Murom Still Lives in a Fairy Tale
Published: November 28, 2012 (Issue # 1737)
Locals complain that outsiders are often surprised to find out that Murom actually exists, having heard of the small town in the Vladimir region only from fairy tales.
Murom is featured in a wide range of literature, usually as a gateway into a fantasy world of epic battles, dragons, heroic quests, slain martyrs, gods, princes and saints or a time machine that brings you back to the age of Vikings, pagan tribes and fierce nomads.
Murom — along with Ladoga, Beloozero, Izborsk, Rostov, Polotsk, Smolensk, Novgorod and Kiev — is one of the first cities of Ancient Rus. The Primary Chronicle first mentions all of them in 862-863.
At the time, Finnic tribes held undisputed sway over vast territories all the way from modern Finland to the Volga basin, and one of them — muroma — lived where the modern city is now. Finnish linguist Arja Ahlqvist translates the tribe’s name from the now dead Muromian language as “people living on a hill near water.”
The city’s subsequent history revolves around several myths. The most famous one is about Ilya Muromets, the local analogue of Hercules and the central hero of “Bylinas” — the cycle of epic poetry sometimes called Russia’s “Iliad.”
When the glory of ancient battles faded away, in the 16th to 19th centuries Murom became a quiet merchant town. The vibrant commercial culture survived through the Soviet period until this day; the number of retail outlets per capita is far higher than in Moscow.
Despite being relatively far from Moscow, Murom is in some ways a commuter town, with many residents regularly traveling to work in the capital.
Murom is linked with Moscow through the Gorky (formerly known as Kazan) railroad, the main artery connecting European Russia with Siberia. Russian Railways has been a major employer and shaped the development of the Kazanka neighborhood near Murom’s railway station, and it even used to own stores and other facilities there in the Soviet era.
Engineering giants were built in Murom during that period but they fell on hard times in the 1990s due to a lack of market demand. Since then, the city’s economy has refocused on retail and other service industries, and currently about 50 percent of its residents are employed in consumer goods industries. But the defense plants have also recovered some of their clout as the economy expanded and defense purchases soared in the 2000s.
Given the city’s ancient history, one would assume that the tourism industry would be booming. But currently, few visitors come to Murom (compared with cities like Suzdal and Vladimir) due to a lack of infrastructure and its former “closed city” status.
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