Perm isn’t only famous for being a kind of haircut. There was a settlement here from the C17th, but it was in the C18th that Perm’ came into its own – during the great “opening-up” of Siberia. Although Perm’ isn’t in Siberia itself, it’s in “European” Russia, and was the “gateway” to the new lands of the East. Located deep in the Urals mountains, Perm’s real value lay in time of war – as a safe stronghold and military base. In fact it was here that two Norwegian brothers in the arms industry set up a factory during Tsarist times to make weapons for the Tsar’s army… the Nobel brothers. One of them fell in love with a local girl, but she dropped him for a mathematician. Locals like to joke – but it’s a joke based on fact – that the Nobel Prize for Science has never been awarded to a mathematician. Many soviet VIPs were evacuated to Perm’ during WW2, to give them a safe place to work – plus the entire troupe of the Bolshoi Theatre. (the Ballet School they established in Perm’ still turns out the best dancers in Russia). Another evacuee was Boris Pasternak, who wrote the world-famous (and Nobel-winning) novel Dr Zhivago about his time in Perm’. Perm’ lends its name to the Permian Period in geology – due to the extensive archaeological surveys conducted here.
Don’t miss in and around Perm
The Picture Gallery…
… has some remarkably good canvases by old Russian masters.
The Old Railway Station (under renovation)
This was originally where the Trans-Siberian Railway began, before the line was linked-up to the Moscow line. Just along the river embankment is the City River Quay, where boats from Moscow would bring their passengers who intended to join the railway to Siberia – boat was considered preferable to train for the first section in the early days. Under cover of darkness more passengers would disembark from the boats here – the prison convicts being sent to Siberia. But no train waited for them – here in Perm’ they would be fettered into chain-gangs, and being their long march to Siberia.
The part of Sibirskaya (“Siberian”) Street..
… that adjoins the City Square is rather notorious. In the building that was once a hotel, Grand-Prince Mikhail was staying (on his way to visit his brother the Tsar – imprisoned in Ekaterinburg) when arrested by the Communists. His English Private Secretary was with him. The communists offered to release his secretary, who replied “I shall prefer to remain with His Majesty”. Neither man knew that the Tsar had been shot the previous day – both men were shot the day after. Grand-Prince Mikhail had, without knowing it, been the Last Tsar Of All – for a single day.
Although he is a fictional character, you can trace the steps of Yuri Zhivagoaround Perm’ by simply following the descriptions in the novel – all the settings are real places with real addresses,… the Public Reading-Room where Yuri meets Lara, Lara’s House etc can all be found easily if you have a little help. (Pasternak gives Perm’ the fictional name “Yuriatin” in the novel).
In the vicinity of Perm’ there are a number of worthwhile excursion spots which can be combined into one (rather long) single-day route. You can visit a hill-top monastery built to commemorate the “miraculous escape” from death of the young Tsar Nikolai II, who was saved from assassination by a bodyguard who threw himself in the way of the assassin. Next on the route are the remarkable Kungur Ice-Caves – but this needs no clambering around, as it’s all on pre-fabricated concrete paths once you get down there to see the amazing stalactites and stalagmites. From here you can set off to see what remains of “Perm 22” – the last remaining Gulag in Russia (now a museum in memorial of those held captive). Don’t expect a concrete prison – the banal reality of the Gulags was that they were wooden huts that the prisoners were forced to build themselves.