Arctic adventures in the tundra capital
A city where fantasy palaces stand next to the Nenets chums, which carefully preserves traditions of the past15 january 2020
Naryan-Mar unites traditions of the Russian North and indigenous peoples. The city inherited a rich history and monuments of wooden architecture from Pustozersk, the first Russian outpost north of the Arctic Circle. The Nenets, the largest indigenous community of the North, shared their secrets of how to live a comfortable life in the midst of endless snows of the Arctic. Over the course of many centuries, the Nenets have perfected their skills in hunting, fishing and deer breeding. Today, they invite the visitors of Naryan-Mar to see how incredibly generous and hospitable tundra can be, despite its severe appearance, with their own eyes.
The name of the capital of the Nenets Autonomous Okrug means "a red city" in Nenets. And the Russian word for 'red' once used to mean 'beautiful'. Naryan-Mar is a very beautiful city. It doesn't have a long history: it formed from several villages in the mouth of the Pechora River less than a century ago, in the early 1930s. Nor is it particularly large: Naryan-Mar has less than 25 thousand residents. But youth and small size are the city's advantages, not shortcomings.
You can and should travel through the entire centre of Naryan-Mar on foot. Each building will grab and hold your attention, and they all have their own mysteries.
You are looking at an old tower with a tent-like facade, a perfect illustration for a Russian fairy tale—turns out it's just a post office and it was built half a century ago, not in ancient times. Next to it is a magnificent cathedral made of massive cedar logs in the best traditions of northern architecture. It seems to be as old as the ancient churches of the Kizhi Reserve. In reality, the skinny temple is just a teenager, only 15 years old. And the beautiful bell tower made of logs standing next to it was erected two years later, in 2006.
Naryan-Mar's old buildings are surrounded by brand new multi-storey residential complexes. Their walls are painted a variety of different colours, so from a distance, they resemble LEGO-like toy houses. All of them were built in the post-Soviet period when Naryan-Mar became wealthy thanks to oil and gas.
And it's not surprising, because Naryan-Mar is not only the heir to the first Russian city in the Arctic. The capital of the Nenets Okrug inherited the traditions of indigenous peoples—the Nenets, the largest northern community. Their knowledge of tundra is unparalleled, and they have attained perfection in fishing, hunting, and breeding reindeer. The collection of the Nenets Museum of Local Lore features original tools and household items of the Nenets and talks about the history of these people.
Visitors of Naryan-Mar rarely miss the opportunity to purchase clothes and shoes hand-made by Nenets craftsmen from deerskin. Burkas—Nenets high boots made of deerskin—are especially popular. But the best souvenir to remember your visit to the mouth of Pechora is a jar of precious cloudberry jam.
Add a spoon of jam to a cup of hot tea, and the entire room will be filled with a magical scent. It will remind you of the kind people living in the middle of snowy tundra. And that's what makes the city which unites traditions of the Russian North and indigenous communities especially charming. Looking at Naryan-Mar, you cannot help but feel like the spirits of rivers and lakes, of skies and fire which ancestors of the Nenets believed in, are still protecting this wonderful land.
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