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Perm Travel Guide: A City Surpassing Expectations

Exploring the Legacy of a Cultural Revolution and the Unified Effort to Restore Its Constructivist Quarter

At the end of the 2000s, gallery owner Marat Gelman attempted to transform Perm into the cultural capital of Europe. He achieved much: the museum of contemporary art, Teodor Currentzis as the artistic director of the Opera Theater and the Diaghilev Festival, public art programs, and performances by Faith No More. Now, Perm doesn’t feature as prominently in the federal agenda, but the cultural revolution left behind a significant legacy. Moreover, Perm has dozens of urban districts, each with its own quirks, and a restored constructivist quarter on the working outskirts, which many architects cite as an example. Perm is a city that’s somewhat better than you might think.

Let’s be honest: few dream of traveling to Perm. And many could not immediately locate the city on a map. Yet, just ten years ago, Perm was a weekly feature in the federal media due to the city’s cultural transformations.

In the late 2000s, gallery owner Marat Gelman tried to turn Perm into the cultural capital of Europe—and achieved much. The transformation began with the foundation of the PERMM Museum of Contemporary Art. The city invited cultural stars from around the world: one of the creators of the Arte Povera movement, Jannis Kounellis; artist Ilya Kabakov; artistic director Teodor Currentzis; the band Faith No More with Mike Patton; and many others. The city also hosted several large-scale festivals—Texture, Territory, Big Change, Creation of the World.

However, with the change in the city’s administration, all cultural projects stalled. Yet, even now, one can see the results of that work—the PERMM museum is accessible to citizens, as are numerous graffiti and art objects, such as the famous “P” made of logs and the scarab made of tires near the railway station, or the iconic inscription on the embankment “Happiness is not beyond the mountains,” which became famous thanks to the movie “The Geographer Drank His Globe Away.” Although Perm does not appear in the federal agenda as often anymore.

Another important part of Perm’s heritage is the only restored constructivist quarter in Russia, located in the Motovilikha district. Not long ago, the quarter was a rather marginal place, which was scary to enter. But at the end of the 2000s, the residents of the buildings united and created a direct management “Workers’ Settlement.” Thanks to this form of management, they were able to achieve the right to overhaul the buildings and the surrounding territory, and the once marginal quarters became exemplary. Now, the social town is a must-see for many tourists, although once Motovilikha was a place that scared travelers.

Together with Perm journalist Ivan Kozlov, we tell the story of a bright segment of Perm’s culture and the city’s main architectural attractions. From 2015 to 2020, the online magazine “Zvezda” published weekly Ivan’s articles-excursions through various city districts. He continues to write on social networks about urban architecture and local phenomena, and in collaboration with the Perm Center for Urban Culture, runs a thematic Telegram channel.

What to see – theater, art, and constructivism

Sacred Images – St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Vladimir Lenin, Teodor Currentzis

Finding the center in Perm can be problematic. If you ask locals where the center is, you’re likely to get several different answers—some might mention the esplanade, others – Komsomolskaya Square, and yet others – the intersection of Komsomolsky Avenue (briefly referred to as Komprom, the main city street) and Lenin Street, and so on.

Therefore, one can afford to make an arbitrary choice, and we’ll start with Cathedral Square. First, it’s where the aforementioned Komprom begins. Second, it’s one of the most vivid vantage points, offering a beautiful view of the Kama River. Third, it’s home to a sculpture of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, created in honor of the city’s 285th anniversary. A beautiful urban legend is associated with the sculpture—it supposedly stopped a “runaway bus” that lost control in 2009 and headed down Komprom towards the Kama River. Finally, it’s also where the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral (located at Komsomolsky Ave, 4) from the early 19th century stands—one of the city’s main visual symbols. It took over 30 years to build, but by the mid-19th century, the cathedral had deteriorated and required its first reconstruction, followed by several more. One of these took place in 1931 when the cathedral was handed over to the Perm Museum to house an art gallery.

During the Soviet era, the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral was handed over to the Perm Museum to house an art gallery, which remains there to this day. Photo from 1986: Phluxm / Pastvu.com
During the Soviet era, the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral was handed over to the Perm Museum to house an art gallery, which remains there to this day. Photo from 1986: Phluxm / Pastvu.com

In the spring of 2023, the Gallery closed to prepare for a move to a new building, where it will finally be able to fully accommodate its extensive collection. This collection includes 50,000 storage units, among which are artifacts from Ancient Egypt, Tibetan bronze, works by Russian and European artists from various centuries, and examples of the Perm animal style. This is another brand of the region—ancient objects of bronze artistic plastics. But the main part of the gallery’s collection is the collection of religious wooden sculpture, gathered in the first half of the 20th century by art historian Nikolai Serebrennikov. These examples of temple sculpture, created in the Perm region in the 17th–19th centuries, are interesting not only for their craftsmanship but also for combining Christian and pagan cultures. It’s amazing that such sculptures have survived to this day, considering that in the 18th century the church banned volumetric images of saints. Nevertheless, they have not only been preserved but were carefully collected by Nikolai Serebrennikov—in the 1920s, he undertook six major expeditions during which he discovered dozens of such sculptures in rural churches. This is truly a unique collection, not like the usual attractions that must be mentioned but have tired everyone.

In the 18th century, the church banned volumetric images of saints, but even in the early 20th century, they could be found in remote rural churches. Now, one can view Perm's religious wooden sculpture in the gallery of the Spaso Preobrazhensky Cathedral
In the 18th century, the church banned volumetric images of saints, but even in the early 20th century, they could be found in remote rural churches. Now, one can view Perm’s religious wooden sculpture in the gallery of the Spaso Preobrazhensky Cathedral

Several other important places for understanding Perm are located in the center. One of them is the city esplanade (Lenin Street). During the Soviet era, it still preserved one-story buildings, but in the second half of the 20th century, it turned into a vast empty space. At the same time, it was both a city attraction (no megacity could boast such a flat field right in the center) and its misfortune: no one really understood how to make sense of and arrange this place. Today, the esplanade has been transformed into a public space. It’s probably not worth recommending for a targeted visit: elements of landscape design, benches, cafes, and a flat fountain, executed in the style of typical modern landscaping, are hardly a tourist highlight. But it’s an excellent place to rest during a walk through the center.

Moreover, it’s definitely worth taking a stroll through the historic low-rise quarters on Siberian Street in the city center. Between Lenin and Pushkin Streets, you’ll encounter two- and three-story buildings of income houses and mansions of the city elite. Most of them were built in the second half of the 19th century. If you walk along Siberian Street towards the Kama River, you’ll end up in the theater square, where the largest Lenin monument in the region and the Opera Theater (Petropavlovskaya Street, 25a) are located.

Perm faces a problem common to many Russian cities—there is a lack of attention to the city's cultural code, and ancient pre-revolutionary mansions are neighbored by multi-story buildings
Perm faces a problem common to many Russian cities—there is a lack of attention to the city’s cultural code, and ancient pre-revolutionary mansions are neighbored by multi-story buildings

Many come to Perm for the Opera Theater—it has become one of the main local brands in recent years. Almost everyone has heard about the “Perm Ballet,” which was largely formed thanks to the Leningrad Choreographic School evacuated during the war years. But it is especially in the last decade that premieres at the Opera Theater often become events of global significance. This is primarily about the multi-format Diaghilev Festival, which has been held in late spring or early summer for many years and attracts the attention of theater-goers in the country and abroad. Even oligarchs, it happens, fly in for the Diaghilev on their private planes.

But not only oligarchs can attend the festival; it’s open to anyone interested. Typically, a few weeks before the festival, a press conference is held where organizers announce the dates and venues of its occurrence and the main points of the program. In the last few years—due to the pandemic and the departure of Teodor Currentzis from the position of artistic director of the Opera Theater in 2019—the festival’s concept has significantly changed. Therefore, predicting the event locations and top premieres in advance is difficult—in 2021, the Opera, which is historically linked to the festival, was not even among the venues. The start of ticket sales is also separately announced on the festival’s website. Previously, the website would crash within the first minutes of ticket sales due to the influx of viewers. Now, this problem has been resolved, but tickets for key events are sold out within minutes.

To be fair, the Diaghilev Festival was a successful and high-quality project even before Teodor Currentzis (Georgy Isaakyan was the festival’s artistic director from 2003 to 2011). But it was under Currentzis that the brand gained global scope. Teodor was invited to lead the Opera during the so-called Perm cultural revolution.

From “Cultural Capital of Europe” to “Death is Not Around the Corner”

During the years when Dmitry Medvedev was the President of Russia, gallery owner Marat Gelman, with the support of the Perm administration and local officials, attempted to transform Perm into the cultural capital of Europe. This phenomenon is called the Perm Cultural Revolution. The transformation began with the founding of the PERMM Museum of Contemporary Art (Gagarin Boulevard, 24)—the only one outside Moscow and St. Petersburg. The city then invited stars from all over the world: one of the creators of the Arte Povera movement, Jannis Kounellis; artist Ilya Kabakov; the band Faith No More with Mike Patton; and many others. Several large-scale festivals were also brought to the city—”Texture,” “Territory,” “The Big Change,” “Creation of the World.”

In the early 2010s, the Perm summer even turned into one endless celebration called “White Nights in Perm.” On the then-still empty esplanade, a special festival city was built, where something happened every day for a month. In 2012, for example, it was visited by more than a million people. Visits, not visitors, were counted, but considering that the entire population of Perm barely exceeds a million, the number is still impressive. Over the course of a month, the festival city hosted several hundred different events.

"David's Head in Space" was painted as part of the graffiti contest "Center of Gravity". Photo: A.Savin / Wikimedia.org
“David’s Head in Space” was painted as part of the graffiti contest “Center of Gravity”. Photo: A.Savin / Wikimedia.org

The cultural revolution was envisioned as a driver for long-term changes; it was very fun and colorful, but ultimately it did not take off. The Perm cultural project turned out to be too dependent on regional authorities. A few months after Governor Oleg Chirkunov, who patronized the festival, was dismissed, everything collapsed. Reactionaries replaced progressive regional ministers, one of whom almost immediately fired Marat Gelman, the director of the PERMM museum, canceled several festivals outright, and generally made it clear that contemporary art was no longer welcome in the city.

However, not everyone agreed with this state of affairs; for example, the museum continued to exist against all odds and even preserved several important projects in the urban environment. Fortunately, Gelman had managed to make it a state institution, which is not so easily closed. The museum does not have a permanent exhibition, but it hosts changing exhibitions almost all year round. Although the museum’s own collection is presented in a virtual format—simply because there is nowhere to show it yet. The move to a more comfortable and spacious building, which the Perm authorities had promised to organize for many years, is scheduled for the fall of 2023.

During the cultural revolution, going to the museum was not even necessary because it itself came out into the urban space. This refers to the public art program, within which various modern sculptures appeared on the streets. For example, the famous “Red People” by Andrey Lyublinsky, which stand in a small park near the PERMM museum. The city had mixed feelings about them—especially active conservatives even called for burning the sculptures. And Alexander Prokhanov demonized the “Red People” in his novel “Man of the Star”.

The "Red People" in Perm were met with mixed reactions—active conservatives even called for the sculptures to be burned
The “Red People” in Perm were met with mixed reactions—active conservatives even called for the sculptures to be burned

The public art program was also dismantled, but a significant portion of the art objects still remains in the city. Those expelled from the city streets and squares were gathered near the PERMM museum. It’s entirely possible to create a separate tour route based on public art. For example, tourists arriving in the city by train encounter Nikolai Polissky’s log “Perm Gates” and Moldakul Narymbetov’s “Scarab” made from old car tires—both of these objects are located in the Perm 250th Anniversary Park near the train station square. Not everyone loved the “Perm Gates” either—citizens often criticized them for their high cost (8 million rubles (80,759.23 euros)) and derisively called them “the stool,” but over time, the object settled in.

The "Perm Gates" made of logs by artist Nikolai Polissky were not immediately accepted by the people of Perm. They were mainly criticized for their costliness—it cost 8 million rubles
The “Perm Gates” made of logs by artist Nikolai Polissky were not immediately accepted by the people of Perm. They were mainly criticized for their costliness—it cost 8 million rubles
Moldakul Narymbetov's "Scarab" is made from old car tires
Moldakul Narymbetov’s “Scarab” is made from old car tires

In Perm, those objects and initiatives that did not cause disputes and contradictions among the people of Perm have also been preserved. For example, the “Long Stories of Perm” project continued intermittently until recently. Every year, the decision on its implementation is made separately, so the people of Perm still hope for new seasons. Artists from across the country painted gray concrete fences with original graffiti. One of the most impressive fences is located at Lebedeva, 54, and surrounds the Perm blood transfusion station: it is adorned with extinct animals from the Permian period, the outlines of which are cut out by artists from mirrors.

As part of the annual "Long Stories" festival, artists paint unremarkable construction fences
As part of the annual “Long Stories” festival, artists paint unremarkable construction fences

One of the symbols of modern Perm also appeared during the cultural revolution—this is Boris Matrosov’s inscription “Happiness is not beyond the mountains” on the Kama embankment. It has long since spread to souvenirs, depicted on candy boxes and notebooks, and was the backdrop for one of the scenes in the film “The Geographer Drank His Globe Away” and the series “Real Guys”. In 2019, artist Alexey Ilkaev conducted an action in which he changed the word “happiness” to “death”. The inscription in this version also quickly became popular and made its way onto T-shirts and souvenirs. Initially, Boris Matrosov’s temporary inscription was restored to its original form, reinforced, and equipped with a strengthened frame, so now “Happiness” seems to be with us forever.

During the May water release from the Kama Hydroelectric Power Station, the inscription "Happiness is not beyond the mountains" often gets flooded. Photo: Aleksandr Zykov / Flickr.com
During the May water release from the Kama Hydroelectric Power Station, the inscription “Happiness is not beyond the mountains” often gets flooded. Photo: Aleksandr Zykov / Flickr.com

But much has changed around it. The river station (Monastyrskaya St., 2) was built in 1940 in a transitional style (a bit from constructivism, a bit from Stalinist empire style). In the 2000s, the station was deserted because passenger transportation on the Kama had practically ceased. In 2008, the “Russian Poor” exhibition opened there, marking the beginning of the PERMM Museum. But in 2014, the station was declared hazardous, and the museum was evicted. After restoration, it housed the project “Russia – My History,” vividly illustrating the conservative turn in Perm’s culture.

City Garden in the “Worker’s Settlement”

There’s an unjust opinion that Perm is not rich in architectural monuments, which it’s time to dispel.

The Motovilikha district in the east of the city is a stronghold of Perm constructivism. Several buildings in this style can be found in the city center, but it is in Motovilikha that the constructivist buildings form an urban ensemble. Among the most notable are the “Metallurg” hotel (Lebedeva St., 9), the Slavyanov College (Uralskaya St., 78), and the factory-kitchen (Uralskaya St., 85), which until recently housed nightclubs. There’s also a constructivist clinic (Lebedeva St., 11), but, unfortunately, it is in ruins.

The "Metallurg" hotel in constructivist style
The “Metallurg” hotel in constructivist style
In the constructivist building of the factory-kitchen, night clubs were located until recently
In the constructivist building of the factory-kitchen, night clubs were located until recently

But the main object in Motovilikha is the quarters of the notable place—the “Worker’s Settlement” social town within the boundaries of Tsiolkovsky, Industrialization, Uralskaya, and Lebedeva streets. Without any exaggeration, these quarters are the pride of all Perm city activism. The constructivist residential complex of three-story buildings was built for the workers of the Motovilikha plants in the 1930s. Decades later, the quarter turned into a rather marginal place, where it was scary to enter. But at the end of the 2000s, the residents of the houses, inspired by activist Anastasia Maltseva, united and created a direct management “Worker’s Settlement”. Maltseva became the chairman of the Council. Thanks to such a form of management, the residents were able to achieve the right to major repairs of the buildings and the surrounding territory, and the once marginal quarters turned into exemplary ones and became, possibly, the only restored constructivist residential complex in Russia.

The wooden children's playground in the courtyards of the "Worker's Settlement" fits perfectly into the architectural style, unlike the colorful plastic ones that have filled Russian cities
The wooden children’s playground in the courtyards of the “Worker’s Settlement” fits perfectly into the architectural style, unlike the colorful plastic ones that have filled Russian cities

Today, many capital guests coming for the same “Diaghilev Festival” consider the social town a must-visit spot. And Maltseva thinks of finally turning the worker’s settlement into a utopian city-garden, as it was envisioned in the 1930s—to do this, it is necessary to restore the historical fountain and Soviet sculptures.

Late Soviet Modernism, Mosaics, and Sgraffito

In the last ten years, Soviet modernism has come into fashion—it is actively researched, scientific papers are written on it, and books are published. The only problem is that iconic modernism objects are mostly not protected by the state, which is generally reluctant to protect buildings whose age does not exceed a hundred years. Therefore, today the historical appearance of Soviet modernism is often lost. For example, in Perm, this happened with the “Orlyonok” sports complex, from which the original cladding tiles began to fall off. As a result, the entire building was simply rolled into a nondescript modern cladding. However, today the city still has many impressive late Soviet buildings. The main one is the building of the Palace of Children’s and Youth Creativity (Sibirskaya St., 29), into the original form of which even the observatory tower is integrated. Or the “Molot” Universal Sports Palace (Lebedeva St., 13), built in 1966 and reconstructed in 1989. The palace has preserved an authentic interior with stained glass windows depicting hockey players. The main city ensemble, located on the esplanade—from the Theater-Theater building (Lenina St., 53, the Perm Academic Drama Theater received this distinctive name in 2007) to the Legislative Assembly (Lenina St., 51) and the Organ Hall (Lenina St., 51b)—is also typically modernist.

The Palace of Children's and Youth Creativity in 1987–1988 and today. Photo: E.Gavrilov / Pastvu.com
The Palace of Children’s and Youth Creativity in 1987–1988 and today. Photo: E.Gavrilov / Pastvu.com

The tiles falling off the facades of buildings of Soviet modernism is not the only problem related to the preservation of Soviet heritage in the city. Every year, impressive works of Soviet monumentalism—large mosaics, panels, and sgraffito—disappear in Perm. And all for the same reason—most often, they are not protected by the state. A few years ago, the unique panel “Science”—enamel on metal sheets—disappeared from the very center of the city (the intersection of Lenin and Popov streets). It was simply thrown away during the renovation of the building.

But not everything has been thrown away yet, and many objects of monumental art have been preserved. The beautiful five-story mosaic “Komsomol in the Decisive Moments of History” (Komsomolsky Ave, 67) is part of the Komsomolskaya Square ensemble, the Financial-Economic College (Gagarin Blvd, 50) boasts a mosaic diptych, and the “Oil Refinery” training center (Mira St, 21) has a large two-part sgraffito. Also, in the city, one can find about a dozen smaller objects of this kind.

The beautiful five-story mosaic "Komsomol in the Decisive Moments of History" (Komsomolsky Ave, 67) is part of the Komsomolskaya Square
The beautiful five-story mosaic “Komsomol in the Decisive Moments of History” is part of the Komsomolskaya Square
Mosaic at the training theater of the Perm Choreographic School. Photo: SunTW / Wikimedia.org
Mosaic at the training theater of the Perm Choreographic School. Photo: SunTW / Wikimedia.org

What has almost disappeared are the plaster street sculptures, which became so tiresome during Soviet times that they became the subject of mockery. But now, they are beginning to be appreciated again due to their rarity and uniqueness. Outside the city, there are entire thematic parks: many such sculptures are gathered on the streets of Lysva. In 2009, a thematic park with pioneers, aviators, and various women-with-oars was opened there, brought from the “Zorya” pioneer camp and restored. Also, many Soviet sculptures have been preserved at the Ust-Kachka resort. And in Perm, only a couple or three examples remain. The most interesting ones are in the square in front of the Kalinin House of Culture (57.964472, 56.245722) or in the courtyard of the technical school (Gagarin Blvd, 37). There stands an enthusiastic young couple (apparently Komsomol members), who have already experienced quite a few adventures. In the winter of 2019, they were dressed in elf caps, and later, for some reason, painted from white to coral. Possibly because coral was declared the color of the year in 2019.

The sculpture of the young couple has already experienced quite a few adventures. In the winter of 2019, they were dressed in elf caps, and later repainted from white to coral
The sculpture of the young couple has already experienced quite a few adventures. In the winter of 2019, they were dressed in elf caps, and later repainted from white to coral
The bas-relief "Modern Icarus" on the facade of the Palace of Culture is made from polished stainless steel plates of various shapes and sizes by welding. Photo: Serg.zabolotskih / Wikimedia.org
The bas-relief “Modern Icarus” on the facade of the Palace of Culture is made from polished stainless steel plates of various shapes and sizes by welding. Photo: Serg.zabolotskih / Wikimedia.org

Cursed Mythology

There are several old cemeteries within the city, closed to burials. But it is the Yegoshikha that is worth visiting—it’s the most interesting historical cemetery in Perm. One can get engrossed for several hours, as each section of the cemetery has its own unique character. There’s a well-maintained and well-preserved Jewish sector, a sector where heroes of the war with Napoleon are buried, and so on.

The Yegoshikha Cemetery is the most interesting historical cemetery in Perm. It has a well-maintained and well-preserved Jewish sector and a section where heroes of the war with Napoleon are buried
The Yegoshikha Cemetery is the most interesting historical cemetery in Perm. It has a well-maintained and well-preserved Jewish sector and a section where heroes of the war with Napoleon are buried

A must-visit is the so-called Tomb of the Cursed Daughter. Unfortunately, Perm does not have a rich mystical background, and all local thematic tours generally revolve around five or six stories. This includes, for example, the tale of the kikimora in the Meshkov mansion. Or the “Tower of Death” (Komsomolsky Ave, 74)—so called by the people, the building where the main office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is located. Legend has it that in the 1930s, prisoners were thrown from the tower on its roof, although the building was constructed in the fifties. But the story of the Dead Daughter against their backdrop is genuinely terrifying. The most common variation of her story tells of the Perm warden Develli, who slept with his own mother. Many years later, he slept with a girl who turned out to be his sister and simultaneously daughter, conceived a child with her, and six years later, learned of their blood relation, went mad, expelled the innocent six-year-old girl into the cold and killed her, installed a wild gravestone with an ouroboros (a serpent or dragon biting its own tail) on her grave, publicly cursed both the child and the gravestone, and then killed himself.

Gravestone with Ouroboros on the grave of the cursed daughter
Gravestone with Ouroboros on the grave of the cursed daughter

Insignificant Architecture

This is the name of a popular group on Facebook, and more broadly, this term refers to all architectural objects that traditionally fall outside the field of vision of urban researchers: from garages and barns to cottages of original shape, ventilation shafts, or bus stops. In Perm, there are several such minor, but curious objects. For example, the original design water tower (58.012056, 56.203111) on the territory of the Dzerzhinsky factory. Its appearance shows features of brutalism, making it unique at least for the region.

The water tower on the territory of the Dzerzhinsky factory exhibits features of brutalism, which is quite uncharacteristic for the region
The water tower on the territory of the Dzerzhinsky factory exhibits features of brutalism, which is quite uncharacteristic for the region

Secondly, the round shop (58.004040, 56.112152) in Zaostrovka. Its story is quite peculiar. Once, a huge concrete ring seven meters high was brought to the square in Zaostrovka to be buried in the ground and transformed into an element of the sewer system. But something went wrong, this enormous thing was not buried and was left standing on the ground. Later, it was purchased, utilities were connected, and it was covered with siding—thus, a concrete cavity that was supposed to serve as a reservoir for sewage turned into a shop and became a local landmark.

Thirdly, transformer substations and heating points deserve attention, which in Perm are loved to be transformed into castles with towers and pointed spires. This passion for the Middle Ages is evident in many places—its quintessence at one time became the “Castle in the Valley” (Spechilova St., 111)—an entertainment complex with a hotel in the form of a classic knight’s castle.

The 1905 water tower is now used as an office building. Photo: Dmitry Chemerik / Wikimedia.org
The 1905 water tower is now used as an office building. Photo: Dmitry Chemerik / Wikimedia.org

Urban Districts

Moving from the description of city attractions to individual districts—for those who want to explore the city in depth. This division makes sense in Perm—the city is quite elongated, and many areas are separated from each other by large distances. Therefore, many districts develop their own atmosphere. We talk about the most interesting and worthy of visit.

Razgulyay — Decembrists’ Garden and goats in trams

This is a historical district that grew in the 18th century around the copper smelting plant, which laid the foundation for the development of all of Perm. Here you can appreciate the remnants of true Perm antiquity. First, take a walk over one of the symbols of Razgulyay — the old tram bridge, which offers a view of the Yegoshikha River valley. And visit the Peter and Paul Cathedral (Sovetskaya St., 1) — one of the city’s first stone buildings, constructed in 1757–1764.

The Peter and Paul Cathedral is one of the city's first stone structures
The Peter and Paul Cathedral is one of the city’s first stone structures

If part of the historical Razgulyay area between Lenin Street and the Yegoshikha valley has been preserved in some form, then practically nothing remains of the original Razgulyay houses in the blocks between Perm Street and the Decembrists’ Garden. Literally every month, century-old mansions with rich histories, which are not protected by the state, are being demolished.

The Decembrists’ Garden itself is interesting to visit—it has beautiful century-old linden trees. It is located near the walls of the city’s first prison. At one time, writer Leonid Yuzefovich launched such a legend in the novel “Kazaroz”: the trees in this garden are planted in such a way that a fugitive can never hide so that the guards cannot see him behind them.

Also, in Razgulyay, one can encounter goats—the owners of private homes let them roam freely. Sometimes goats make their way to Komsomolsky Avenue and central squares, and even attempt to get on trams.

In Razgulyay, century-old mansions with rich histories that are not protected by the state are constantly being demolished
In Razgulyay, century-old mansions with rich histories that are not protected by the state are constantly being demolished

Krokhal — the site of a Boeing crash and a labyrinth of two-story buildings

Locals often refer to this district as Krokhal or Krokhalovka. It has a solid reputation as one of the most criminal and thug-like districts, where strangers better not appear. On the other hand, practically every district, even slightly removed from the center, has such a reputation in Perm. Krokhal is surrounded on three sides by a green zone and the Danilikha River. If you walk to the river valley via Lodygina—one of Krokhal’s central streets—you can reach that very place (57.97086, 56.21122) on the railway embankment where a passenger Boeing crashed in 2008. A memorial square was created at this site, and a memorial of 88 white granite pillars was installed—representing the number of victims in the air disaster.

A memorial of 88 white granite pillars—representing the number of victims in the air disaster at the site of the passenger Boeing crash in 2008
A memorial of 88 white granite pillars—representing the number of victims in the air disaster at the site of the passenger Boeing crash in 2008

On the southern border of Krokhalovka, there are several blocks (57.959250, 56.234000) of practically identical two-story brick buildings. They have a unique history—once, land and materials were allocated to workers of the nearby Motor Plant, and the workers literally built the production town with their own hands. Among hundreds of houses, whose front gardens are densely overgrown with shrubs and flowers, one can wander as if in a labyrinth.

In the Krasnov district, which borders Krokhalovka to the north, along the bank of the Danilikha River, there is a long-abandoned nursery (57.983500, 56.232111), where one can still encounter tree species rare for Perm today.

Parkovyi — the aesthetics of panel buildings and the fan-shaped depot

Parkovyi is a quintessential late Soviet reserve of panel nine-story buildings. Moreover, the district is located on the border of the Chernyaevsky Forest Park—a natural area that occupies a significant part of Perm’s territory. Parkovyi is more about the atmosphere than specific attractions. Although on the territory of the electrical depot, there is a unique fan-shaped depot (58.005972, 56.166528)—an architectural monument. To see it, one must cross the bridge over the railway tracks of the Perm II station.

In the Parkovyi district, a unique fan-shaped depot has been preserved
In the Parkovyi district, a unique fan-shaped depot has been preserved

Gayva — Stalinist Empire style and the Kama Hydroelectric Power Station

The Gayva district is quite far from the center, but visiting it is worth the travel time. Firstly, the central ensemble of the district is a practically exemplary monument to low-rise construction of the Stalin era. Rows of two-story houses, symmetrically arranged relative to the central street, lead to a fountain and the Palace of Culture (Repin St., 20) in the Empire style. But the most interesting thing in Gayva is not even this, but the proximity to the Kama Hydroelectric Power Station (Zvenigorodskaya St., 9)—a unique hydraulic structure, which allows one to walk from one bank to the other and see not only the power station itself but also the locks through which ships move during navigation. It’s especially spectacular here during the water discharge in May. By the way, at this time, the inscription “Happiness is not far away” often gets flooded, making it seem like it stands right on the water.

The most interesting thing in Gayva is the proximity to the Kama Hydroelectric Power Station. This unique hydraulic structure allows one to walk from one bank to the other and see not only the power station itself but also the locks through which ships move during navigation
The most interesting thing in Gayva is the proximity to the Kama Hydroelectric Power Station. This unique hydraulic structure allows one to walk from one bank to the other and see not only the power station itself but also the locks through which ships move during navigation

Vodniki — the best place for walking

The area on the right bank of the Kama combines three districts: New Vodniki, Old Vodniki, and Sudozavod. But locals most often use the general toponym Vodniki for brevity. This part of the Kama bank began to be settled in the 1870s. In 1872, a steamship station and a repair base appeared here. Gradually, specialists associated with the river fleet settled in the coastal territories. At the end of the 19th century, this area was favored by the Perm elite. Thus, in the beautiful pine forest on the riverbank, dachas in the Neo-Russian style appeared, two of which — Meshkov’s dacha (58.017056, 56.002028) and Sinakevich’s dacha (58.020806, 56.016833) — have survived to this day. Sinakevich’s dacha was deteriorating until recently, but it has finally been repaired in anticipation of Perm’s anniversary, while the condition of Meshkov’s dacha continues to deteriorate increasingly. But it’s still worth taking a look at.

Sinakevich's dacha was deteriorating until recently and looked like this in the photo, but it has finally been repaired in anticipation of Perm's anniversary
Sinakevich’s dacha was deteriorating until recently and looked like this in the photo, but it has finally been repaired in anticipation of Perm’s anniversary
However, the condition of Meshkov's dacha continues to be depressing—the further, the worse. But it's still worth taking a look at. Photo: Akbenyuk / Wikimedia.org
However, the condition of Meshkov’s dacha continues to be depressing—the further, the worse. But it’s still worth taking a look at. Photo: Akbenyuk / Wikimedia.org

Vodniki is arguably the best place for walking in all of Perm. Here, the nature is splendid, and the numerous streets and paths constantly lead to the riverbank. Sometimes to backwaters, sometimes to deserted beaches, and in a few places—to a bay (58.022833, 56.021667), where various river vessels are moored.

Zakamsk—the homeland of Nagovitsyn and the walrus club

Once designed as a satellite city of Perm, Zakamsk is now one of the city’s districts. Though some Zakamsk residents still feel like they live in a separate settlement. Everything here is indeed different: the layout of the blocks, architecture, daily life, and customs. There are few attractions as such, but to understand Perm, visiting Zakamsk is essential, and it’s one of those cases where the effect is hard to describe in words.

Zakamsk was designed as a satellite city of Perm, but now it is one of the city's districts
Zakamsk was designed as a satellite city of Perm, but now it is one of the city’s districts

Zakamsk is the homeland of the chanson singer Sergey Nagovitsyn, a place of residence for a huge number of ducks, well-preserved low-rise Soviet-era residential blocks, a large pine forest with an amusement park located within it (Marshal Rybalko St., 106), and the Kirov Park with a fountain in the Soviet Empire style. The local promenade has become a center of self-organization for the residents of Zakamsk: people come here for free water from springs, there are clubs for walrus (winter swimmers) and dog owners, and various sports competitions are constantly held. And simply a beautiful place with a view of the Kama River.

Tile mosaic on one of the Zakamsk high-rises. It's far from the narrative masterpieces of Soviet monumentalism, but it still has a certain uniqueness
Tile mosaic on one of the Zakamsk high-rises. It’s far from the narrative masterpieces of Soviet monumentalism, but it still has a certain uniqueness

Surroundings

Khokhlovka (45 km from Perm). This is a famous architectural-ethnographic museum. Festivals and various events are constantly held on its territory. If your visit to Perm coincides with Maslenitsa in Khokhlovka or with the military-historical festival “Great Maneuvers on the Khokhlovka Hills,” they are a must-visit. In Khokhlovka, on a small territory, different monuments of wooden architecture from all over the country are gathered — barns, mills, izbas, salt shops, a church, and much more. The oldest dates back to the end of the 17th century. Importantly, the museum is located on the banks of the Kama in an amazingly picturesque place. The entrance ticket costs only 200 rubles (2.02 euros) (with a concession priced at a hundred).

In the ethnographic museum in Khokhlovka, on a small territory, various monuments of wooden architecture from all over the country are collected — barns, mills, izbas (traditional Russian wooden houses), salt shops, a church, and much more. Photo: Anton Zelenov / Wikimedia.org
In the ethnographic museum in Khokhlovka, on a small territory, various monuments of wooden architecture from all over the country are collected — barns, mills, izbas (traditional Russian wooden houses), salt shops, a church, and much more. Photo: Anton Zelenov / Wikimedia.org

You can find a full list of tours and a schedule of events and master classes on the museum’s website.

How to get there. From the bus station (Revolyutsii St., 68), there are four buses a day — at 6:10, 9:55, 14:05, and 18:05. The journey takes about an hour, and the ticket costs 150 rubles (1.51 euros).

Molebka (170 km from Perm). This is an anomalous zone where locals often see fireballs and other “alien manifestations.” Most of the year, there’s not much to do in this village because it’s not very adapted for tourist visits, despite attempts by the local administration to turn Molebka into a brand. In 2012, an alien sculpture was even installed at the entrance to the village. In the second half of the summer, Molebka hosts a festival that attracts ufologists and saucer hunters from all over the world. A transfer from Perm to the village is organized especially for this event, and a tent camp is set up in the nearby forest. As far as we know, the ufologists’ explorations have not yet resulted in fruitful contacts, but the night is still young.

How to get there. The nearest populated area accessible by public transport is the Boldyrevo settlement, 60 kilometers from Molebka. Therefore, it’s better to go there by your own car or hitchhiking, although the traffic there is very sparse.

Sculpture Park in Parmailovo (300 km from Perm). This is another unique open-air museum. Unlike Khokhlovka, it was created without state support and is maintained through the sheer enthusiasm of one person—retiree Yegor Utrobin. For decades, he has been creating wooden sculptures and placing them on his land, eventually opening the park to all comers. The journey to Parmailovo is long and sometimes arduous, but it ends with an authentic Komi-Permyak flavor. Visiting the sculpture park is free, but donations are welcome. If Yegor Utrobin is on-site, you can expect to meet him and get a tour.

Yegor Utrobin (in the photo) has been creating wooden sculptures and placing them on his land for decades — eventually, he opened the park to all comers. Photo: Laurar16 / Wikimedia.org
Yegor Utrobin (in the photo) has been creating wooden sculptures and placing them on his land for decades — eventually, he opened the park to all comers. Photo: Laurar16 / Wikimedia.org

How to get there. Direct buses to Parmailovo do not run, but you can take a suburban bus to the village of Yukseevo. From there to the final destination is only ten kilometers, and you can hitch a ride.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of interesting places in the vicinity of Perm. Those who want to explore the region in full can visit the city of Kungur (80 km from Perm). There, many merchant mansions have been preserved, including in the rare for these places style of wooden modernism. Nearby is the Kungur Ice Cave. This is probably the most popular attraction of the region — one of the largest karst caves in Russia, more than eight kilometers long, two of which are equipped for tours. The Belogorsky Monastery (70 km from Perm) from the end of the 19th century, nicknamed the “Ural Athos”. From the mountain on which it is located, there is a beautiful view of the surroundings. The “Perm-36” Memorial Museum-Reserve (120 km from Perm) is a unique museum of political repressions, created on the site of a former correctional labor colony.

Eat and Drink

“Archaeology” (Sovetskaya St., 3) — a place with a well-established crowd and “its own atmosphere”, where, however, new guests are always welcome. This is a relatively new bar, founded by university friends who are archaeologists — hence the name, brand style, and interior design. The kitchen menu is not too rich, but the craft beer is excellent, with a glass costing the standard 270–350 rubles (2.73 – 3.53 euros). Sometimes “Archaeology” works as a concert venue, so it’s better to check the evening program on Instagram. Another advantage of the bar is its location. It is just a few steps from the historical Razgulai district, the cultural center “Shpagin Factory”, and the River Station with its promenade.

“Spark and Flame” (Ekaterininskaya St., 88) — a project that opened in Perm a year ago on the wave of the fashion for shot bars. From an establishment that positioned itself as a shashlik-shot bar in the Soviet style, it was hard to expect a breakthrough, but “Spark and Flame” quickly became iconic. This probably happened due to the successful use of Soviet motifs, which are often overdone, but here they were appropriate — from the recognizable lettering on the sign to the details that make up a cozy interior without overdoing it like an accumulation of Soviet posters. Dinner here is relatively expensive (average check — 800 rubles (8.08 euros)). But beer and strong alcohol are quite affordable — a shot of liqueur costs just 90 rubles (0.91 euros).

“13/69” (Lenina St., 34b) is one of the most “central” bars, located literally across the road from the Opera Square. It has a controversial reputation — some criticize it for its pretentious and vulgar interior elements, others for the constant chaos and overall unpretentiousness. But what would otherwise be considered a minus, in the case of “13/69” becomes not a bug, but a feature, creating a unique atmosphere that many Perm residents love. The bar menu includes ramen with mayonnaise and dumplings (actually, these are the two main dishes served there), and beer prices start from 150 rubles (1.51 euros). Almost every day, the bar serves as a concert venue for events of various kinds. The poetic evenings called “Readable Tuesdays” hosted by Evgeny Gusev have been held there weekly for six years and have become the establishment’s “calling card” over time.

“Dom” (25 Oktyabrya St., 1) is a completely new space for Perm that opened two years ago. The project’s social networks state that “Dom” is a point of attraction for people living with creativity, and a place where a special atmosphere of coziness, hospitality, and friendliness reigns. And, despite such pretentious formulations, “Dom” is indeed a place worth visiting. The space of “Dom” includes halls for work and leisure, periodically transforming into a chamber concert hall. It also has a pastry shop and a coffee house with many types of coffee. “Dom” is worth recommending to tourists at least because it is located in the mansion of the merchant Pyotr Popov — one of the oldest buildings in the city, built at the end of the 18th century.

The "Dom" space is located in the mansion of the merchant Pyotr Popov — one of the oldest buildings in the city, built at the end of the 18th century. Photo: Space Dom / Instagram.com
The “Dom” space is located in the mansion of the merchant Pyotr Popov — one of the oldest buildings in the city, built at the end of the 18th century. Photo: Space Dom / Instagram.com

“Perm Cuisine” (Gazety “Zvezda” St., 75) leans too much into the touristy flair but still looks authentic. The establishment operates in two formats: cafe-park — it implies the possibility of quickly grabbing a bite in a self-service mode — and cafe-museum. In the latter case, it’s about the slow food format — chefs not only prepare authentic dishes of Perm and Komi-Permyak cuisine (posikunchiki pies, cream soup from young shoots of horsetail — pistikov, various types of dumplings, fish soup from Ural fish) but also conduct a competent historical tour. The average check of the establishment is 550 rubles (5.55 euros).

Posikunchiki deserve a special mention. Despite the debates among local chefs and historians about the degree of “Perm-ness” of these small fried pies, they have long become one of the main culinary brands of the region. Their feature is the abundance of hot meat juice, which can splatter the eater at the first bite. Proper posikunchiki are not made everywhere. It’s difficult to recommend the numerous chain snack bars in this regard. But in “Perm Cuisine” or “Expedition,” they are prepared just right.

And another local specialty worth mentioning separately is the “PriKamye Balsam” from “Permalco.” It’s usually not served in establishments, considered a drink of not the highest segment, and is sold in any liquor supermarket. Nevertheless, according to many tourists, in terms of taste qualities, it surpasses competitors from other regions — the Bashkir “Agidel” and the Tatar “Bugulma.” A bottle of this drink is perfect as an authentic local souvenir. Moreover, it’s said that a tourist who has tried the “PriKamye Balsam” will surely return to Perm.

What to Take Home

  • Feklina is a Perm brand of clothing that makes everything from shoppers to coats, but they are famous for their bonnets.
  • Another local brand is Polina Benefit — but here, it’s all just for girls.
  • “This is Me” offers natural vegan cosmetics: soap, shampoos, conditioners, creams, and deodorants. No plastic, no animal testing, and all waste goes for recycling.
  • My Cozy — pillows and tapestries.
  • Utopia — vintage second-hand. At the “Piotrovsky” bookstore (Pushkin St., 15), you can buy local history and historical books.

Where to Stay

“Ural” (Lenina St., 58) is one of the most popular and spacious hotels in the city, conveniently located in the center, in an impressive building of Soviet modernism with colored stained glass inspired by the local “animal style”. It was in “Ural” that visiting stars were often accommodated during the “cultural revolution” years. The cheapest single economy room without meals costs 3800 rubles (38.36 euros). The most expensive suite with three meals a day costs 17200 rubles (173.63 euros).

The "Ural" Hotel is located in the city center, in an impressive building in the style of Soviet modernism. Photo: Booking.com
The “Ural” Hotel is located in the city center, in an impressive building in the style of Soviet modernism. Photo: Booking.com

The “Siberia” hotel chain is located in the city center or very close to it. Four accommodation options are tailored to different needs and budgets: a four-star business hotel (temporarily closed), three-star garni and ars hotels (bed and breakfast only), spacious apartments in a club house, and a two-star economy hotel. The most affordable option in the economy hotel starts from 2,700 rubles  (27.26 euros), while a suite in the business hotel starts from 9,700 rubles (97.92 euros).

There are quite a few hostels in Perm, both in the very center and in the suburban districts. One of the best is the “Dom Demidovykh” in the city center. It is located in a historic mansion from the second half of the 19th century, where the authentic interior is partially recreated. A bed in a six-person dorm costs from 700 rubles (7.07 euros), a single room from 2,300 (23.22 euros).

The "Dom Demidovykh" hostel is located in a historic mansion from the second half of the 19th century, where the authentic interior is partially recreated
The “Dom Demidovykh” hostel is located in a historic mansion from the second half of the 19th century, where the authentic interior is partially recreated

The “Demidkovo” sanatorium in the Polazna village (50 km from Perm) is situated in a pine forest on the banks of the Kama River. Theodor Currentzis once set the trend for “Demidkovo,” having lived here and even waited out the pandemic. Not in the sanatorium itself, but in the cottage settlement of the same name. The sanatorium is very popular, so even on weekdays, it’s not always possible to book a good room. The cheapest economy room costs 2,700 rubles (27.26 euros). Prices for sanatorium vouchers start from 3,000 rubles (30.28 euros) per day.

How to Get There

Plane. Traveling to Moscow or Saint Petersburg from Europe in 2024 offers a variety of routes, particularly through international hubs like Istanbul or Yerevan, which serve as convenient gateways to Russia. These cities are well-connected to multiple European destinations, making them excellent choices for a layover or transfer point.

Aeroflot, S7, Nordwind, and Pobeda regularly fly to Perm. The average ticket price from Moscow is 4,500–8,500 rubles (45.43 – 85.81 euros). The flight takes less than two hours. Perm is two hours ahead of Moscow time. In addition to Moscow, there are direct flights to Perm from Novosibirsk, Samara, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Omsk, and St. Petersburg.

Bus No. 108 runs from Bolshoye Savino Airport to the city center. The trip costs 35 rubles (0.35 euros), the same as all city transport. A taxi ride costs from 350 rubles (3.53 euros) — depending on the destination, traffic, and weather conditions.

Trains from Moscow take an average of 20–24 hours, and a ticket costs about 3,000 rubles (30.28 euros) (platskart), 6,000 (60.57 euros) (coupe), or 10,000–12,000 (100.95 – (121.14 euros) (SV). You can also reach Perm by train from many other cities — Perm is on the Trans-Siberian route, and trains to Vladivostok pass through it. There is also a southern route train from Adler and from the northwest — from St. Petersburg.

Car. The journey to Perm by car takes about the same time as by train (22–23 hours). The standard route from Moscow goes through Yaroslavl and Kirov and is about 1,450 kilometers long.

About Perm on the Internet

Media

Projects

  • “Center of Urban Culture” — a private exhibition and event space in the city center, which deals with urban studies and local initiatives.
  • “Piotrovsky” — an independent bookstore, the spiritual sibling of Moscow’s “Phalanstery”.
  • “Dedmorozim” — one of the most important charity projects, created in Perm and gained nationwide fame.
  • “Flahertiana” — an annual documentary film festival, one of the city’s calling cards on the international cultural scene.
  • “Tochka” — the only school in Russia that offers specialized education in design.

People

  • Nadezhda Bagley — activist, thanks to whom the city started talking about small rivers.
  • Anastasia Maltseva — the main driver of all transformations in the “Rabochy Poselok” social town.
  • Nailia Allahverdieva — curator, head of the PERMM Museum of Contemporary Art.
  • Nadezhda Agisheva — public figure and patron, head of the “New Collection” cultural initiatives support fund.
  • Tatyana Sinitsyna — art manager, director of the Center for Urban Culture.

Guide author: Ivan Kozlov

Photographs: Ivan Kozlov, Misha Mityukov

Cover: Nata Skorokhodova

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