Main industries: Electricity, vehicle and metal manufacturing, food production
Mayor: Nikolai Levin
Founded in 1703 by Prince Alexander Menshikov by order of Peter the Great.
Interesting fact No. 1: The town's first governor was Gavrilla Derzhavin, one of Russia's leading Golden Age poets, statesmen and polymathematicians.
Interesting fact No. 2: The city was occupied by Finnish troops for nearly three years between 1941-44 during the Continuation War between Finland and the Soviet Union.
Helpful contacts: Mayor Nikolai Levin (+78142 71-33-00), City Hall's department of economics and investment (+7 8142-71-33-24).
Sister cities: Nyborg, Denmark; Joensuu, Finland; La Rochelle, France; Neubrandenburg, Germany; Neustrelitz, Germany; Portomaggiore, Italy; Ohara, Japan; Duluth, Minnesota, U.S.
PETROZAVODSK, Republic of Karelia — In trying to reach and conquer the Baltic Sea, Tsar Peter the Great declared war on the Swedish Empire in 1700. Three years into a conflict that would last more than two decades, Peter sanctioned the building of a new town on the shores of Lake Onega to be used as an iron foundry for much-needed weaponry for his northern fleets.
Under the supervision of Prince Menshikov, the settlement and foundry of Petrovskaya Sloboda was established in September 1703 — the same year in which the construction of St. Petersburg began.
The town grew in the aftermath of Peter the Great's victory in the Great Northern War, and its industrial heritage is evident to this day. Several changes of name occurred during these early years until eventually Petrozavodsk, which means "Peter's Factory," was settled upon.
Today, Petrozavodsk is a small city by Russian standards and has a friendly, European atmosphere. A leafy park in the neoclassical center leads to the grand Musical Theater and former governor's residence. But Petrozavodsk is also the victim of the blander sides of Soviet construction, and visitors venturing off the main streets and squares — which resemble St. Petersburg — are soon surrounded by characterless housing and the remnants of abandoned industry.
Karelenergo (43 Ulitsa Kirova; +7 8142-78-26-20;
Onezhsky Tractor Plant (+7 8142-71-15-66;
Petrozavodsk is the capital of the Republic of Karelia — a vast land of rivers and forests that fills a gap between Lake Ladoga and the Arctic Circle. Surrounded by an abundance of natural beauty, it is an ideal launch point for exploration of hectares of forest and a number of breathtaking waterfalls.
The region's proximity to Scandinavia has led to a unique blend of cultures and folklores. Hallmarks of this Finnish heritage are visible in the city's cuisine, traditions and souvenirs. Dance and musical ensembles regularly perform in the Karelian language, which shares the same roots as Finnish and is also written on many road signs and notices. These links and Peter the Great's progressive tendencies all give the town a distinctly Western feel, a fact that visitors frequently comment about.
Q: Why should investors come to Petrozavodsk?
A: Petrozavodsk is a modern city, full of modern people. Our people often spend time in other Russian cities such as Moscow and Petersburg and go abroad, especially to Finland. They have made good contacts with high-level people in Finland, Scandinavia and in Europe in general, formed joint ventures, and proved that they can protect the interests of their partners in Petrozavodsk. They can protect investment in our city and do everything to make life dependable and convenient for those who come here.
Q: In which sectors would you recommend that people invest?
A: One of the main spheres to invest in is our wood and paper complex. We are surrounded by forests, and there are opportunities for wood-processing, the production of building materials and building houses using Canadian and U.S. know-how. We actually have a big niche open for building materials; we have one good hypermarket that sells them, but it would be very useful if a Westerner were to organize the sale of more building materials. We would welcome a second hypermarket or any foreign building know-how with open arms.
Q: Which factors hinder business in Petrozavodsk?
A: Foreign investors are often apprehensive about investing here, which can slow down our usual active way of doing business. But in principle I think that nothing especially hinders business. We just need our partners to be prepared to come here and to discuss any option or question that may arise.
Q: How do you see Petrozavodsk developing over the next 10 years?
A: I expect tourism to improve. Tourism is growing everywhere, and we are creating good infrastructure in the city. I also hope that stone production, construction and machine production will grow. A Danish company recently sold modern technology to the Onezhsky Tractor Plant to produce machines that work in forests, and they built quite a few last year.
— Max de Haldevang
Karelia is equally famous for its rich rock deposits. Karelian stone has been highly sought after throughout the centuries, being used in the construction of monuments and buildings in Russia and Europe. Perhaps most famous is the presence of Karelian red marble in the tomb of Napoleon I in Paris and of Karelian quartzite, noted for its dark-red hue, in the structure of Lenin's Mausoleum in Moscow.
Several companies export Karelian stone to this day, and it is a popular choice for headstones in Russia's cemeteries as well as having a use in general construction. Many of the town's own monuments reflect this diverse geology.
On the whole, Petrozavodsk is a mixed bag for the traveler. It is certainly outshone by its relative closeness to St. Petersburg, and the town itself has seen better days. In terms of business, however, the town has been growing steadily over the last five years, with city hall's budget increasing year on year since 2006 and the average wage having risen accordingly.
The energy sector has provided the biggest boom following a restructuring of the Russian energy sector, in which field leader Karelenergo joined the main regional companies in the surrounding area to form parent company IDGC of the North-West. This, alongside a wave of investment that led to the founding of two new companies in 2006, Energokomfort (
What to see if you have two hours
Walk along the embankment that borders Europe's second-largest lake, the Onega — famous for giving its name to Alexander Pushkin's "Eugene Onegin" and its subsequent opera adaptation by Tchaikovsky — and take in the vast collection of monuments that line it. Look for the minimalist steel monument of two fishermen (easily the best of the collection) that was given to Petrozavodsk by one of its sister cities, Duluth, Minnesota, in 1991. End the walk by meeting the icy stare of Peter the Great at his monument on the end of the embankment.
Afterward, sit down for a relaxing cup of coffee and a slice of excellent New York-style cheesecake in De Ja Vu (20 Prospekt Lenina; +7 8142-78-20-85); a very reasonable and stylish cafe on the town's main street about a 12-minute walk from the train station.
For history buffs, check out the region's geological and pre-historic heritage at the Karelian National Museum (1 Ploshchad Lenina; +7 8142-78-27-02;
What to see if you have two days
To be frank, most people, Russians included, will only visit Petrozavodsk due to its proximity to the island of Kizhi (
Q: What opportunities does Petrozavodsk offer new businesses?
A: Quite a few. There is a large quantity of electricity available, and it is easy to put the necessary infrastructure in place. We welcome people to come, build and develop.
Q: Which sectors do you expect to especially develop in the near future?
A: A lot of attention is being paid to the development of tourism in the republic because the nature here is so unique and special. There are so many beautiful places. Industry is also expected to improve. There are a lot of platforms and opportunities for foreign business. The local government actively participates in this. They create working spaces and help in other ways around the republic.
Q: So you have a strong relationship with the local government?
A: Well, we are an energy company, they are in charge of the local economy, and, without energy, the economy won't develop. However, we also depend on them because they set the tariffs for our electricity. But they work with us responsibly and in a positive way. Our dealings are friendly, and we help each other.
Q: What factors hinder business in the region?
A: The local government works very actively to attract investors, not only foreigners but also Russians from other regions. There is no sort of discrimination against investors. The region is open to all, and business is developing quite well here.
— Max de Haldevang
For culture-hungry tourists who want something even more off the beaten track, book a trip to the house-museum of the Veps ethnic group (28 Pochtovaya Ulitsa, Prionezhsky District; +7 8142-53-91-50
Also consider asking locals about scenic spots for a picnic, but you may need to find a reliable guide (and some hiking boots) to get there. One popular spot is the waterfall at Kivach, which takes about two hours to reach by car. Look out for several tour groups in town or try online providers like Tur-v-karelii.ru.
Petrozavodsk's nightlife has its fair share of nice bars and hangouts. The same cannot be said for clubs, with the exception of the relatively new Das Kapital (1A Prospekt Karla Marksa; +7 8142-63-64-35;
If you just fancy heading to a nice bar, then Prospekt Lenina's Bar Neubrandenburg (13 Ulitsa Engelsa; +7 8142-78-50-38;
Theater-goers are spoiled for choice in Petrozavodsk, which has several theaters that perform in a number of languages. By far the most impressive place to see a show is the Musical Theater of the Republic of Karelia (Ploshchad Kirova; +7 8142-78-44-42;
Where to eat
Karelia is famous for its diverse cuisine, which is heavily influenced by its Scandinavian neighbors. For a chance to sample its merits, visit Karelskaya Gornitsa (13 Ulitsa Engelsa; +7 8142-785-300;
Light lunches, Russian salads and a particularly good vegetarian pizza can be bought from Kafe Kivach (28 Prospekt Lenina; +7 8142-63-23-08), which also provides menus in English and free Wi-Fi. Although not the best place in town for food or atmosphere, this tends to be a focal point for foreign visitors and students at the nearby Petrozavodsk State University. A lunch and a drink for one costs 300 rubles to 600 rubles.
For an easy family meal, head to the cheerful restaurant Bellissimo (20 Ulitsa Antikainina; +7 8142-76-10-53), which has the best pizza in Petrozavodsk. Pizzas cost in the region of 300 rubles, and the restaurant frequently runs buy-one-get-one-free offers.
Where to stay
Onego Palace (26 Ulitsa Kuibysheva; +7 8142-79-07-90;
Hotel Severnaya (21 Prospekt Lenina; +7 8142-59-97-77;
A respectful nod to the town's famous first governor, 18th-century poet Gavrilla Derzhavin, would be an easy way to endear yourself to the local intelligentsia. For equally light conversation, ask about local beauty spots like the Devil's Chair (a stunning cliff-top with views of the city from the other side of the lake) or simply praise the town's marble embankment. Avoid mentioning the German occupation (the Nazis set up a concentration camp here) or the 1941-44 Continuation War with Finland, unless you're feeling brave or want a history lecture.
How to get there
Petrozavodsk is served by Petrozavodsk Airport, situated 12 kilometers from the city. You can catch domestic flights from Moscow's Domodedovo Airport via Rusline (
Trains also run about four times a day from St. Petersburg, and the journey takes about eight hours. Evening trains are, of course, overnight journeys and tickets range from 500 rubles to 800 rubles one-way. Trains from Moscow are less frequent, take about 15 to 20 hours to cover the 980-kilometer trip, and cost 900 rubles to 5,000 rubles one-way.