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Arkhangelsk: the first Russian seaport

An ancient city in the mouth of the Northern Dvina preserves traditions of the Pomor culture

14 2020

Arkhangelsk played a special part in the Russian history. It was the birthplace of Russian foreign trade: for 1.5 centuries, Arkhangelsk was the only Russian city where foreign merchants were allowed to sell their goods. The port of Arkhangelsk was the starting point for the first Arctic expeditions.

Arkhangelsk is surrounded by numerous branches of the delta of Northern Dvina. The city was built around the river, so water is a vital part of the urban environment. Residential areas have been created on several islands, so some of the residents get to work by river buses. The embankment is the city's "display window" and the heart of Arkhangelsk. On weekends, instead of going to parks, locals like to travel along the Northern Dvina on the 100-year-old paddle steamer 'Gogol'—the oldest passenger vessel in Russia.

Visitors coming from large cities may find this pace of life quite slow, or even drowsy. Especially given that Arkhangelsk is the largest northern city in the European part of Russia, with a population of 348 thousand people. The locals are indeed not rushing with modernisations. Wooden residential buildings are standing next to newly constructed houses. Arkhangelsk remembers its long history and is not going to change for the sake of changing.


In 1915, the city established an icebreaker board which included 13 vessels; that was the start of the Russian icebreaker fleet. Arkhangelsk became an important hub for the Arctic exploration and organising navigation via the Northeast Passage. Over 200 Arctic research expeditions started from the mouth of the Northern Dvina.

Arkhangelsk keeps a lot of landmarks related to its long history. The main one is the Merchant Court (Gostiny Dvor) constructed for foreign merchants by order of Alexei Mikhailovich, father of Peter I of Russia. It is one of the few surviving memorials of Russian stone architecture of the second half of the 17th century.


A book of tales by Stepan Pisakhov is a great keepsake to take home from Arkhangelsk. Pisakhov talks about the amazing beauty of Pomorye and the resourcefulness of its residents. Nothing is impossible for his characters: 'He could make beer from a star rain. He could go fishing atop a bathhouse'.

Arkhangelsk even has a memorial to a character from the tale called 'Nalim Malinych', who managed to jump out of an ice hole on the back of burbot ('nalim'). The smirk on the face of that quick-witted man gives away the playful nature of the Pomors, hidden behind the relaxed local lifestyle.

Read more Arctic adventures in the tundra capital A city where fantasy palaces stand next to the Nenets chums, which carefully preserves traditions of the past

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