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Murom Still Lives in a Fairy Tale

Published: November 28, 2012 (Issue # 1737)



  • The Monastery of the Transfiguration is an example of the austere 16th-century style. It lacks decorations and features monumental columns.
    Photo: OLGA SUKHOVA / FOR SPT

  • The Hagiography of Pyotr and Fevronia, a 17th-century icon that depicts Muroms kremlin, its churches and the Oka River.
    Photo: COURTESY OF THE MUROM HISTORY AND ART MUSEUM

  • A horse-shaped Muroma pendant. 
    Photo: COURTESY OF THE MUROM HISTORY AND ART MUSEUM

  • MUROM
    Photo:

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 tribes name from the now dead Muromian language as people living on a hill near water.

The citys 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 Russias 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 Muroms 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 citys 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 citys 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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