Where is Perm?
Heading east from Moscow, travellers on the Transiberian Railway cross the great Kama River and arrive in Perm, one day and 1500 km later.
Perm is the most easterly major city in Europe. It is the last city before the Transiberian crosses the ancient Ural Mountains that divide Europe from Asia and traverses the forests and steppes of Siberia all the way to Vladivostok on the Pacific.
Perm is the capital of the Perm region, an area noted for forestry, timber and paper mills, mineral and energy resources, and diverse manufacturing including chemical, petrochemical, metallurgy, machinery, armaments, aircraft engines and food industries – most of which is within the City of Perm.
How old is Perm?
Starting with the arrival of pioneers from Russia in the fourteenth century, settlement and the development of the resources of the region grew gradually. Eventually, during the reign of Peter the Great, the region was formally incorporated into Russia and not long after, in 1723, the settlement that became the City of Perm was laid out on the banks of the mighty Kama River.
A striking testament to this earlier era is the open-air architectural-ethnographic museum at the village of Khokhlovka, 45 kilometres from Perm. The museum has assembled and conserved a large number of ancient wooden buildings of all kinds, including housing from manor houses to hunters lodges; village, farm and salt-mining complexes; and municipal buildings, a bell tower and church.
Perm steadily grew as a centre for mining and manufacturing. In 1912 the construction of a railway bridge across the Kama River at Perm, to carry the Transiberian Railway, consolidated the city’s role as a regional centre. Its growth was greatly accelerated during the Second World War, as many industrial operations were moved to Perm from western Russia, in the face of the advancing German army. In 1941 the seat of government, and much cultural heritage, was also moved temporarily to Perm.
It is characteristic of contemporary Perm that it has preserved, as a memorial and museum, a prison camp in the hinterland that is now the only remaining ‘island’ of the ‘gulag archipelago’. Perm 36 is at Kuchino village about 100 km from the city.
Within the city there are still some old wooden houses, many striking nineteenth century buildings, and of course many large buildings of the Soviet era. The latter are being modernised, adapted and converted to new, often cultural, uses, and a striking new museum of modern art is being built.
What is Perm like?
The city is proud of its heritage as being in the region of Tchaikovsky, the home of Pasternak and Diaghilev, and the setting of Chekhov’s play ‘Three Sisters’. It has a strong opera, ballet and drama tradition, six theatres including the classical Opera and Ballet Theatre, many theatre companies and a a philharmonic society.
The city hosts leading scientific institutes, seven universities, and some significant art galleries and museums, including the new museum of modern art.
This sensibility translates into a tradition of parks and gardens, public art and festivals, and more recently the closing of streets for pedestrian use. One of the city’s notable initiatives has been the development of two well-signposted walks – the red and green lines – around the city centre, one related to history and the other to the arts.
The regional government has greater ambitions – to make the region the artistic capital of Russia – and has recruited high-profile figures including Greek conductor Teodor Currentzis, doyen of Russia’s modern art scene Marat Gelman and film director Eduard Boyakov to lead the transformation of the city’s cultural life.
Is urban planning important to Perm?
Perm has taken a pioneering path in city planning, and is recognised for its more dynamic approach across Russia and among the countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. A comprehensive strategic master plan was commissioned from the leading Dutch firm KCAP (Kees Christianse Architects and Planners). This has been translated into the statutory Perm General Plan and an Implementation Plan.
In May 2010 the Moscow Biennale of Architecture awarded its Grand Prix to the Perm strategic master plan, and an entire edition of the prestigious magazine Project Russia was devoted to architecture and planning in Perm.
This must be one of very few cities in Russia where people entering a major hotel lobby find there an exhibition of plans and models for the city, or where city planning is a topic for local TV talk shows.