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Murmansk the largest city north of the Arctic Circle

August 15, 2017 Comments (0) Views: 398 Urban Trekker

A major port on the Arctic Ocean – Murmansk is by far also the largest city north of the Arctic Circle

The world atlas can tell of many great, and for a vast majority of us, unseen and unknown places. Like in the far north of Europe, on the Russian coast coming near to Finland and Norway – the city of Murmansk. This city resembles the last city founded during the time being of the Russian Empire, and its name is picked after “Murman”, an older Russian term for Norwegians.

North and remote, Murmansk came to prominence during the two world wars of the previous century. During World War One, in 1915, an ice-free location on the Murman Coast in the Russian Arctic was connected by a railroad and Russia would use the site to supply ships with military goods.

The terminal, dubbed as the Murman station, flourished as a port, a naval base, and an adjoining settlement with a population that rapidly grew in size soon became a city. This is how Murmansk was born, and in a short period of time, this city outnumbered in population two other nearby towns, Alexandrovsk and Kola.

Aerial view of Murmansk, 1936

Throughout World War Two, Murmansk retained its status as a city of great strategic importance. In fact, the city ports continually served as a link to the Western world for the Soviet Union. It was a hot trade spot, where the prominent Arctic convoys that sailed from the United Kingdom, Iceland, and North America, helped the Soviet Union by supplying weapons, raw materials, and other manufactured goods.

The Germans well knew that Murmansk made an important linkage between the Allies, so their forces who quickly progressed through Finland, launched an offense against the port city in 1941. The German operation was called Silver Fox and as costly as it was, the destruction of Murmansk was only rivaled by the destructions of Leningrad and Stalingrad (or Saint Petersburg and Volgograd respectively).

Murmansk Harbour, Russia. Photo by Martin Lie

The fierce Soviet resistance as much as the harsh local weather conditions prevent the Germans from capturing the city, which eventually saved the essential railway line tied to the city and its precious ice-free harbor. This enabled Murmansk to maintain its strategic transit function, so the imported weapons and supplies from the Allies continued to be delivered through the city ports and inside the Soviet Union, until the end of the war. When the city commemorated the 40th anniversary of the victory against the Germans on May 6, 1985, Murmansk was formally designated as a Hero City.

Prospekt Lenin, the main street in Murmansk, Russia. Photo by Martin Lie

Although Murmansk is nestled at an extremely northern latitude, in many ways, it is just like any other normal city in Russia situated at far lower latitudes. It is well connected to the rest of the continent by modern highways and railways, as well as it can pride itself on having the world’s northernmost trolleybus system.

In contrast with other bigger Arctic seaside cities such as Dikson in the far-north of Siberia, or Canada’s Iqaluit, Murmansk does have the long and harsh winters typical for its latitude, however, enjoys somewhat warmer temperatures.

Trolley Ziu-682 with Azimut Hotel Murmansk in the background, two trademarks of Murmansk, photo credit

The last census done during the times of the Soviet Union shows that this city had a population of little less than 500,000 people, but since then, the numbers are rapidly falling. A census of 2010 numbered 307,257 inhabitants, and an estimate as of 2014 points out to already a little less than 300,000 residents. But by far, Murmansk retains the status of the largest city found north of the Arctic Circle of our planet.

In 1984, the Hotel Arctic, now called Azimut Hotel Murmansk, opened and became the tallest building above the Arctic Circle.

We also thought to tell you about Whittier, a town in Alaska where almost all its citizens live literally under one roof


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