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.