(mʊrmänsk'), city (1989 pop. 468,000), capital of Murmansk region, NW European Russia, on the Kola Gulf of the Barents Sea. It is the terminus of the Northeast Passage and the world's largest city N of the Arctic Circle, with a polar research institute. For many years this ice-free port was a leading Soviet freight port, a base for fishing fleets, a major naval base, and the main home port of the Russian nuclear submarine fleet. Until the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the loss of state funding, Murmansk was a thriving industrial, commercial, and shipping center. Now the formerly active railroad terminus linked with Moscow and St. Petersburg has seen train traffic decrease by half. Its fish canneries, shipyards, textile factories, breweries, and sawmills have laid off workers, the commercial fleets have been sold for scrap or land their catch outside Russia, and the nuclear submarines relocated.
Murmansk was only a small village before World War I. The port and its rail line inland from Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) were built in 1915–16, when the Central Powers cut off the Russian Baltic and Black Sea supply routes. Allied forces occupied the Murmansk area from 1918 to 1920, during the Russian civil war. A major World War II supply base and port for Anglo-American convoys, Murmansk was bombarded by the Germans. During the 1970s and 80s, the Sea of Murmansk was the dump site for the exhausted cores of Soviet nuclear reactors. Murmansk oblast, with rich apatite and nickel mines, was enlarged after World War II through the incorporation of former Finnish territories, notably Petsamo (Pechenga).