Kem is situated on the River Kem near the place where it flows in the White Sea (434 km to the north from Petrozavodsk).

Settlements of Kem are first mentioned in the 14th century. In 1450 these lands that had been appertained to Marfa Posadnitsa since the beginning of the 15th century passed into ownership of Solovetsky cloister.

Hydronim as several scientists consider is formed out of immemorial term "kem", "hem" – "big river" that admittedly has Indo-European origin and is diffused on the fair part of Eurasia from the River Kemijoki on the north of Finland to the River Ulug-Hem (the River Enisei) and other rivers on Tuva.

In the end of the 16th – the beginning of the 17th century the settlement suffered from the Polish-Swedish intervention. Kem received city status in 1775.

In 1930s the Kemsky transit point that transmitted prisoners to Solovki was located in Kem, as well as the Administration of Solovki Camps(GULAG), and its building was preserved until our days. The city was built up mainly with wooden houses, and only on the main streets there were 3-storey brick houses.

The unique wooden Uspensky Cathedral (1717) built in memory of the save from Sweden raids was preserved in Kem.

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