After Archangel, our next port of call in Russia was Murmansk which is a city in the far northwest part of Russia. The city sits on the banks of a fjord in Kola Bay, an inlet of the Barents Sea. The city is 67 miles (108 km) from the border with Norway and 113 miles (182 km) from the Finnish border. Like Archangel, we had to take a bus tour because we had no Russian visa, although the port of Murmansk is near the city and if you do have a visa, there is easy access to the city.
Murmansk is the largest city within the Arctic Circle with a population of around 300,000 and major port on the Arctic Ocean. Its history only goes back around a century when in 1915, the Russians needed an ice-free location on the Murman Coast in the Russian Arctic, to receive military supplies. The location became known as the Murman station and soon boasted a port, a naval base, and gradually a population grew around the port.
From 1918 to 1920, during the Russian Civil War, the town was occupied by the Western powers, who had been allied in World War I, and by the White Army forces.
Benefitting from the Gulf Stream, Murmansk’s ability to stay open to shipping has made it one of the major northern Russian ports. The construction of a railway in the early 20th century add to its importance.
During World War II, Murmansk was a major link to the Western world for the Soviet Union with large quantities of goods important to the respective military efforts traded with the Allies: primarily seeing military equipment, manufactured goods and raw materials brought into the Soviet Union. The supplies were brought to the city in the Arctic convoys. During the Cold War Murmansk was a center of Soviet submarine and icebreaker activity.
The city is mainly built around the port with a whole series of apartment blocks built above the port. Whilst the port benefits from Gulf Stream, the city suffers extremes of weather with long and cold winters and short, cool summers. The city suffers freezing temperatures from October to May which can plunge to well below -20 °C during the winter.
The consequence of this extreme weather is that the apartment buildings and roads often look worse for wear. Even though they are regularly maintained, the weather leaves its effect.
Our first stop was a the State Duma, the Children’s Cultural Centre and a simple wooden cross that marks the founding of the city in 1916. In the nearby local park there were a number of statues, an attractive fountain and a number of gnomes dotted around the park. The anchor is the motif of Murmansk and can be seen everywhere from lampposts to buildings.
High above the city is the massive 35.5-meter (116 ft) tall statue Alyosha, depicting a Russian World War II soldier which was installed on a 7-meter (23 ft) high foundation in 1974. There is a memorial flame and wall of remembrance, building and odd references to the Russian military dotted about.
This is a marvellous vantage point to see the city in all its glory above the busy port and across to the apartment blocks. The city is surround with greenery with hills of small trees stretching into the distance, although the countryside looks inviting, most people live in the city because of the savage winters.
Anther landmark of the city is the statue called “Zhduschaia” or Waiting, the waiting woman looks longingly towards the sea.
Finally we visited the snow-white church of the Saviour-on-the-Waters, the lighthouse and the poignant KURSK memorial to those who died in the submarine disaster.
Although this was the end of the tour, the port itself was very interesting with cranes loading ships, trains with a large number of carriages and a busy flow of ships up and down.
Leaving, the evening light cast a warm glow over the city and as we slowly departed, we had the added benefit of passing the famous Lenin Icebreaker which was the world’s first nuclear surface ship and the first nuclear civilian vessel.
More up to date was a Russian navy destroyer and Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov undergoing repairs
and the base of Atomflot, the world’s only fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers.
Murmansk was quite unusual because it importance was based on the fact the port remains ice-free year round due to the warm North Atlantic Current. However it was the first place on our cruise that you could see some of the effects of living in Arctic climate. Often children are sent to the Black sea during the long polar winter to get some sun. The continuous darkness of the polar night lasts for 40 days and the “midnight sun” lasts for 63 days. These extremes may be part of the reason that the population of Murmansk is steadily declining.
Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.
Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here.