Conceived as a cross between World Fair and Theme Park, with monuments to Soviet science, fountains, amusement-park rides and national pavilions for all the republics of the USSR, the former Exhibition of the Achievements of the People's Economy has been denuded of most of its original exhibits and filled with goods for sale.

Pictures by Joost Lemmens

The VDNKh's genesis was the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition (VSKhV) of 1939. This display of the fruits of Socialism and showpiece of Stalinist monumental art was intended to open two years earlier, but was delayed by the purging of many of its leading participants.

The exhibition was so successful that it was revived on a permanent basis in 1954, with some eighty pavilions spread over 578 acres.

Gradually, Western goods started appearing and the Soviet pavilions lost whatever conviction they might once have possessed. Shorn of ideological pretensions, it has now been renamed the All-Russia Exhibition Centre (VVTs) - but everyone continues to call it the VDNKh.

Main Entrance

The main entrance is a triumphal archway surmounted by towering statues of a tractor driver and a farm girl brandishing sheaves of wheat, which sets the scale for the avenue of fountains that leads to a Lenin statue and the Central Pavilion.

 Main Entrance 

Reminiscent of the Admiralty in St. Petersburg, the Central Pavilion culminates in a 35-metre spire. Its interior once featured a huge illuminated map of the USSR, dioramas of Lenin's hometown and a Siberian hydroelectric power station.

Fountain of the Friendship of Peoples & Central Pavilion

Beyond lies an octagonal square centred on the Fountain of the Friendship of Peoples, whose gilded statues of maidens in the national costumes of the sixteen Soviet republics demurely encircle a golden wheat sheaf.

 Fountain of the Friendship of Peoples 

Atomic Energy (left) & Central Pavilion

Atomic Energy is sanctified by a Classical temple bearing a fresco of women and babes picking fruit. It originally held a small working atomic pile, whose rods glowed underwater.

 Atomic Energy Pavilion 

Flanked by water-spouting geese and fish, the Soviet taste for mineral extravagance runs riot with the mosaic-encrusted Stone Flower Fountain.

Stone Flower Fountain

 Stone Flower Fountain 

Ferris Wheel

Although most visitors nowadays come for shopping, it still has its amusement-park attractions.

 Ferris Wheel 

At the far end of the avenue on Industry Square, a copy of the Vostok rocket Yuri Gagarin circled the world in - on April 12, 1961 - is suspended from an enormous gantry. In the background the Ostankino TV-Tower can be seen.

Vostok Rocket

 Vostok Rocket 

Space Pavillion

Inside the Space Pavilion, most of the original exhibits have been replaced by vendors of consumer electronics, with some of the former huddled in the back.

 Space Pavilion 

Meat Pavilion (l) & Space Pavilion (r)

At the back of the Space Pavilion stands the Meat Pavilion. Beyond that, the Livestock Centre still has some of its prize animals.

 Meat Pavilion 

Hunting and Game Management Pavillion

Flanked by statues of grinning Yakut hunters, the Hunting and Trapping pavilion lies at the far side of the perimeter track. Attached to it are pens holding reindeer and elks.

 Pavilion of Hunting & Game Management 

Space Obelisk

Just outside the VDNKh grounds, the 100m high Space Obelisk was unveiled in 1964, three years after Yuri Alekseevitch Gagarin circled the earth. It is undoubtedly one of the most memorable Soviet-era monuments.

 Space Obelisk 

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