Moscow

VDNKh

30 Mar 2018
If there were such thing as a Soviet Disneyland, Moscow’s VDNKh (pronounced VDN-hah) district would be it. No matter what direction you head in, a massive, opulent Soviet relic is bound to confront you. Most of them can be found on the grounds of the giant All-Russian Exhibition Centre (VVC), the namesake of this part of the city. The acronym VDNKh (in Russian ВДНХ) stands for “All-Union Exhibition of People’s Economic Achievements,” which was the official name of the now All-Russian Exhibition Centre centre between 1959-1992.

Exploring the All-Russian Exhibition Centre

The centre once hosted the Soviet Union's - and some of world's - largest, most elaborate argicultural, industrial, social and scientific expos: they together attracted upwards of 10 million particpants and visitors anually. Now it is nearly impossible not be overwhelmed by the hundreds of expo pavillions, buildings, ponds, parks, monuments, fountains and amusement-park attractions that speckcle the centre's giant territory, which, by the way, measures 2. 4 million square meters, or 593 acres. That’s bigger than Monaco and Vatican City put together! Many of centre's structures were designed by eminent Soviet architects and have been classified as historical and cultural monuments of national signifience, so it's worth spending a day taking a closer look at them.

Glory to Rabbit Breeders, Milkmaids and Young Naturalists!

In 1939, when the centre first opened as the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition, the august pavillions were stricly dedicated to the kolkhoz' (collective farms) triumph over the plant the animal kingdom. Samples of regional agricultural supremacy were on display in pavillions and plots of land dedicated to different Soviet republics, regions, territories and cities. Other buildings were strictly built for showcasing developments in animal husbandry, foresty, horticulture and crop cultivation. Rabitt and cattle breeders, cotton, tabacoo, fisheries, potatos and flower growers were among the many honoured. The pavillions' interior and exteriors are embellished with glorified agricultural symbols and national or regional motifs. The entrance of the neo-classical rabbit-breeding pavillion (on the far-right end of the grounds) boasts two broze statues of female collective-farm rabit breeders holding cute white bunnies close to their chests. Birch was was used on the Karelian pavillion's front door and gable façade to reflect the region's foresty industry and wealth of birch trees. Carved into the wooden gable are figures at work in the region's other main industries, including fishing and land-cropping.

“Bread to the hungry! Land to the peasants! Peace to the people!”
One of the most notable BDHKh sites is its monumental gateway, also built in the 1930s. This Propylaea is the epitome of Stalinist classicism, with six Doric columns on each side forming five passageways. The marble bas-reliefs on both the entablature and the columns depict Soviet laborers and other national symbols. But the Soviet-realist icing on the cake of this gate rests on the imposing bronze sculpture ensemble. Towering above the cornice, a female collective farmer and male tractor driver hold shafts of wheat high above their heads. They appear to call out the famous Bolshevik-party slogan to passersby: “Bread for the hungry! Land for the peasants! Peace for the people!” After passing through the majestic gateway onto the wide path, flanked on both sides with symbolic ears of corn on poles, you will come upon the central exhibition hall and, of course, a monument to Lenin.

Fountains Galore
Any eye accustomed to Greco-Roman fountain design will be amazed to see the perimeter of the awe-inspiring People’s Friendship Fountain encircled not by nymphs but by 15 gilded Soviet maidens in traditional dress, each representing a Soviet republic. In place of Poseidon or Aphrodite, flaxen sheaves of wheat shooting toward the sky frame the fountain’s octahedral center. The best time to see the fountain in action is in the late spring and summer when eight pumps are turned on to propel some 800 jets to spit powerful streams of water. The central jets shoot the water up 24 meters per second! Further down Farmstead Square, a large pool encased in polished red granite holds the famous Stone Flower fountain. The fountain, inspired by a fairytale by Urals writer Pavel Bazhov, includes a massive blooming flower sculpture, made out of a kaleidoscope of colorful metal alloys, precious Urals stones and mosaics. Bronze swans and cornucopias overflowing with fruits and vegetables decorate the fountain’s granite frame.

Beacons of Scientific and Industrial Advancement

In the late 1950s, the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition became the All-Union Exhibition of People’s Economic Achievements (VDNKh) so as to incorporate and display Soviet progress in industrial and scientific fields. Up until the late 1980s the centre hosted upwards of 300 exhibitions, seminars, conferences and other events each year. In the 1960s and 70s many agricultural pavilions were reincarnated to accommodate new fields of achievement. In 1963 the oil crops pavilion, for example, became the microbiology pavilion: the linen and fiber crops pavilion — given to geologists. One of the most visually exciting is the Aerospace pavilion, outside of which stand a Vostok rocket and a Tupolev aircraft.

Vera Mukhina’s “Worker and Kolkhoznitsa

VDNKh was home to arguably the most famous Soviet statue of all time: Vera Mukhina’s “Worker and Kolkhoznitsa,” the worker and the collective farm girl. The statue was first built for the Soviet pavilion at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris and only later moved to VDNKh, where it injected the expo centre with even more Soviet monumental architecture. In this larger-than-life sculpture, measuring 25 meters high, the robust worker brandishes a hammer, the stalwart farm girl - a sickle. Both are taking a giant stride forward toward a happy communist future with their front legs bent and back legs outstretched. The statue became known around the world as the symbol of Mosfilm, the Soviet film studio that adopted the statue as its logo in 1947. When the sculpture finally gets restored - it was disassembled for restoration in 2003 and still isn’t back up - its giant pedestal will become home to Russia’s Museum of Cinema.

The “Swineherd and the Shepherd” (1941) - an old-time VDNKh Love Story

To get a feel for a traditional VDHKh agricultural fair it is essential to watch the 1941 film “Svinarka i Pastukh,” the Swineherd and the Shepherd. In the movie a musical love story unfolds when a blond-haired, blue-eyed swineherd from Vologda, and a dark shepherd from the hills of Dagestan meet in Moscow at none other than the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition. The movie thus ingeniously propagandizes collective farm work and friendship between Soviet republics. This black and white film also made famous composer Tikhon Khrennikov’s festive “Song of Moscow” with its unforgettable lines such as: “you will never forget a friend if you met him in Moscow.

Modern Amusements at VDNKh (VVC)

International and regional expositions; trade and industry shows; agricultural fairs; and mass cultural, educational and sports events are still hosted at the centre, but not on a massive Soviet-style scale. Only several of the largest pavilions are used for indoor displays. Most other pavilions have been converted into shops, restaurants, museums and indoor markets. On weekends, especially in the spring and summer, Muscovites love to take their children to VDNKh’s small amusement-park attractions located to both sides of the park’s main entrance. Here you can find go-carts, small roller coasters, kids’ rides and, of course, the giant Moscow Ferris Wheel built in 1997 for the 850th anniversary of the city. Plenty of shashlik (kebab), beer, candy, and ice cream vendors are scattered throughout the park, adding to the park’s carnival atmosphere. If you’re looking for anything Orthodox Church-related, stop by pavilion 69, formerly dedicated to Consumer Goods and Services. Orthodox fairs are regularly held here, and monks and nuns from different churches across Russia manage stalls where you purchase bibles, souvenirs, modest clothes, holy bread, candles, icons and more. In the mood for fresh-caught fish? At the restaurant Rybatskaya Derevnya (Fishing Village) you will get a pole and some bait to fish for your meal: your catch will then be cooked up or grilled for your convenience.

Space Conquerors

To the left of the vast VDNKh territory stands a multifaceted homage to Soviet space achievement. The monument’s main component is an imposing titanium obelisk capped with a soaring rocket. The obelisk’s body starts with a wide base and steadily narrows as it curves up for 100 meters toward the sky where the actual rocket is barely visible. If you stand right under the obelisk, be prepared for its rocket-launching effect to send you into dizzying tailspin. The base of the obelisk is decorated with Soviet-realist bas-reliefs of engineers, rocket scientists, programmers and other contributors to the Soviet Union’s space-race progress. The large foundation is also home to Memorial Cosmonautics Museum, established in 1981. The monumental complex, built in 1964, also includes fountains, busts, alleys and a giant sculpture of Konstantin Tsiolkovskii (1857-1935) - the grandfather of Soviet rocket science and astronautic theory. South of the obelisk is Cosmonaut Alley, where you can take a leisurely stroll past the busts of famous names in the Soviet space program, including Yuri Gagarin (the first man in space) and Sergei Korolev, the inventor of the S-7 rocket and lynchpin of the Soviet space program. Across the street (Prospect Mira) from the monument towers another space-age mammoth -Hotel Cosmos. For a splendid panoramic view of the entire VDNKh district, take a ride up to the hotel’s 25th floor. At night, watch fluorescent pink, green, blue and yellow lights dance across the metal and glass facade of this 1,771-room giant.

VDNKh Short List
Just like Disneyland, you can’t fit everything into one day at VDNKh. If you have a limited amount of time, we’ve come up with a VDNKh short list with the most impressive attractions. Monument to the Conquerors of Space Monumental gateway (Propylaea) to VDNKh exhibition centre Central VDNKh pavilion People’s Friendship Fountain and the Stone Flower Fountain Hotel Cosmos Aerospace Pavilion Moscow Ferris Wheel
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