Once Stalin’s Cold War hidey-hole, this freaky subterranean fortress in downtown Moscow is now a bizarre museum and entertainment complex.

In Moscow’s Tagansky District there is a very ordinary looking house on a very ordinary looking street.

It houses the entrance to Stalin’s secret nuclear bunker, but the only way you would pick it out from any of its equally nondescript suburban neighbours is that there is a small red star on the gate. 

Stalin knew that if you want to hide something, you hid it in plain sight.

And it doesn’t get any plainer 5th Kotelnicheski Lane 11. It looks far too boring to be suspicious. People walked straight by without ever noticing it was there.

Inside, it is a different story. The house’s elevator goes 65m under Moscow, leading to a Cold War bunker so deep that it could withstand a direct nuclear attack.

This subterranean fortress was code named Bunker 42.  

Visitor sitting at a Cold War control panel (© Bunker42.com)
Visitor sitting at a Cold War control panel (© Bunker42.com)
One of the more opulent Stalin-era tunnels (© Bunker42.com)
One of the more opulent Stalin-era tunnels (© Bunker42.com)

Bunker 42 was built within easy reach of the Kremlin for Stalin and the most senior government officials in the USSR. 

Its construction and very existence was top secret. The Soviet high command was determined Western spies should not know the location, so that meant it had to be hidden from local residents too. 

There could be no visible machinery, labourers or earth extracted anywhere near the site.

The solution was to collaborate with Metrostroy, the company which built Moscow’s metro. 

Metrostroy worked entirely underground.

They dug horizontal tunnels to the bunker site from already operational metro lines and excavated the bunker in the same way they would have done had it been a metro station.

Soil was removed onto railway trucks and transported through the metro network to the outskirts of Moscow without being seen.

One tunnel has been converted into wedding hall (© Bunker42.com)
One tunnel has been converted into wedding hall (© Bunker42.com)
The Stalin Lounge (© Bunker42.com)
The Stalin Lounge (© Bunker42.com)

Bunker 42 was completed in the 1950s, ready to serve in a nuclear emergency.

Thankfully, although both the Soviet Union and the West had more than enough nuclear weapons to ensure mutually assured destruction. Fingers were kept off trigger and Moscow was never attacked.

Bunker 42 was kept as an airstrike command base until the late 1980s. When it was sold off to a private company in 2006 its existence becoming public knowledge for the first time.

Today, Bunker 42 is a museum and events space.

Stone-faced soldiers in military uniforms guide you through checkpoints. Communist iconography still decorates the walls. On a “Military Patriotic Education” tour you can learn how to disassemble and reassemble Kalashnikovs.

But perhaps the most warped part of the experience, however, is when you are in the heart of the command centre, and are asked to push the red button to start a nuclear strike on the West.

The retaliation is predictably rapid, and the simulation of being under attack is utterly terrifying.

You will need a stiff drink in the bar.

Soviet-themed dining room (© Bunker42.com)
Soviet-themed dining room (© Bunker42.com)

How to visit Bunker 42 in Moscow

Where: 5-y Kotelnichesky per 11, Moscow, Russia

Official Websites: 

Museum: bunker42.com

Restaurant: banket-bunker42.ru

Main image: Lone figure in the underground tunnels that make up Bunker 42 in Moscow (© Adobe Stock/Escli)