Archive

No. 4, 2011

Vladimir Igorev

THE MARVELLOUS RUSSIAN NORTH


In the north of the East European plain lies the largest province in the European part of Russia: Arkhangelsk Region with its endless stretches of pine forest and tundra, thousands of rivers and lakes, and multiple picturesque landscapes. Its area (around 600,000 km2) exceeds that of the largest Western European countries - Germany, France, and Spain. The 3,000 km of the Region's coastline are washed by the waters of three Arctic seas: the White, Barents, and Kara.

Russian settlement of the coast began almost 1,000 years ago. Traveling north along the Onega and North Dvina river valleys, Novgorodians arrived at the southern shores of the White Sea as early as the end of the 10th century. From the 12th century through the 15th, the lands along the North Dvina, Onega, and Mezen rivers were settled en masse by the Novgorodians, as were the islands of the White Sea. It was through the Arkhangelsk lands that Russians arrived at the Urals and beyond.

The main occupation of the coast dwellers (as the descendants of the Novgorodians and local Finno-Ugric tribes were called) was fishing; later, they took up sealing, farming, and livestock herding as well.

Settlements went up at the junctions of trade routes: Velsk (1137), Shenkursk (1315), Kholmogory (1328), Kargopol (1380), and Solvychegodsk (1492). The city of Arkhan-gelsk arose after the Muscovite state, which absorbed the Novgorod lands in the middle of the 15th century, established maritime trade ties with England and other countries of Western Europe.

The first seaport and city at the mouth of the North Dvina was founded in 1584 by order of Tsar Ivan the Terrible. It was originally called Novokholmogory, but has been known as Arkhangelsk since 1613; it was renamed in honor of the Arkhangelsk Monastery, founded as early as the 12th century, that once stood on the site of the city. Prior to the building of St. Petersburg, Arkhangelsk was Russia's only outlet to the sea, becoming a center of shipbuilding and a foreign trade port.

Over the centuries, the skills for sailing in the waters of the Arctic seas were perfected and passed down from generation to generation. The Arkhangelians sailed into the open sea in light vessels, discovered many new polar islands, and founded costal settlements on Kolguev, Vaigach, Novaya Zemlya, and other islands.

Solovetsky Monastery was founded in 1429 on the largest island in the Solovki Archipelago. It would play a noteworthy, even tragic role in Russia's history. The impenetrable walls of Solovetsky Monastery, built of gigantic boulders, long served as a fortress on the northern frontier. In the 17th century, it was one of the centers of the Orthodox religious schism. The Solovki Islands were used as a place of exile under tsarist rule for around 500 years, and a horrible camp for political and other prisoners (part of the GULAG system) functioned there during the Stalin era.

The Arkhangelsk territory played an important role in Russia's conquest of the Arctic and Siberia. It was from there that the many northern expeditions of Vitus Bering, Vladimir Rusanov, Alexander Sibiryakov, Georgy Sedov, and others departed. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, the coast dwellers would bring agriculture, traditional handicrafts, the art of shipbuilding, and perfected methods of river and deep-sea fishing to the endless spaces of Siberia and Alaska. At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Arkhangelsk territory was one of Russia's greatest timber, tanning, and milling centers.

The Arkhangelsk lands remain rich in forests today. The area's soils have also blessed Russia with a generous supply of raw minerals. It is here that Europe's largest diamond deposits are found. Large fields of oil and gas have been discovered underground and on the shelf: the Prirazlomnoye, Khylchuyuskoye, Inzyreyskoye, and Varandey fields, along with many others.

No one can be indifferent to the breathtaking scenery and many monuments to the history of Arkhangelsk Region, a true repository of the Old Russian culture and spiritual traditions of the coast dwellers. Visit once, and you want to return again and again to this northern fairyland to see firsthand the majestic Solovki Archipelago, the coves of Pinezh, the grey granite cliffs of Kiy Island, the unique monuments to Old Russian wooden architecture, and other glories of the region.




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Oil of Russia, No. 4, 2011
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