Murmansk is the largest city north of the Arctic Circle. It was only founded in 1916. Before this time it was largely uninhabited tundra, with occasional migration of Sami people. These Sami people used to be called Lapps in pre Bolshevik days. During World War I there was an urgent need for a Russian supply ship port beyond the reach of the German navy. Russia’s allies, Britain and France needed an ice free seaport for supplies to keep the Czar’s armies alive. The town was called Romanov – on – Murman. The term Murman or Nurman probably came from the early Viking or “Norman” explorers who were known to have sailed there a thousand years earlier. The site was well chosen as the northern part of the Kola Peninsula does not freeze because of the warm Gulf Stream.
During World War II the city was badly bombed when the German and Finnish armies tried to cut off the essential supply line but the Russian defenders of Murmansk were able to hold out.
We had an amazingly warm day of 220C in Murmansk. Such days are rare and winter temperatures can go as low as -400C. It was unusual to just be able to wear a T – shirt in the Arctic, even in summer. The joke here is that summer lasts just one day. We went to the Kirov Palace of Culture, which is actually their concert hall. It is a large, quite ugly building as are all the buildings of Murmansk, which were all built in Communist days. The buildings are mostly grey, although now that people can buy their own apartments, we did see a very few buildings that had been painted.
We saw the Allied World War II Cemetery where British, American, Canadian, Dutch and Polish soldier were buried, some as young as 16 years. This section was well cared for, but the Russian section looked untended. The Russians put an iron fence around each grave and the rusty fences made the grave - sites look uncared for. We also visited the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Nicholas. The cathedral was very small but well cared for and was a welcome relief from the grey of the rest of the town. There were people in the church praying and there was a bridal party outside having photographs taken. The bridal party was also a colour contrast to the majority of the city. We went to the Museum of Regional Studies. This building has four floors of exhibits. We concentrated on the second floor with its natural regional resources together with its natural animals. On the fourth floor we saw exhibits of the culture of the Sami people. Last, but not least, we saw Alexi, a 37 metre statue of a Russian soldier. It was erected in 1974 in memory of the Russian soldiers who protected Murmansk during World War II.