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The All-Russian Exhibition Center (VVTs)

The All-Russian Exhibition Center (VVTs) in Moscow The VVTs is still much better known by its Soviet-era name, VDNKh - the Exhibition of National Economic Achievements - and it remains a fascinating monument to Russia's transitional period, a mixture of faded Soviet pomp and unregulated, rapacious capitalism.

It began life in 1939 as the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition, a monumental paean to the achievements of collectivization epitomized by the famous statue Worker and Collective Farm Girl by renowned Soviet sculptor Vera Mukhina. The exhibition was housed in 250 buildings spread over 136 hectares, and attracted 4.5 million visitors in 1940 alone; 3,000 guides were employed to take care of them.

The exhibition had to be closed during the war years, and was only reopened in 1954, with the addition of the magnificent arch that stands at the main entrance and further exhibition pavilions that extended the area of the park to 207 hectares. Two years later, the All-Union Industrial Exhibition was opened on the same site and, in 1958, the Construction Exhibition was moved here, too, and all three were renamed VDNKh. In 1992, the park was given its current name and opened up to private enterprise.

The results were instantaneous and extraordinary: temporary kiosks and garish billboards spread like a rash across the park, in stark contrast to the grandiose Stalinist architecture of the original pavilions. These, too, were swiftly taken over, with luxury car dealerships and gun shops taking the place of earnest exhibitions detailing agricultural processes and industrial breakthroughs.

Nowadays the VVTs is a bizarre juxtaposition: part agricultural fair, part trade expo, part shopping centre and part street market, with amusements as diverse as paint-balling and camel rides - as well as the ubiquitous slot-machine arcades - on offer in various parts of the grounds. The park itself is an intriguing example of 20th century landscaping and, even if they are a little the worse for wear, the buildings are still preposterously magnificent. The VVTs is truly unique, and well worth a visit, especially as there is plenty more to be seen nearby, including the wonderful Cosmonautics Musuem, the Ostankino TV Tower, and the very different delights of the Ostankino Park and Estate.

Getting there: VDNKh Metro Station.

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