Many travelers pass through Perm on the Trans-Siberian Railway, however, few stay here, unless they are looking for a break from train travel. Highlights of the city include a walk along the Kama River, art museums and shows, and a visit to the nearby Gulag museum.
Perm is the most Eastern city of Europe, and therefore its province is often referred to as Eurasia. It is a large industrial city situated on the Kama river banks, at the western foothills of the Ural Mountain range. With a population of just over 1 million people on area of 800 sq km, Perm is the most populous city and the administrative capital of Perm Krai. The name of the city is derived from the same place as the “Permian” period, meaning “Far-away Land”. Like Ekaterinburg, the city was founded in 1723 by Vasily Tatishchev, who was sent by Peter The Great to exploit the vast amounts of ores found in the region. From 1940 to 1957, the city was called Molotov (Мо́лотов), after Vyacheslav Molotov, the minister of foreign affairs under Jozef Stalin. The city is bifurcated by the Kama River. Perm was known as the “Gateway to the Gulag” and the horrors of the Gulags are on display at a nearby museum.
During Soviet times, Perm was a manufacturing center for artillery and weapons, some of which are on display at an outdoor museum. It was a “closed city” and was inaccessible by foreigners and most non-residents. It was “hidden” and did not appear on Soviet-made maps. Gorbachev opened the city in 1990 and Perm modernized rapidly.
Perm-36 (officially known as the Memorial complex of political repressions), located some 125km east of Perm, was a labour camp for dissidents from 1946 to 1987. In 1994 it became a museum complex run by the international human rights organisation Memorial, which was founded by the dissident Andrey Sakharov. It’s one of the only remaining gulags in Russia and today acts as a museum, with exhibitions about the camp as well as changing displays that don’t relate directly to life in the gulag.
It’s a haunting site, isolated and set deep in a landscape which in summer is verdant and filled with birdsong. Countless artists, scientists and intellectuals spent years in the cold, damp cells here, many in solitary confinement. They worked at mundane tasks such as assembling fasteners and survived on measly portions of bread and gruel.
It’s worth hiring a guide for the day to learn about the regimes and history of the gulag – and to get you there and back. The gulag is located in the outskirts of the village of Kuchino, about 25km from the town of Chusovoy, which itself is 100km from Perm.
Chusovaya History Museum
Close to “Perm-36” lies Ogonyok, the place of the open-air Museum of the Chusovaya River’s History. The whole museum was built up by one person, and is organised in a rather strange way, very unlike museums in general. It consists of multiple small museums, each telling something about the Chusovaya area; about the lives of locals 300 years ago, about the crusade of Ermak (who was from the Chusovaya area) and how he conquered Siberia, about handicrafts of that time, etc. The site of the museum is very beautiful as it has a number of ancient buildings (chapels, a wind- and watermill, a tiny farm), all built in a valley surrounded by forest.
Museum of Contemporary Art PERMM
This museum was opened in 2009 with the aid of gallery dealer Marat Gelman. At that time it was housed in the historic Perm River Station Hall. It moved in 2014 and today continues to play a pivotal role in the Perm contemporary-arts scene, with changing exhibits that attract a diverse crowd.
Museum of Perm Prehistory
The archaeological collection here encompasses over 2000 antiques, many from the Perm region. The highlight is a skeleton exhibit, where visitors will find a number of original and replica skeletons of dinosaurs and animals from prehistoric times. There is a big focus on the Permian period and animals unique to the area. Many of the explanations are in English.
Perm State Art Gallery
Housed in the grand Cathedral of Christ Transfiguration on the banks of the Kama, the Perm State Art Gallery is renowned for its collection of Permian wooden sculpture.
The brightly coloured figures are a product of an uneasy compromise between Christian missionaries and the native Finno-Ugric population. The Finno-Ugric population closely identified the Christian saints these sculptures depict with their ancient gods and treated them as such by smearing their lips with the blood of sacrificed animals.
Perm Regional Museum
Located inside the imposing Meshkov House, this regional museum only gets really interesting when you see the small collection of intricate metal castings of the ‘Perm animal style’ used in the shamanistic practices of ancient Finno-Ugric Permians.
Gulag Museum “Perm-36” and Chusovaya Historical Museum
9 hours – Available daily except Monday
Full day guided tour by comfortable car/minibus. You’ll spend 2 to 2,5 hours at the Gulag camp “Perm-36” before visiting the Chusovaya Historical Museum. Hot lunch included.
Belaya Gora monastery & Kungur Ice Caves
11 hours – Available all year round
The Belaya Gora monastery (one of Urals’s largest) is a marvelous place, where you can enjoy the beauty of nature.
Kungur Ice Caves.
The temperature in the first and last grottos is minus three degrees in the summer and minus five in the winter. All the ice figures stay unchanged. The temperature in other grottos is always the same – plus 5 degrees.
Full day guided tour by comfortable car/minibus.
Includes: visit to Belaya Gora Monastery, tour through the Ice Caves of Kungur, and sightseeing in the ancient town of Kungur and history of the “Siberian Trakt”. Hot lunch.