Saturday, 23 April 2016

Naryan-Mar, a Russian arctic town in the Nenets region by the Pechora river

Most of the Russian arctic ports and towns are industrial nightmares and were only five decades ago in the vicinity of Gulag camps and/or related soviet structures. That scar has marked them, it seems, forever. Building quality is usually quite miserable - traditional wooden houses in ruins, horrid decaying apartment blocks, grand stalinist neo-classic monsters, coal and oil extraction plants bringing pollution and ugliness, zero urban design.

It's hard to find some place different. Naryan-Mar, by the Pechora River in native Nenets territory, is just a bit different: not pretty, nor attractive, but for an arctic harbour on the shores of the Barents Sea, under severe -40º winter, born of coal and oil industry, it does have some colour, some signs of modernity and progress, some evident care in recent buildings and street design.

Not much better or worse than its Alaskan counterparts, Naryan-Mar sits like them in native peoples territory - Nenetsia, the land of the Nenets, a nomadic people of reindeer herders living traditionally in tents. Maybe their luck was not to suffer prisoner work camps on this corner of Siberia - the dreadful Vorkuta in the neighboring Yamalo-Nenets region is 470 km away.

Anyhow, I like to reveal unknown places, had you ever heard about Naryan-Mar ? It has an Asian sounding name, but it is an European town, since we are west of the Ural mountains !

Pechora river, the main watercourse in the region.

Naryan-Mar was founded in 1931 in connection with the opening of the port in the Pechora river. The city is located 110 kilometers from the coast of the Barents Sea in the lower reaches of the Pechora River, one of the largest of the European part of Russia. In summer, the lower section is navigable, so there is a ferry service during the season.

There is no road access - only in winter an "ice road" allows an hazardous driving. No rail connection either - Naryan-Mar's arctic isolation can only be overcome by plane.


Coordinates: 67° 38′ N, 53° 00′ E
Population: 24 000

Main street in winter rush hour. 

Entrance to Naryan-Mar: the cathedral square.

The Cathedral of Epyphany (2004) and the belfry tower (2006) are modern revivals of the traditional orthodox wooden churches.

Looks like a small arctic 'Kremlin'.

The round church reminds of a Nenets tent

Another smaller temple is the church of St. Nicholas (2008) on Pervomayskaya street.

Few examples of older wooden houses remain, like this one from the 1930's when the first settlement was built.

But the city's hallmark is still the Post Office building of 1952:

The uniqueness of the building gives the angle consisting of five volumes of various shapes: prisms and pyramids, triangles...

A look at modern life, now: some people do live well enough.

The main avenue, a little more handsome than others:

And the colourful new Kindergarten.

The Naryan-Mar Library, 2007.

Nenets children in the open Library during the World Book Day.

The Nenets

The Nenets people of the Siberian arctic had to adapt to inevitable changes: most are still nomadic reindeer herders, the last of their kind; but many others live in villages and towns  like ant other Russians.

There is an effort to value Nenets' traditions.

Their life follows the rythm of an yearly event: the migration of over a thousand kilometres, moving gigantic herds of reindeer from summer pastures in the north to winter pastures just south of the Arctic Circle. Their tent camps move accordingly, sometimes unexpectedly.

Today more than 10 000 nomads herd 300,000 domestic reindeer on the pastures of the Arctic tundra.

A reindeer race among the Nenets.

In the Nenets older village of Andeg, 30 km north of Naryan-Mar, on the banks of the Little Pechora River, much of the 9th and early 20th century building is still visible.

Andeg was founded in the XVIII century. In terms of architecture, it is perhaps the most interesting village in the area.


Aerial view of Naryan-Mar, the Pechora river and the port in the background.

The town center at night on a festive day.