Getting illuminated on the history of Russia’s streetlights

Come along with RT on an enlightening tour of an interactive museum dedicated to Moscow’s street lamps.

A museum about street lamps may sound dull, but it is certainly not when you are the one controlling the lighting effects. This small and eccentric place dedicated to the history of Moscow street lighting is as unusual as it is interactive.

Called “Moscow Lights,” the museum opened in 1980 in a 17th-century mansion not far from the Kremlin. Its vaulted rooms house a fantastic collection – from oil lamps to kerosene and gas lanterns – taking you through nearly 300 years of the city’s lighting.

Moscow’ first street lights appeared in 1730 as the city was gearing up for the coronation of Empress Anna. Back then, Russia was lagging far behind Europe. After sunset, Moscow turned into a very dark place. The vibrant streets became empty and only the palaces and homes of the nobles were lit by torches. In Paris, for example, the first street lamps had appeared 60 years earlier.

Empress Anna ordered street lighting to become part of city life. The dim oil lamps were not a big success, though.The hempseed oil used for the lanterns often ended up on the dinner tables of firefighters responsible for the lamps’ maintenance.

By the mid-19th century spirit lamps were introduced, but that made things even worse. Spirit was routinely stolen by street lighters who wanted a strong drink, so these lamps were quickly replaced by kerosene ones, followed by gas lamps and electric street lights.

Electric bulbs promptly moved from the streets into the nobles’ homes, as dancing in brightly lit ballrooms was all the rage. The only trouble was that women had much difficulty adjusting their makeup to the unusually bright light.

The Moscow Lights Museum also boasts a collection of Soviet and modern lighting, including the super-powerful bulbs that are inside the stars topping the Kremlin towers.

Leave a comment