The arms of the city display the Archangel Michael in the act of slaying the Devil. Legend states that this victory took place near where the city stands, hence its name, and that Michael still stands watch over the city to prevent the Devil's return.
Vikings knew the area around Arkhangelsk as Bjarmaland. Ohthere of Hålogaland told circa 890 of his travels in an area by a river and the White Sea with many buildings. This was probably the place later known as Arkhangelsk. According to Snorri Sturluson, Vikings led by Thorir Hund raided this area in 1027.
In 1989, an unusually impressive silver treasure was found through local farm workers by the mouth of Dvina, right next to present-day Arkhangelsk. It was probably buried in the beginning of the 12th century, and contained articles that may have been up to two hundred years old at that time.
Most of the findings comprised a total of 1.6 kilograms (3.5 lb) of silver, largely in the form of coins. Jewelry and pieces of jewelry come from Russia or neighboring areas. The majority of the coins were German, but the hoard also included a smaller number of Kufan, English, Bohemian, Hungarian, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian coins.
It is hard to place this find historically until further research is completed. There are at least two possible interpretations. It may be a treasure belonging to the society outlined by the Norse source material. Generally such finds, whether from Scandinavia, the Baltic area, or Russia, are closely tied to well-established agricultural societies with considerable trade activity.
Alternatively, like the Russian scientists who published the find in 1992, one may see it as evidence of a stronger case of Russian colonization than previously thought.
In the 12th century, the Novgorodians established the Archangel Michael Monastery (named after Michael the Archangel) in the estuary of the Northern Dvina River.
The main trade center of the area at that time was Kholmogory, located 75 kilometers (47 mi) southeast of Arkhangelsk, up the Dvina River, about 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) downstream from where the Pinega River flows into the Dvina. Written sources indicate that Kholmogory existed early in the 12th century, but there is no archeological material to illuminate the early history of the town. It is not known whether the origin of this settlement was Russian, or if it goes back to pre-Russian times. In the center of the small town (or Gorodok) that is there today is a large mound of building remains and river sand, but it has not been archeologically excavated.
The area of Arkhangelsk came to be important in the rivalry between Norwegian and Russian interests in the northern areas. From Novgorod, the spectrum of Russian interest was extended far north to the Kola Peninsula in the 12th century. However, here Norway enforced taxes and rights to the fur trade. A compromise agreement entered in 1251 was soon broken.
In 1411, Yakov Stepanovich from Novgorod went to attack Northern Norway. This was the beginning of a series of clashes. In 1419, Norwegian ships with five hundred soldiers entered the White Sea. The "Murmaners", as the Norwegians were called (cf. Murmansk), plundered many Russian settlements along the coast, among them the Archangel Michael Monastery.
Novgorod managed to drive the Norwegians back. However, in 1478 the area was taken over by Ivan III and passed to the Grand Duchy of Moscow with the rest of the Novgorod Republic.
Three English ships set out to find the Northeast passage to China in 1553; two disappeared, and one ended up in the White Sea, eventually coming across the area of Arkhangelsk. Ivan the Terrible found out about this, and brokered a trade agreement with the ship's captain, Richard Chancellor. Trade privileges were granted to English merchants in 1555, leading to the founding of the Company of Merchant Adventurers, which began sending ships annually into the estuary of the Northern Dvina. Dutch merchants also started bringing their ships into the White Sea from the 1560s. Scottish and English merchants also traded in the 16th century; however, by the 17th century it was mainly the Dutch that sailed to the White Sea area.
In 1584, Ivan ordered the founding of New Kholmogory (which would later be renamed after the nearby Archangel Michael Monastery). At the time access to the Baltic Sea was still mostly controlled by Sweden, so while Arkhangelsk was icebound in winter, it remained Moscow's almost sole link to the sea-trade. Local inhabitants, called Pomors, were the first to explore trade routes to Northern Siberia as far as the trans-Urals city of Mangazeya and beyond. In December 1613, during the Time of Troubles, Arkhangelsk was besieged by Polish-Lithuanian marauders commanded by Stanislaw Jasinski (Lisowczycy), who failed to capture the fortified town. In 1619 and in 1637 a fire broke out, and the complete city was burned down.
In 1693, Peter the Great ordered the creation of a state shipyard in Arkhangelsk. A year later the ships Svyatoye Prorochestvo (Holy Prophecy), Apostol Pavel (Apostle Paul), and the yacht Svyatoy Pyotr (Saint Peter) were sailing in the White Sea. However, he also realized that Arkhangelsk would always be limited as a port due to the five months of ice cover, and after a successful campaign against Swedish armies in the Baltic area, he founded St. Petersburg in May 1703.
In 1722, Peter the Great decreed that Arkhangelsk should no longer accept goods that amounted to more than was sufficient for the town (for so-called domestic consumption). It was due to the Tsar's will to shift all international marine trade to St. Petersburg. This factor greatly contributed to the deterioration of Arkhangelsk that continued up to 1762 when this decree was canceled.
Arkhangelsk declined in the 18th century as the Baltic trade became ever more important. In the early years of the 19th century, the arrest and prolonged detention by Russian authorities of John Bellingham, an English export representative based at Arkhangelsk, was the indirect cause of Bellingham later assassinating British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval.
Arkhangelsk's economy revived at the end of the 19th century when a railway to Moscow was completed and timber became a major export. The city resisted Bolshevik rule from 1918 to 1920 and was a stronghold of the anti-Bolshevik White Army supported by the military intervention of British-led Entente forces along an Allied expedition, including a North American contingent known as the Polar Bear Expedition. It was also the scene of Mudyug concentration camp.
During both world wars, Arkhangelsk was a major port of entry for Allied aid. During World War II, the city became known in the West as one of the two main destinations (along with Murmansk) of the Arctic Convoys bringing supplies to assist the Russians who were cut off from their normal supply lines. During Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Arkhangelsk was one of two cities (the other being Astrakhan) selected to mark the envisaged eastern limit of Nazi control. This military operation was to be halted at this A-A line but never reached it as the German forces failed to capture either of the two cities and also failed to capture Moscow.
Arkhangelsk was also the site of Arkhangelsk ITL, or the Arkhangelsk Labour Camp, in the 1930s and 1940s.
Today, Arkhangelsk remains a major seaport, now open year-round due to improvements in icebreakers. The city is primarily a center for the timber and fishing industries.
On March 16, 2004, fifty-eight people were killed in an explosion at an apartment block in the city.
Arkhangelsk is the administrative center of the oblast and, within the framework of administrative divisions, it also serves as the administrative center of Primorsky District, even though it is not a part of it. As an administrative division, it is, together with five rural localities, incorporated separately as the city of oblast significance of Arkhangelsk—an administrative unit with the status equal to that of the districts. As a municipal division, the city of oblast significance of Arkhangelsk is incorporated as Arkhangelsk Urban Okrug.
The mayor (as of July 2017) is Igor Viktorovich Godzish, who was elected in 2015.
For administrative purposes, the city is divided into nine territorial okrugs:
Nordavia (formerly Aeroflot Nord) airline has its head office on the grounds of the Talagi Airport in Arkhangelsk.
Arkhangelsk was home to Pomorsky State University and Arkhangelsk State Technical University which merged with several other institutions of higher learning in 2010 to form the Northern (Arctic) Federal University.
Arkhangelsk is also home to the Northern State Medical University, Makarov state Maritime Academy,and a branch of the All-Russian Distance Institute of Finance and Economics.
Mikhail Lomonosov came from a Pomor village near Kholmogory. A monument to him was installed to a design by Ivan Martos in 1829. A monument to Peter the Great was designed by Mark Antokolsky in 1872 and installed in 1914.
After its historic churches were destroyed during Joseph Stalin's rule, the city's main extant landmarks are the fort-like Merchant Yards The Assumption Church on the Dvina embankment (1742–1744) was rebuilt in 2004.
In 2008, it was decided that the city's cathedral, dedicated to the Archangel Michael, which had been destroyed under the Soviets, would be rebuilt. The foundation stone was laid in November 2008 by the regional Bishop Tikhon. As of 2015, the walls are nearing completion, and the cathedral, situated near the city's main bus station and river port, is expected to be completed and consecrated in 2017.
Another remarkable structure is the Arkhangelsk TV Mast, a 151-meter (495 ft) tall guyed mast for FM-/TV-broadcasting built in 1964. This tubular steel mast has six crossbars equipped with gangways, which run in two levels from the mast structure to the crossbars.
An unusual example of local "vernacular architecture" was the so-called Sutyagin house. This thirteen-story, 44-meter (144 ft) tall residence of the local entrepreneur Nikolay Petrovich Sutyagin was reported to be the world's, or at least Russia's, tallest wooden house. Constructed by Mr. Sutyagin and his family over the course of fifteen years (starting in 1992), without plans or a building permit, the structure deteriorated while Mr. Sutyagin spent a few years in prison on racketeering charges. In 2008, it was condemned by the city as a fire hazard, and the courts ordered it to be demolished by February 1, 2009. On December 26, 2008, the tower was pulled down, and the remainder of the building was dismantled manually by early February 2009.
The cultural life of Arkhangelsk includes:
An airstrip in Arkhangelsk was the fictional setting for a level in the 1997 hit videogame Goldeneye 007.
The Russian North, and, in particular, the area of Arkhangelsk, is notable for its folklore. Until the mid-20th century, fairy tales and bylinas were still performed on the daily basis by performers who became professionals. Starting from the 1890s, folkloric expeditions have been organized to the White Sea area and later to other areas of the Arkhangelsk Governorate in order to write down the tales and the bylinas, especially in Pomor dialects. In the 1920s, mostly due to the efforts of Anna Astakhova, these expeditions became systematic. By the 1960s, the performing art was basically extinct. These folkloric motives and fairy tales inspired the literary works of Stepan Pisakhov and Boris Shergin, who were both natives of Arkhangelsk.
Arkhangelsk experiences a subarctic climate (Köppen climate classification Dfc), with long (November-March) and very cold winters and short (June-August) and cool summers.
Bandy is the biggest sport in the city and is considered a national sport in Russia. Vodnik, the local team, nine times became the Russian champion (1996–2000 and 2002–2005). Their home arena has the capacity of 10000. Arkhangelsk hosted the Bandy World Championship in 1999 and 2003. The 2011–2012 season Russian Bandy League final was played here on March 25, 2012. The 2016 Youth-17 Bandy World Championship was played in Arkhangelsk between 28–31 January.