A truly fortunate walk around Kandalaksha

This article from varandej.livejournal.com appeared to be unusually to the point, giving a comprehensive view/feel for the city. Thus I have translated/adapted it for your information and enjoyment.


The first thing that impresses one about Kandalaksha, a port town of 34 thousand in the south of the Murmansk region is, of course, its name. It translates either as a “loadpack bay” (from Saami) or Mother Bay (Karelian), or the name is based on “Gandwik” – that’s how the Vikings called the entire Arctic region.. It is the nearest city above the Arctic Circle to capitals, the main city of the Murmansk region’s White Sea area, a departure point to nearby mountains and rivers, so the name will certainly ring the bell to anyone even vaguely familiar with the country. But while it serves as a transportation hub, very few think of taking a walk around the town itself. True, there is not much in the way of architectual attractions. It is not architecture that makes Kandalaksha worthy of a traveller’s attention.
This is the first sight of Kandalaksha that opens to most travellers:And that’s the second one in the squence of impressions:Here the railroad to Murmansk touches the White Sea, the western-most point of it, by the tip of the Kandalaksha Bay. Here, at the border of Karelia and Lapland, the mountains of the Kola Peninsula that reach up to 600 meters, meet the sea. It could be the most picturesque place along the whole of the White Sea.
Below is a train station built in the style of “wooden modern”, one of the few that lasted since the time of the railroad construction in 1915-1916:It is surrounded by a whole neighbourhood of station buildings of the same period:The train station square is bursting with life. Lots of taxis for such a small town, and taxi drivers are of decent respectable sort, ready to issue advice even if you are not going to hire them. Lots of militsia presence for a northern place. The train station square still serves as a bus station although officially it’s been transferred to the city center.
Another view onto the railroad:
The bent station in the shadow of forested hills is one of the most pleasing to the eye of those I’ve seen. The hill in the backgrop, judging from the map, in Zheleznaya Sopka (“the Iron Hill”), 576 meters above sea level:
On the other side from the railroad station one can have a glimpse at the water of the Kandalaksha Bay:
As you see, the station is rather large. The Saami version of the city’s name translated as “loadpack bay”, that is a place where goods were transferred from boats onto reindeer sleighs, and the name hasn’t lost relevance except now the reindeer have been replaced by trains.
This is now the city looks from atop of the pedestrian overpass over the rails. The nearest hill, with the transmission tower, is about 200m high. The one farther away is 300. The road to Umba and Varzuga is between these two hills:
Same as Belomorsk, Kandalaksha was awarded the city status in 1938, and it also consists of several losely related parts. The main ones are the so-called center that grew out of the settlement by the station, the aluminum smelter area 3km north of the railroad, and the sea port section by the former village of Old Kandalaksha known since 1517 three kilometers south.
I’ve set to inspect the Soviet-era center and Old Kandalaksha. On the other side of the overpass is some sort of a factory of uncertain age:
Kandalaksha lacks a clear main street. The most important-looking one runs parallel to the one the overpass would take you to. It starts with two identical Stalin-era buldings:
At the end of this street there is a school that I would have taken for pre-revolutionary construction if not for the date on the wall. After the school the town center opens up:
On these two photos one can see that, for a northern regional center, Kandalaksha is unusually clean and taken care of. No ruins, fences are painted, almost no garbage scattered around. I’d say this cleanliness is typical of all Murmansk region towns I’ve seen. Where else in Russia would you see garbage containers of this sort?
The shopping center behind the school shown in the photo above:Graffiti on the wall opposite the shopping center:

And here is the main square about 10 min. walk from the train station:

The dates on the pedestal are in memory of the fact that in the 1941-1944 period there was intense fighting in the Kola Peninsula, and unlike in other places the confrontation was positional, sort of Verdun meat grinder that lasted three years. The Pechenga events are remembered better although fighting around Kandalaksha was no less intense. Were the Germans to succeed in capturing it, it would have been a catastrophe compared to the loss of Stalingrad. They’d get access to the White Sea, thus cutting off one of the main channels for Lend Lease, and next threatened would be the Vorkuta region that supplied the country with coal. The Germans were stopped 80km from the city. 666 air raids were made on Kandalaksha but these haven’t succeeded in putting the railroad hub out of service.

It is thus no surprise that the city has not much of architecture to offer. The center of Kandalaksha is full of standard 5-story buildings although interesting examples of frame-and filling construction from the 1940s can still be found:
But colourful and varied nature makes even Khruschev-era buildings more palatable:
5 min. walk from the main square – and you are by the Niva River:
There is a small damb in the city, probably not even from a hydroelectric station, with a pond above it and river bed nearly exposed below. Could be a queue:
From here it is close to the hills where I, having crossed the Niva, went to. The three shots below were made on my way back: the bridge over the river, an abandoned building, and yet another hill:
The sea port:Here is the Church of St. John the Baptist that marks Old Kandalaksha. I set my way there but forgot that one needs to cross the Niva, thus some minor adventures on my way there:First I wondered into a shanty-town type area locally called “Japan”. The name is likely explained by the fact that Japenese workers lived here during railroad construction. In the area I noticed this strange establishment – either young Japenese women wait for sailors here, or it is a hangout for the lovers of bard songs:

Other than that I haven’t noticed anything outstanding in “Japan”. Just semi-ruined houses and garages. Only after I made it deep into “Japan” I realized that Old Kandalaksha is on the other side of the river. I didn’t feel like going back, and proceeded looking for a place to get to the other side across the Niva:

Below the damb durig low tide the Niva is but a large stream, no more than knee deep. I was too lazy to take off my shoes, and looked for crossing made of stones to get to the other side:

Finally, close to the river mouth, I found the right crossing. It was tricky walking on these boulders. Some stones were not stable; others slippery. It was like playing old computer games:

So here I am on the other side. Private houses against hills in the backdrop, as is always when a village is surrounded by the city, creates the feeling of decay and neglect:

Officially the village of Kandalaksha is known from 1517 but some insist that there was a city of Gandwik, founded by the Vikings, in the 9th-11th centuries here. Another version is that the Vikings called the entire region “Gandwik” or just the White Sea. In 1548 the Kokuyev Monastery – the missionary center of Russian Lapland and a fortress – was established here. The first invation was not Swedes, Norwegians or bandits but “aparters” of Ivan the Terrible. The so-called “Basarga’s correction”, a punitive action by Basarga Leont’yev on Pomors who did not pay taxes, was the first disturbing event. In 1589 and 1591 the monastery was ruined by the Swedes but in the 17th century it served its defence function quite well, and was closed in 1724, with the end of the Northern War. Kandalaksha was, however, attacked later. In 1855 the British fleet apporached and was repelled. The church of John the Baptist that used to belong to the monastery is known since 1526. Its present reincarnation dates with 2005:

From the church one can see the smokestacks of the aluminum smelter built after the war. I think that Kandalaksha owes its well-being primarily to this smelter. One can also see that the Old Town and the Aluminum Smelter are in the hills while the modern center is in the flat valley:

The introductory shot onto the sea port was made from here too.

From the church I wondered up along a small street, where I suddenly discovered, in the grass by the fence, two tombstones. Writings on one of them appeared interesting:

Here is what dmitri-hrabar writes about it:

“Goiko Tomich, a Serbian from Sarayevo, Bosnia, who was fighting for the freedom and unification of Southern Slavs, according to the tombstone, was burried in the Russian North, in Kandalaksha, 3-4 thousand kilometers from home. In the present-day Republic of Serbia that occupies half of Bosnia and Hertzehovina, there was a Minister of Veteran Affairs Bozko Tomich (think he remains someone important there even now). In 1992-1995 he fought against the Muslim Slavs. In Serbia people of the same surname, especially if they come from the same location, are likely to be relatives. It is probable that Bozko is one of Goiko’s descendants. Goiko would be proud.”

How could this Serb turn up and die here? Two possibilities: either he came here with British interventionists (Serbs had great respect for the Russian Czar, and thought him to be a lawful ruler of the pan-Slavic world, and there was a whole batallion from Serbia fighting on the White Army’s side; in 1918 it protected the departing interventionists), or he ended up POW someplace in Galicia and was sent to build the railroad. The first possibility is presented on the Kandalaksha site as true.

One a rock cliff by the mouth of Niva one can see a white obelisk in memory of victims on the other side of the same fighting where Goiko Tomich was killed:

From Old Kandalaksha I walked back to the city center along the port. There were several impressive buildings along the road. The first one from the church was the Military Conscription center:

Next is the building of port management, not a bad late Soviet era building:

A monument by the entrance:

A bit further, in a couple of kilometers, an abandoned fish preserves factory. Judging by its look it could be the only pre-revolution brick building left in Kandalaksha:

On the whole I was left happy with Kandalaksha. True, not much in the way of architectural wonders but the city is beautiful thanks to mountains and sea, and purely northern combination of neglect and coziness. Besided, Kandalaksha is a gateway to the Ter coast where the road on the photo below will take one. But first let’s take this road to the nearest hill:


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