The Moscow Canal


©voyager, all rights reserved

Our ship traversed most of the Moscow Canal at night so I don’t have many photographs, but I think the story of how the canal came to be is tragic and deserves to be told.

The Moscow Canal was built between 1934 and 1937 under the direction of Stalin. It was a massive engineering project, larger in scope than either the Panama or Suez Canals. The project included 7 concrete dams, eight earthen dams, 8 hydroelectric power stations, 5 pump stations, 11 locks, 15 bridges and the Northern Passenger and Cargo Terminal.  This massive system was built rapidly, being entirely completed in under 5 years. It was a huge accomplishment for the fledgling Stalinist regime and was celebrated. What wasn’t celebrated or even spoken of was the forced labour of  the millions of gulag prisoners responsible for its construction. Their work was brutish and constant, relentlessly continuing throughout the harsh Russian winters. Food and supplies were scarce. Many prisoners lost their lives. Our group was told that if the project needed more workers, Stalin would simply direct the KGB to make more arrests.

The canal connects the Moskva River with the Volga River and gives Moscow access to the Baltic Sea, the White Sea, the Black sea, the Caspian Sea and the Sea of Azov. Because of this, the interior city of Moscow is known as the port of 5 seas. Today, the canal is an integral part of life in Russia. It connects the current capital city of Moscow with the former capital city of St. Petersburg and it’s vitally important to doing business in the country. It’s also beautiful, passing through areas of forest and farmland and dotted with picturesque bridges and cottages. Our ship slipped through canal at night, but there was still a bit of twilight as we entered the first lock. This was the first time our ship had moved out of harbour and there was an air of excitement on board. Passengers crowded the railings and spoke excitedly about the adventures that lay ahead. I felt that excitement too, but it was bittersweet because I couldn’t stop thinking about the story of the canal and all those millions of lives ruined or lost in its building.


Link to previous Post – Leaving Moscow


  1. Ice Swimmer says

    I love the light in this, the warm light from the ship and the dusk.

    That warm tones in the picture juxtaposed with tragic the story of the canal underline the horrors of forced labour.

  2. lumipuna says

    You wouldn’t technically need a canal to sail from Moskva to Volga, the former being a tributary of the latter, but the Moscow Canal gives you a much shorter route from Moscow to upper Volga and towards northwestern Russia. Nowadays the canal also saves you from bypassing some dams along the Volga.

    The Volga flows far southeast to the Caspian Sea, a gigantic non-draining lake in western Asia. You need additional canals to pass from Volga into three of Russia’s other river systems, towards the Azov/Black Sea, Baltic Sea and White Sea.

  3. voyager says

    Thanks lumipuna. Once we were on the Volga River we heard a few people refer to it as the volga-Baltic waterway.

  4. lumipuna says

    I haven’t actually been to Russia, I’m just a map geek, and I meant to clarify this to other readers, rather than ‘splaining to you personally :)

    I think I have a pretty good idea of the route you took, but we’ll see about that.

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