A Brief History of Archangel

Greater Portland's Sister City in Russia

In the mid 1980's, a number of citizens of Greater Portland initiated an effort to have a Sister City in what was then the Soviet Union.  Thirteen municipalities in Greater Portland endorsed the concept.  Participating communities include Portland, South Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Gray, New Gloucester, Scarborough, Westbrook, Gorham, Cumberland, Falmouth, Yarmouth, Freeport and Windham.  (Long Island joined in 1998 to make 14 towns) So, as President Gorbachev began the dramatic changes which transformed the Soviet Union, the link was forged with Archangel.

Archangel is located 400 miles north of Moscow and is situated on the banks of the Northern Dvina River that flows north to the White Sea.  Archangel was founded in 1584 by Ivan the Terrible and is one of Russia's oldest cities.

Until the founding of St. Petersburg, Archangel was considered the Russian "window onto Europe".  Russians were trading with the Scandinavian countries from Archangel's port as far back as the 12th century.  By the middle of the 16th century trade was established with Western Europe.  Early in the 18th century much foreign trade was shifted from the White Sea to the Baltic Sea.

Even then Archangel did not lose its importance.  It remained the major timber export center and the center for commercial fishing and sea hunting; the gate to the Arctic region.

Archangel is considered the cradle of Russian shipbuilding.  Peter the Great visited Archangel in the late 1600's and developed the first shipbuilding yard.  He was determined to build Russia into a naval power and successfully fought Sweden for the Bay of Finland.

Until the 18th century, Archangel was the only sea merchant port in Russia.  The city played an important role in the country's economy, policy, and culture.  By the end of the 19th century many foreign ships exported Archangel's timber.  The port serviced the first polar ships that carried out research in the Arctic and, ultimately, mastered the Arctic Sea Route.

Present day Archangel remains an important industrial and transportation center Northern Russia.  Archangel is not only a significant sea and river port, but is also a major timber exporter.

The city's development is enhanced by not only its seaside locale, but also the richness of' its forests.  Currently, ten large sawmills export lumber to 30 countries throughout the world.

Northern Russians were untouched by either the Mongol yoke or serfdom and, therefore, developed a strong spirit of enterprise and independence.  The ability to trade with Western countries enhanced the area's growth.  For over 250 years Archangel has been considered both the administrative and cultural center of the North.

The area continues to expand as a scientific and cultural center with a total of over 100 general secondary schools, 24 specialized secondary schools and 36 vocational schools.  A total of fifteen thousand students study at the three major institutes: Timber Engineering, Medical, and Teachers’ Training.

The city is also proud of its regional library (one of the largest in the North), a professional theater, a state philharmonic society, a puppet theater, a circus, ten movie houses, and several centers of culture.

Traces of 17th century Russian architecture still exist.  Historical and artistic treasurers have become the present day Museum of Arts and the Local Lore Museum.  Their collections are enriched by purchases, expeditions, and exchanges.

A unique museum preserving northern wooden architecture and displaying wonderful relics of folk craft is located in Archangel's countryside.  The area is well known for its folk art trades.

During the past 30 years, the city has radically changed as its population has increased from 50,000 to 400,000.

Until Greater Portland's first delegation visited in November 1988, Archangel had not been visited by Americans since World War II when it was a Liberty Ship port.  Many of the ships were built in South Portland.  The east bound convoys assembled in Casco Bay.

Greater Portland warmly welcomed its first People-to-People delegation of 47 Archangelers in June of 1990.

Adapted from a paper prepared by
Victoria Kamennaya
Visiting Professor from Archangel

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Last modified: June 14, 2015