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A Tourist’s Guide to Stalin’s USSR

This little clutch of maps and guides was acquired in 1936 by a British tourist in Stalin’s USSR. Some of them bear the original owner’s dated inscription, ‘W. Hackett, 22.12.36’. I’ve encountered some of these publications individually before, and discussed them here.

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The star of the show for me might, at first glance, look like the least prepossessing of the bunch: a scrappy little map of the Moscow Metro, printed in two colours. But it is one of the first maps of the Moscow Metro, probably the earliest in English, and a real rarity.

Before returning to that, let’s examine the assembly as a whole, as it appears to be representative of what a visitor to 1930s Russia might reasonably have obtained. Most of the material was printed for Intourist, the Soviet agency established in 1929 to promote the USSR’s image overseas. Stalin’s Russia wasn’t a closed country by any means, although many western visitors arrived as part of delegations sent by trade unions and other sympathetic groups.

Intourist (L.A. Block, ed.): Pocket Guide to the Soviet Union - Maps of Moscow and Leningrad Moscow: Vneshtorgisdat, 1932

Intourist (L.A. Block, ed.): Pocket Guide to the Soviet Union – Maps of Moscow and Leningrad Moscow: Vneshtorgisdat, 1932

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The main English-language guide has sections covering economic geography, the Five Year Plan, and labour legislation as well as more conventional descriptive text about the USSR and its principal cities. Issuing the city plans of Moscow and Leningrad separately – in their own printed wrappers – was convenient for sightseeing, but they have frequently become separated from the main publication (which calls for four maps, and is often described as defective).

Getmansky, Mikhail; for Intourist: Moscow Pictorial Street map Moscow: Editions Vnechtorgisdat c. 1936

Getmansky, Mikhail; for Intourist: Moscow Pictorial Street map Moscow: Editions Vnechtorgisdat c. 1936

Getmansky’s pictorial plan of Moscow is a fairly typical tourist map, listing hotels and cultural attractions. Getmasnky was a graphic artist and illustrator who designed book covers and illustrations for magazines and children’s books as well as a travel guide to the Soviet Union issued by Intourist in 1936. A few more biographical details are available here.

This map was also issued in a French language version, as pictured in our earlier post. In terms of date, the Monument to Minin and Pozharsky was moved from the centre of Red Square to its present site in front of St Basil’s Cathedral in 1936, as shown on the map. The Hotel Novomoskovskaya was converted into a residential hostel for the Department of Foreign Policy in 1939, and to narrow down the date range even further, the map also shows ‘October’ or Oktyabrsky Railway Station (Moscow’s oldest, opened as Nikolaevsky in 1849), which was renamed Leningradsky Railway Station in 1937.

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L. Perchik’s ‘The Reconstruction of Moscow’, 1936; ‘Leningrad’, published by the Park and Palace Department of Leningrad Soviet, 1934.

L. Perchik’s ‘The Reconstruction of Moscow’, 1936; ‘Leningrad’, published by the Park and Palace Department of Leningrad Soviet, 1934.

Our Intourist traveller also acquired L. Perchik’s ‘The Reconstruction of Moscow’, published by the Co-operative Publishing Society of Foreign Workers in 1936, and a 1934 guide to Leningrad, published by the Park and Palace Department of Leningrad Soviet. 

Intourist: Map of the Moscow Metro (Subway) - The Moscow Metro Moscow: Editions Vnechtorgisdat, Moscow Seventh Printery c. 1935-36

Intourist: Map of the Moscow Metro (Subway) – The Moscow Metro Moscow: Editions Vnechtorgisdat, Moscow Seventh Printery c. 1935-36

Our Moscow Metro map measures 18.5 x 8.5 cms. No printer or place of printing is given, but it appears to have been issued with a 24 page English language Intourist booklet published in Moscow by Editions Vnechtorgisdat, to commemorate the opening of the Moscow Metro. This booklet, in gold-coloured wraps and containing numerous sepia-tinted illustrations, extols the wonders of the Moscow Metro with  its magnificent marble-clad ‘underground palaces’ which were ‘built by the workers for the workers’, all at ‘record speed’ to create ‘the best in the world’.  Hyperbolic prose, but celebrating a remarkable engineering feat. The map is described by Mark Ovenden (‘Metro Maps of the World’, 2003) as a ‘rare and flimsy English diagram’, which was then ‘believed to stem from an American tourist publication of 1935/36 celebrating the system’s opening’. It is one of the first maps of the Moscow Metro, and almost certainly one of the earliest in English. It shows the first phase of construction, the original 13 stations which opened in 1935. It predates the opening of Kiyevskaya Station in March 1937, and as our copy was acquired in December 1936 we have a cut off point which agrees with both Mark’s timeline and the internal evidence from the map.

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Mark Ovenden contrasts the lavish décor of the Moscow Metro stations with ‘years of restrictions on paper, printing, and the use of colour’ which hampered some of the ‘braver cartographic efforts’. Nevertheless, there were bold and innovative designs, some influenced (on close inspection) by examples from overseas. Most early Moscow Metro passenger maps were geographical rather than schematic, and retained the Moscow street plan. However, this map – with the surface topography stripped out and with ‘blobs’ to represent stations – is more similar to Fred Stingemore’s designs for the London Underground in the 1920s and early 1930s. During the construction process the Russians recruited a great deal of technical expertise from London Underground, and as it happens Stingemore did actually design a map for Moscow (although as his drafts are held by the London Transport Museum it is unlikely to have been used). ‘Blobs’ for stations are widespread, international symbols (I can’t claim them for Stingemore), but it does not seem unreasonable to suggest that a Russian designer had seen Stingemore’s passenger maps (possibly collected on a visit to London) and considered them the most suitable model for a map for Anglophone tourists.

Mark tells me that the map has been dropped from more recent editions of his book (now published under the title ‘Transit Maps of the World’) as the provenance of the map was not fully understood, and it had not been possible to establish whether or not it was an official publication. It’s nice to add another piece to the jigsaw.


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