of stone? Only the magic ones, right? The fountain's composition is based on mythology. There's a famous Russian fairytale about an extremely talented craftsman. He was seeking out inspiration, so he wanted to find the magic stone flower. But that flower was hard to come by. When he eventually found it and reached for it, he was enslaved by the Mistress of the Copper Mountain. The craftsman's romantic partner, Katya, released him. But the evil mistress wiped out the memories of the flower from his mind, so nobody could make a copy of the stone flower.
Enough of fairytales for now though. It's also the first fountain in the world to combine light and music. World-famous Russian composer, Dmitry Shostakovich, wrote his “Festive Overture” specifically for the opening of The Stone Flower fountain in 1954.
The festive fountains’ season here opens with a light and music show by the Moscow City Symphony Orchestra. The musicians sit on an open stage between the two main fountains – "The Peoples' Friendship Fountain" and "The Stone Flower Fountain". At night they are illuminated with coloured light streams.
Turn right towards the Square of Industry
Turn right here. As we walk along the perimeter path of the fountain zone, have a look at the "Ukraine Pavilion" on your right side. It has a shimmering spire on top of it and looks like an Eastern palace.
It's definitely the toniest pavilion of the complex. The building is decorated with sculptures of fruit-bearing maidens and workers. The golden ears of wheat placed along the top of its walls symbolize the Ukraine’s agricultural power.
Let me draw your attention to the current status of administration of this place. Since the dissolution of the Union in 1991, Ex-Soviet Republics are independent countries and states. So each historic pavilion is under the administration of its homeland. Ukraine abandoned its pavilion in 2014. The status of this building remains unclear as the relationships between Russia and Ukraine have become worse with time.
Unlike the central facilities of the complex, this pavilion looks neglected -- despite its flashy decorations. At least it was at the time I created this tour. If it's looking better now, this might be an indication that the relationship between Russia and the Ukraine has improved.
Past the Ukraine Pavilion, slightly to the right, you'll see an upside-down, wooden house. Then a long, glass-walled building on the same side is visible behind the fair zone. As you can see, the building is still under construction. This massive complex will be called the Historic Park: "My History". The building is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015. Its main constant exhibition will be called "Orthodox Russia", and will encompass a broad range of interactive installations and antiques. Some of its halls will be dedicated to the main Russian ruling dynasties. The complex will also feature cinema and conference facilities, and a multimedia lecture hall. So it will definitely fit with the magnitude and pomp of the All-Russia Exhibition Centre!
The centre hosts more than 300 exhibitions, conferences and fairs each year. The International Book Fair is one of them. According to official statistics, the complex annually serves as many visitors as the Egyptian Pyramids do. It's a city within the city of Moscow!
We're heading towards our final location now, the Square of Industry.
Square of Industry & Space Launch Vehicle Vostock
Let's turn right here and walk around the circle. Take a look around. As you can see, the Square of Industry encompasses several magnificent pavilions. On the opposite, far side of the circle, right behind the Space Launch Vehicle "Vostok", is the "Space Pavilion". It's topped with a grand glass cupola.
The pavilions surrounding the circle feature seasonal exhibitions of different themes. With time, they lost much of their former Soviet Union-era significance. When the complex was open in 1939 the objective was to display the achievements of national agriculture, space exploration, electronics systems and other fields. In the 90s, the buildings were closed due to the poor economic state of the complex. Today, the pavilions house exhibitions that are dedicated to the industrial and cultural achievements of the country or urban city development in Moscow. The exhibits change regularly.
You may have noticed that there are also some more facilities located behind the square both on your left-hand side and on the right-hand side. Many visitors love the square because of its indoor attraction centre on your right. You'll find the Museum of Illusions and other leisure zones for the whole family inside.
If you look to the centre of the circle, you'll see one of the most remarkable Soviet-era monuments is still located here. The Space Launch Vehicle "Vostok" is suspended from a huge gantry. Yuri Gagarin circled the earth in this rocket in 1961. That year he became the first human to travel into space. He was also the first man to orbit the earth. By the way, this is just a copy of the spacecraft that took Gagarin up on his first space flight. But not many Muscovites and Russians know about that. Now, you do!
Thank you very much for your attention, my name is Ekaterina and it was my pleasure to show you the All-Russia Exhibition Centre. It's a unique complex and I hope you'll enjoy your time here further. See you in Moscow!