Arkhangelsk (Russian: Архангельск; IPA: [ɐrˈxanɡʲɪlʲsk]), formerly known in English as Archangel, is a city and the administrative center of Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia. It lies on both banks of the Northern Dvina River near its exit into the White Sea, in the north of European Russia. The city spreads for over 40 kilometers (25 mi) along the banks of the river and numerous islands of its delta. Arkhangelsk was the chief seaport of medieval Russia, until 1703. It is served by the Talagi Airport and a smaller Vaskovo Airport. The city is located at the northern end of a 1,133-kilometer (704 mi) long railway, connecting it to Moscow via Vologda and Yaroslavl. Population: 348,783 (2010 Census); 356,051 (2002 Census); 415,921 (1989 Census).
The area where Arkhangelsk is situated was known to the Vikings as Bjarmaland. Ohthere of Hålogaland told from his travels circa 800 of an area by a river and the White Sea with many buildings. This was probably the place later known as Arkhangelsk. According to Snorri Sturluson, there was a Viking raid on this area in 1027, led by Thorir Hund.
In 1989, an unusually impressive silver treasure was found by the mouth of Dvina, right next to present-day Arkhangelsk. It was probably buried in the beginning of the 12th century, and contained articles that may have been up to two hundred years old at that time.
Most of the findings were made up by a total of 1.6 kilograms (3.5 lb) of silver, many of them coins. Jewelry and pieces of jewelry come from Russia or neighboring areas. The majority of the coins were German, but there was also a smaller number of Kufan, English, Bohemian, Hungarian, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian coins.
It is hard to place this find historically until further research is completed. There are at least two possible interpretations. It may be a treasure belonging to the society outlined by the Norse source material. Generally such finds, whether from Scandinavia, the Baltic area, or Russia, are closely tied to well-established agricultural societies with considerable trade activity.
Alternatively, like the Russian scientists who published the find in 1992, one may see it as evidence of a stronger case of Russian colonization than previously thought.
In the 12th century, the Novgorodians established the Archangel Michael Monastery in the estuary of the Northern Dvina River.
The main trade center of the area at that time was Kholmogory, located 75 kilometers (47 mi) southeast of Arkhangelsk, up the Dvina River, about 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) downstream from where the Pinega River flows into the Dvina. Written sources indicate that Kholmogory existed early in the 12th century, but there is no archeological material to illuminate the early history of the town. It is not known whether this settlement was originally Russian, or if it goes back to pre-Russian times. In the center of the small town (or Gorodok) that is there today is a large mound of building remains and river sand, but it has not been archeologically excavated.
The area of Arkhangelsk came to be important in the rivalry between Norwegian and Russian interests in the northern areas. From Novgorod, the spectrum of Russian interest was extended far north to the Kola Peninsula in the 12th century. However, here Norway enforced taxes and rights to the fur trade. A compromise agreement entered in 1251 was soon broken.
In 1411, Yakov Stepanovich from Novgorod went to attack Northern Norway. This was the beginning of a series of clashes. In 1419, Norwegian ships with five hundred soldiers entered the White Sea. The «Murmaners», as the Norwegians were called (cf. Murmansk), plundered many Russian settlements along the coast, among them the Archangel Michael monastery.
Novgorod managed to drive the Norwegians back. However, in 1478 the area was taken over by Ivan III and passed to the Grand Duchy of Moscow with the rest of the Novgorod Republic.
Three English ships set out to find the Northeast passage to China in 1553; two disappeared, and one ended up in the White Sea, eventually coming across the area of Arkhangelsk. Ivan the Terrible found out about this, and brokered a trade agreement with the ship’s captain. Trade privileges were officially granted to English merchants in 1555, leading to the founding of the Company of Merchant Adventurers, which began sending ships annually into the estuary of the Northern Dvina. Dutch merchants also started bringing their ships into the White Sea from the 1560s. Scottish and English merchants also traded in the 16th century; however, by the 17th century it was mainly the Dutch that sailed to the White Sea area.
In 1584, Ivan ordered the founding of New Kholmogory (which would later be renamed after the nearby Archangel Michael Monastery). At the time access to the Baltic Sea was still mostly controlled by Sweden, so while Arkhangelsk was icebound in winter, it remained Moscow’s almost sole link to the sea-trade. Local inhabitants, called Pomors, were the first to explore trade routes to Northern Siberia as far as the trans-Urals city of Mangazeya and beyond.
In 1693, Peter the Great ordered the creation of a state shipyard in Arkhangelsk. A year later the ships Svyatoye Prorochestvo (Holy Prophecy), Apostol Pavel (Apostle Paul), and the yacht Svyatoy Pyotr (Saint Peter) were sailing in the White Sea. However, he also realized that Arkhangelsk would always be limited as a port due to the five months of ice cover, and after a successful campaign against Swedish armies in the Baltic area, he founded St. Petersburg in 1704.
Icon of Archangel Michael, shown as protector of Arkhangelsk
In 1722, Peter the Great decreed that Arkhangelsk should no longer accept goods that amounted to more than was sufficient for the town (for so-called domestic consumption). It was due to the Tsar’s will to shift all international marine trade to St. Petersburg. This factor contributed a lot to the deterioration of Arkhangelsk that continued up to 1762 when this decree was canceled.
Arkhangelsk declined in the 18th century as the Baltic trade became ever more important. In the early years of the 19th century, the arrest and prolonged detention by Russian authorities of John Bellingham, an English export representative based at Arkhangelsk, was the indirect cause of Bellingham later assassinating British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval.
Arkhangelsk’s economy revived at the end of the 19th century when a railway to Moscow was completed and timber became a major export. The city resisted Bolshevik rule from 1918 to 1920 and was a stronghold of the anti-Bolshevik White Army supported by the military intervention of British-led Entente forces along an Allied expedition, including a North American contingent known as the Polar Bear Expedition.
During both world wars, Arkhangelsk was a major port of entry for Allied aid. During World War II, the city became known in the West as one of the two main destinations (along with Murmansk) of the Arctic Convoys bringing supplies to assist the Russians who were cut off from their normal supply lines. During Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Archangelsk was one of two cities (the other being Astrakhan) selected to mark the envisaged eastern limit of Nazi control. This military operation was to be halted at this A-A line but never reached it in reality as the German forces failed to capture either of the two cities and also failed to capture Moscow.
Today, Arkhangelsk remains a major seaport, now open year-round due to improvements in icebreakers. The city is primarily a center for the timber and fishing industries.