The Republic of Karelia is vast area in northeastern Russia that stretches from St. Petersburg to the Arctic Circle. Covering 172,400 square kilometers (66,600 square miles), it is home to about 620,000 people from 55 different ethnic groups including the 140,000 Karelians, and many Russians who are offspring of labor camp survivors. In the past it was part of Sweden and Finland. Some signs are in both Russian and Finnish. Website: Tourist portal of Karelia:

Karelia is the land of the Karelian people, a Baltic-Finnic ethnic group It is currently divided among the northwestern Russian Federation (the federal subjects of the Republic of Karelia and Leningrad Oblast) and Finland (the regions of South Karelia and North Karelia). The climate is cook in the summer and cold in the winter. The average temperature is +15 degrees C (60 degrees F) in the summer but can drop to -35 degrees C (-31 degrees F) in the winter.

The Republic of Karelia contains deep forests, clear rivers, clean air, and 60,000 lakes, including Ladoga and Onega Lakes, the two largest lakes in Europe. The White Sea Canal links rivers and lake in the region to the Arctic Sea. The area is famous for its islands that are protected by UNESCO; in particular, Kizhi and Valaam. Visitors to Karelia can see the largest plain waterfall in Europe (Kivach), stay at the Martial Waters spa, which opened during the reign of Peter the Great, and discover the Karelian-Finnish epic poem The Kalevala. Activities that can be enjoyed include extreme off-road trips, hiking expeditions, canoeing, rafting, kayaking, fishing, hunting and checking out the famous petroglyphs around Lake Ladoga.

After World War II, the southwestern corner of the republic, including its only stretch of open-water seacoast on the Gulf of Finland, became part of the Russian Republic. In 1956 the regime of Nikita S. Khrushchev (in office 1953-64) redesignated the artificial entity, which never came close to having a Karelian majority, as the Karelian ASSR. In 1994 the republic's population of about 800,200 was 74 percent Russian, only 10 percent Karelian, 7 percent Belarusian, and 4 percent Ukrainian. The dominant religion is Russian Orthodoxy.

In a region dominated by forests, lakes, and marshes, the Karelian economy is supported mainly by logging, mining, and fishing. The plentiful mineral resources include construction stone, zinc, lead, silver, copper, molybdenum, aluminum, nickel, platinum, tin, barite, and iron ore. Industries include timber and mineral processing, and the manufacturing of furniture, chemicals, and paper.

Northern European Russia

Northern European Russia is roughly defined as the area north of Moscow between Finland and the Baltic Sea in the west, the Arctic Ocean and its branches in the north and the Ural mountains in the east. The regions is mostly flat and dotted with lakes and marshes. The area’s far northern areas are covered by tundra. Further south are taiga forest.

Northern European Russia was first inhabited by reindeer herders like the Sami people (Lapps) and later by Novgorodian merchants and Swedes, who occupied the region for a long times. The Russians didn't completely lay claim to the area until Peter the Great drove the Swedes from the eastern Baltic. The area was largely ignored until its importance as a supply line was realized in World War I and World War II.

Most places of interest lie along three routes: 1) the semi-circular route through lake, rivers and canals between Moscow and St. Petersburg; 2) the north-south rail-road route between St. Petersburg and Murmansk; and 3) the north-south rail-road route between Moscow and Arkhangelsk


The Karelians are a Finno-Ugric people that live in northwest Russia near the Finnish border, in Finland and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.. Karelians are cousin of the Finns and have been largely assimilated into Russian or Finnish society. Few speak Karelian. Even so they consider themselves Karelian. Their traditional culture is more closely linked with that of the Finns rather Russians.

The Karelians have traditionally along the northeastern shore of Lake Ladoga. Before World War II this was part of Finland. After the war it was ceded to the Soviet Union. Many Karelians were resettled in Finland. Today there are about 140,000 Karelians in Russia. About 80,000 of the them form 10 percent of the population of the Karelia republic along the Finnish border.

Karelians have lived in the border region between Russia and Finland for more than 1,000 years. They were mentioned in Scandinavian sagas dated to 874 and 1143, when they took part in battles against the Finns. There homeland was also the site of fierce fighting between the Russians and Swedes.

Volga–Baltic Waterway

Volga-Baltic Waterway connects the Baltic Sea with the Volga River through a series of rivers, lakes and canals. Along the shores are small farms, rolling green hills, old villages and birch forests. Both Peter the Great and Stalin had hope to complete a Volga-Baltic water but that goal was not realized until the summer of 1964, when the last link of the waterway — the 368-kilometer (229-mile) stretch between the Rybinsk Reservoir at Cherepovets and Lake Onega — was completed. Linking the major cities of European Russia and sometimes called the "Path of God," the 1,100-mile waterway includes dams, locks, canals, reservoirs, Vytegra and Kovzha rivers, Lake Beloye, and the Sheksna River. River cruise ships ply the waterway from May to September.

The Volga-Baltic Waterway — officially called the V.I. Lenin Volga-Baltic Waterway and formerly known as the Mariinsk Canal System — has a total length is about 1,100 kilometers (685 miles). Originally constructed in the early 19th century, the system was rebuilt for larger vessels in the 1960s, becoming a part of the Unified Deep Water System of European Russia. According to Encyclopædia Britannica: “The first link between the Volga and the Baltic, via Vishny Volochek, the Msta River, and the Ladoga Canal, opened in 1731, creating a route 1,395 km (867 miles) long. A second route, the Tikhvin system, opened in 1811, creating an 890-km (about 550-mile) waterway via the Mologa and Syas rivers. A third route, the Mariinsk system, opened in 1810, using the Sheksna and Svir rivers; it was improved in the 1850s and again between 1890 and 1896, creating a 1,135-km (705-mile) waterway for boats drawing less than 1.8 meters (5.8 feet). It was decided to rebuild the whole system in 1939, and this was completed in 1964.” [Source: Michael Clarke, Encyclopædia Britannica]

Going from the Volga to St. Petersburg and the Baltic Sea, the waterways starts, Michael Clarke wrote for Encyclopædia Britannica, “at Rybinsk, on the Volga River and the Rybinsk Reservoir, and goes northward by way of the Sheksna River, which was converted to a reservoir by a dam and power station above Cherepovets, to Lake Beloye. Crossing the lake, now within the Sheksna Reservoir, the waterway follows the Kovzha River, which is linked by a canal section over the watershed to the Vytegra River; the latter canal section was improved by the construction of six locks and two hydroelectric stations and reservoirs. The Vytegra River flows into Lake Onega, and from there the waterway continues westward through the Svir River. It follows the Svir to Lake Ladoga and the Novoladozhsky Canal and then to the Neva River, which empties into the Gulf of Finland at St. Petersburg. The length of the waterway from Lake Onega to Cherepovets is 368 km (229 miles). The system has seven modern automatically controlled locks and can take craft with drafts up to 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) and 5,000 tons capacity; in contrast, the old Mariinsk system, with 38 locks, had a limit of 600-ton barges.

Lake Ladoga

Lake Ladoga (near St. Petersburg) is the largest lake in Europe. Fed by water from 3,500 rivers and dotted by more than 500 islands, it covers 18,130 square kilometers (7,000 square miles) and is about 245 kilometers (150 miles long) and an average of 80 kilometers (50 miles) wide. The lake is slightly elongated from north to south. The maximum length is about 200 kilometers; the maximum width is 130 kilometers. The greatest depth is 230 meters. It is best to explore the Lake Ladoga by car as the sights are located far from each other and public transportation is not convenient. .

The lake is surrounded by flat expanses of beech, willow, fir and spruce trees that stretch as far as the eye can see. There are sandy, rocky beaches along its southern shore. The 75-kilometer (46-mile) -long Neva River connects Lake Ladoga to the Baltic Sea and St. Petersburg. The lake is an inexhaustible source of drinking water for St. Petersburg. During World War II, Lake Ladoga saved hundreds of thousands of lives. When it froze in the winter it became the "road to life" allowing convoys of trucks to break the Nazi blockade and bring food, ammunition and supplies to Leningrad during the 872-day Leningrad Blockade.

Lake Ladoga was created by glacial activity that scoured away rock and soil and left a large depression that filled up with water. The northern part of the lake lies on the Baltic crystalline shield, a geological formation which dates the earliest eras of the history of the Earth's development. The rocks forming the shield are represented mainly by granites, gneisses and crystalline schists of the Archaean age. These rocks come out of the surface and are only partially covered by a thin layer of sediments from later times.

Lake Ladoga is especially nice in the summer when there are opportunity to sunbathe on the sandy beaches and party late during the White Nights. Monuments tell the heroic story of the defenders of Leningrad during the siege years. The island of Konevets is popular with tourists and pilgrims to Konevsky Monastery, with a its churches and an on-site hotel.


Valaam (on the northern end of Lake Ladoga about 200 kilometers from St. Petersburg) is a 50-island archipelago, scattered across 52 square kilometers (20square miles), known for its forest and lake scenery and famous monastery, also called Valaam, located on the largest island, also called Valaam. The name Valaam is derived from the old Finish word for "high ground." Most of the islands are comprised mainly of granite.

Russia, Finland and Sweden all fought for possession of Valaam, which lies within the Republic of Karelia and have a total area of 32 square kilometers (12 square miles). Tchaikovsky visited the main island in 1866 and was so taken by it he based his First Symphony “Winter Dream” on it. The great Russian painter Vasily Shiskin also found inspiration here. The island was visited repeatedly by emperors Alexander I, Alexander II, and other members of the imperial family.

Many of the island’s residents live a simple life without cars, telephones and stores. They grow most of their own food and heat the homes with firewood from trees they chop down themselves. In 1999, there were about 600 residents on the main island; including army service personnel, restoration workers, guides and monks. Other names islands are: Skitsky (second by size), Lembos, Sviatoy, Bayonny, Moskovsky, Predtechensky, Nikonovsky, Divny, Emelyanov, Oboronny, Goly, Savvaty's, Zosima's, Skalisty, Lukovy, Ovsiany, Rzhanoi, Nikolsky. Website:

Lake Onega

Lake Onega (connected to Lake Ladoga by the 224-kilometer-long Svir River) is the second largest lake in Europe after Lake Ladoga and one of the purest and cleanest as well. It to is surrounded by beech, willow, fir and spruce forests. On the weekend hydrofoils with tourists zoom around at 80 kilometers per hour (50 miles per hour)

Lake Onega borders three regions: Karelia, Leningrad Oblast, and Vologda Oblast. The name is taken from old Russian literary texts. Like Lake Ladoga, Lake Onega was created by glacial activity that scoured away rock and soil and left a large depression that filled up with water. Many fish inhabit the lake, and fishing is quite popular. In total almost 47 species can be found, including lake salmon, lake trout and brook trout, whitefish, grayling, pike, sander, and eel.

Lake Onega spreads from the south to the north for 245 kilomateres. Its maximum width is about 92 kilometers. The average depth is 30 meters, with a maximum depth of 127 meters. More than a thousand rivers run into the lake, and there are over 1,500 islands on the lake. The biggest one has a small town and a school.

The only outgoing river from Lake Onega is the River Svir, which marks the southern boundary of Karelia, runs from the southwestern shore of Lake Onega to Lake Ladoga and continues as the Neva River to the Gulf of Finland. This serves as an important waterway connecting St. Petersburg to Lake Ladoga, Lake Onega and beyond.

Lake Onega: Waterway Hub Between St. Petersburg, Moscow, The Arctic Sea and the Volga

St. Petersburg and Lake Ladoga are connected by the Neva River. Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega are connected by the Svir River. The 224-kilometer (139-miles) -long Svir River is the largest river flowing into Lake Ladoga and the only river flowing out of Lake Onega. Marking the southern boundary of Karelia, the Svir runs from the southwestern shore of Lake Onega to Lake Ladoga. The Svir serves as an important waterway connecting St. Petersburg to Lake Ladoga, Lake Onega and beyond.

The White Sea–Baltic Canal runs through Lake Onega from the White Sea to the Baltic Sea. The Volga–Baltic Waterway connects Onega Lake with the Volga River, Caspian Sea and Black Sea. The Onega Canal, which follows the southern banks of the lake, was built in 1818–1820 and 1845–1852 between Vytegra River in the east and Svir River in the west. The canal was part of the Mariinsk Canal System, a forerunner of the Volga–Baltic Waterway, and aimed to create a quiet pass for boats avoiding the stormy waters of the lake. It is around 50 meters (160 feet) wide, and lies between 10 meters (33 feet) and 2 kilometers (1.2 mi)les from the shores of the lake. The canal is not used for active navigation at present.

Petrozavodsk, a city on Lake Onega, has access to the Baltic Sea, the White Sea, the Barents Sea, the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea through the system of rivers and channels. The city also has access to following lakes: Logmozero, Lamba, Dennoye and Chetyryokhverstnoe. Historically, transport to and from the city has been via water. During the summer the waterways are major tourist routes bring tourists mainly from St. Petersburg — but also from Moscow too — to see the fantastic wooden architecture at Kizhi Island and other tourist spots in the Lake Onega area.


Petrozavodsk (400 kilometers northeast of St. Petersburg on the western shore of Lake Onega) is an uninspiring town of 280,000. Founded by Peter the Great, it is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Karelia. The city’s main claim to fame is it is the site of Russia’s first cannon casting foundry of which nothing is left. Petrozavodsk means "Peter's factory" and it was placed where it is because there are iron ore deposits here.

Most visitors to Petrozavodsk stay over night and visit Kizhi Island during the day. There isn't much to see in the city itself other than grim Soviet-era museums such the Fine Arts Museum, Museum of Local Studies, and the Geological Museum. There is also a cathedral, an amusement park, an Afghan War Memorial and huge metal statue honoring Duluth, Minnesota, Petrozavodsk's sister city.

Petrozavodsk is situated on Petrozavodsk Bay, an arm of Lake Onega. The city follows the shore of the lake for 12.7 kilometers and rises up from it in terraces. To the south and west Petrozavodsk is surrounded with forests. There are around 100 springs in the city. Some of them supply water to popular resorts.

History of Petrozavodsk

The creation of Petrozavodsk is connected to Peter the Great and the beginning of the 18th century. At that time Russia was: 1) fighting for access to the Baltic Sea; 2) was adopting a more European outlook and style; and 3) was actively developing industrial manufacturing in an otherwise agricultural country. In 1703, in conjunction with the creation of the new capital in St. Petersburg, the Petrovsky factory was founded on deserted shores of the Lososinka river, which fed into Lake Onega. At that time there only a mill and the small settlement Shuysky. Petrovsky factory quickly became the largest weapons factory in Russia. It processed iron ore mined from the lake and bogs and produced guns, swords and other weapons for the Russian army and the newly-founded navy. Swords and broadswords from this factory can be found today in the Moscow Kremlin Armoury and in the Museum of Artillery in St. Petersburg. These museums also have cannonry with OLONEZ mark, also produced at the Petrovsky factory.

The settlement of Petrovskaya Sloboda soon surrounded the weapons factory. It was inhabitted by craftsmen, soldiers, officers of the mining department. During the first century of its existence the settlement faced periods of rise and decline. After the Great Northern War the factory ceased to be needed, because factories in the Urals manufactured less expensive products. So, the factory was closed. When Russia fought wars against Sweden in the north and Ottoman Turkey in the south and Russia needed all the weapons it could gets its hands on, production picked up. In 1773, Aleksandrovsky iron-melting and cannon-making factory was launched. Within a year it was producing high quality artillery.

According to decree in 1777 by Catherine the Great, the settlement around Petrovsky factory received a city status. In 1916 a railway from St. Petersburg to Murmansk was built through Petrozavodsk. In the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century Petrozavodsk was a place of political exile. In 1920 Petrozavodsk become the capital of the Karelian Labor Commune. In 1923-91 it was the capital of the Karelian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. During World War II, the city was occupied by Finnish troops and suffered great damage. Since 1991 Petrozavodsk has been the capital of the Republic of Karelia, as a federal subject of the Russian Federation.

Accommodation and Getting to Petrozavodsk

The Hotel “Karelia” is located in the center of Petrozavodsk, near lake Onega. In addition to the magnificent views of the lake, the hotel is a good jumping off point for trips to Karelian attractions such as Valaam and Kizhi. Rooms begin at around 3000 rubles (US$50) a night. Eco-Friendly Hotel Karjala Park is suitable for those who like the outdoors. Hotel rooms, cottages and camp spots are all offered here. Guests can go dog sledding, kayaking and fishing. The cost of daily accommodation starts at 2400 rubles. A a 6-bed cottage costs 7000 rubles per day.

Getting There By Plane: Karelia has two airports, one of which operates exclusively for flights within the region. Petrozavodsk airport is serviced by flights from regional centers and from Moscow. Pobeda (Victory) and Severstal airlines offer flights from Moscow to Karelia, with tickets starting at 2500 rubles. By Train: The company“Karelia” train runs between to Petrozavodsk and Moscow. The journey takes almost 12 hours. Tickets start from 2000 rubles.

By Bus: There is no direct bus service between Petrozavodsk and Moscow. However, it is possible to transfer in St. Petersburg. The cost of such a trip is almost 1700 rubles, and takes almost 20 hours. By Car: To get from Moscow to Petrozavodsk can be on the “Cola” Federal highway. The travel time is about 12 hours.

Near Petrozavodsk

Near Petrozavodsk are deep taiga forest and lakes and rivers. The area in the east and west especially offers lots of hiking, hunting, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and cross-country skiing opportunities. Stay clear of the 120-kilometer "border zone" that extends out from the Finland border. In wilderness area you can camp pretty much anywhere you want unless there is a no camping sign posted.

Kosalma (one hour by bus north of Petrozavodsk) is a workers resort that lies at the center of several dacha villages. Boris Yeltsin used to come here to stray in the former Communist Party dacha.

Kivach waterfall (70 kilometers north of Petrozavodsk) is unusual in it is found in area that main consists of plains. It was first mentioned in the Scribal books in 1566. Stretching more than 170 meters waterfall, it descends only about 10 meters. It was once visited the Emperor Alexander II, who was so struck by the beauty of the waterfall he postponed all important state affairs. The waterfall is the main place in Kivach Reserve. Website:

Kizhi Island

Kizhi Island (northern side of Lake Onega, 55 kilometers from Petrozavodsk) is one of the most beautiful places in Russia. The home of a former pagan ritual site and a 12th-century Russian settlement, the island features a delightful open-air museum showcasing some excellent examples of traditional Russian wooden architecture. Erik Laksman, traveling through the region in 1779, wrote: “It is difficult to imagine how beautifully picturesque are the views beginning with the Bolshoi Klimenetski island. One sees conifer forests, birch and dense linden forests alternating with beautiful fields and meadows, steep mountains, and bare cliffs and rocks.” Website:

The first chronicled mentions of the settlement and of the steepled churches on Kizhi Island date to the 15th century. In the 16th century, Kizhi became an administrative center of a whole district (Pogost) with a population of 12,000 people. In 1714, the twenty-two dome Church of Transfiguration was erected using donated funds. In 1764, the Church of Intercession of the Virgin was added next to it, and a third addition to this ensemble was a tall bell tower.

There are few large wooden buildings left in Russia. Many have been destroyed by fires over the years and the ones that remained were destroyed in World War II or by Communists who considered them to be a primitive reminder of serfdom and tore then to be replaced them with the drab concrete structures that you find in most Russian cities and towns.

Kizhi churchyard is an ensemble of two churches and one bell tower located on Kizhi island in Lake Onega. The most famous building on the island is the wooden Church of the Transfiguration. The temple is called the eighth wonder of the world. All the rooms, wings and buildings have been built without a single nail.

Due to the relatively mild climate and varied conditions of humidity, light, and temperature, a unique natural complex, rich in flora and fauna, has formed on the isles of the Kizhi skerries. The islands are inhabited by rare species of birds. Forty-three valuable natural monuments have been identified, including rock islands with unique vegetative communities, bird colonies, and geological formations. A 2.8-kilometer ecological trail set up on the island allows visitors to see traces of the glacier that moved through this region around 11,000 years ago, indications of an ancient earthquake, the Moshguba swamp, with its rich bird life, and the herb meadows of Kizhi.

Kizhi Progost Museum of Wooden Architecture of Kizhi Island

Kizhi Progost Museum of Wooden Architecture (on Kizhi Island) contains about 76 buildings, most of them dating from the 17th to 18th centuries. They were selected from around the region and transported here and assembled in a beautiful setting: on grassy fields within a few dozen meters of the lake. Each building retains it's natural wood color.

The open-air museum is officially known Kizhi State History, Architecture, and Ethnography Museum Preserve and informally called Kizhski Pogost (burial ground). It is located on Kizhi Island of the Zaonezhye peninsula and has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List as the most prominent monument of ancient northern wooden architecture. They say that during Russia’s 1939 war with Finland, a Finnish pilot was so stricken by its beauty that he disobeyed the order to bomb the island.

The museum covers 10,000 hectares. Besides the monuments of the main exposition, the museum territory hosts several ancient villages, valuable natural artifacts, and archaeological monuments. Kizhi is one of the first open-air museums in the country. The first house was brought to the island in 1951, and Kizhi has operated as an independent museum since 1966. In addition to buildings, this museum has assembled architectural monuments, everyday items, and icons that have been crafted over the last three hundred years in Russian, Karelian, and Vepsian villages in various regions in Obonezhiе, and in northern and southern Karelia.

The ethnographic collection of the museum counts approximately 30,000 household items from Karelia villages from the late 19th-early 20th centuries, and 500 icons from the 16th-19th centuries, including the only full collection of “the heavens” from the churches of Obonezhye. The Museum Preserve is not only a repository of cultural artifacts from the past, but also a research center. The Yamka and Vasilevo exhibition villages are located in the middle of the island. Another exhibition center is devoted to the culture of Pudozh Russians and resides in the northern part of the island. Another sector is devoted to the Pryazh Karels. Most of the monuments are concentrated on the southern part of the island, near the pier.

In recent years, the Kizhi Island has held picturesque folklore festivals and folk craft days. And that's not surprising: translated from the Karel language, the word “kizhat” means “games.” In the old days, pagan rites were performed on the island. The museum offers a live exposition that demonstrates peasant crafts and lores, as well as folk ceremonies. It also hosts a folk music group. A youth center is also active within the Kizhi museum, developing and realizing educational programs for young visitors. Every year, the museum is visited by over 180,000 people. Museum guides speak English, Finnish, French, German, and Russian. Audio guides in English, Finnish, and Russian are available for the convenience of visitors. Tourist Portal of Karelia /

Kizhi Progost: UNESCO World Heritage Site

Kizhi Progost was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990. According to UNESCO: “The pogost of Kizhi (i.e. the Kizhi enclosure) is located on one of the many islands in Lake Onega, in Karelia. Two 18th-century wooden churches, and an octagonal clock tower, also in wood and built in 1862, can be seen there. These unusual constructions, in which carpenters created a bold visionary architecture, perpetuate an ancient model of parish space and are in harmony with the surrounding landscape

“The architectural ensemble of the Kizhi Pogost is located on a narrow spit in the southern part of Kizhi Island, a small island of the Kizhi Archipelago in Lake Onega. The architectural ensemble includes two 18th-century wooden churches: the Church of the Transfiguration and the Church of the Intercession and an octagonal wooden bell tower built in 1862 and considerably reconstructed in 1874.

“The churches on Kizhi Island were mentioned for the first time in chronicles of the 16th century. They burned down after being struck by lightning in 1693 and the currently existing churches were built on the very site of the former ones.The ensemble bears evidence of the highly developed carpentry skills of the Russian people. Nowadays it is the only ensemble with two multi-domed wooden churches preserved in Russia.

“The Kizhi Pogost is a unique monument of Russian wooden architecture, a universally recognized masterpiece of world architecture. It is noted for the harmony of its dimensions and shapes, and the artistic unity of its structures, built at different times. The architectural beauty of the ensemble is emphasized by the expressive landscape, which can be considered as a national landscape.”

The site is important because: 1) “Perceived by people of Karelia as "the true eighth wonder of the world", Kizhi Pogost is indeed a unique artistic achievement. Not only does it combine two multi-cupola churches and a bell tower within the same enclosure, but also these unusually designed, perfectly proportioned wooden structures are in perfect harmony with the surrounding landscape.”

2) “Among the five surviving pogosts in the extreme northwest of Russia, Kizhi Pogost offers an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble typical of medieval and post-medieval Orthodox settlements in sparsely populated regions, where missionaries had to cope with far-flung Christian communities and harsh climate. Accessible by land or water, the pogost clustered religious buildings, which could also be used for other occasional purposes; for example the spacious refectory was used as a meeting hall for the village community.”

3) “The Pogost and the buildings, which had been grouped together to form the museum site in the southern part of Kizhi, are exceptional examples of the traditional wooden architecture of Karelia and, more generally, of that of northern Russia and the Finnish-Scandinavian region.”

Russian carpenters, whose fame takes root from the Medieval Novgorod, had carried the art of carpentry to its apogee. Irreversible changes have caused this traditional skill to disappear. Hence, it is absolutely essential that ensembles like that of the Kizhi Pogost be preserved for their illustrative value in the history of ancient techniques and for what they tell us about old lifestyles.

Buildings at Kizhi Progost

Among the delightful buildings are the Church of Intercession, with a display of icons; the Chapel of Archangel Michael, with an exhibit on Christianity in Karelia; a mill and several large log homes with people and animals. One wooden structure looks like a stockade fort tower with a merry-go-round of wooden onion-domes on the roof. Another resembles a church tower. The 14th-century Church of St. Lazarus is the oldest wooden church in Russia. It houses a stunning collection of icons. There are more wooden churches in the area around the museum and hamlets with houses similar to those in the museum except people live in them.

The building at Kizhi Museum includes several chapels, over two dozen peasant houses, including complex houses and a multitude of support structures such as granaries, drying-houses, and bathhouses. The bell tower of the Kizhi ensemble is built on the site of a medieval belfry. The bell tower is surrounded by a balustrade and surmounted by a high roof with a cupola. It offers good views of the Kizhi area.

According to UNESCO: “The Church of the Intercession, the Winter Church, refers to "ship type” churches and is a simpler structure. Built in 1764, it is of the “octagonal prism on a cube” type. Its elegant crown of eight cupolas is a unique element in Russian wooden architecture as this type of church was traditionally crowned with a tent roof. The eight cupolas encircle the 27m high central onion dome, and which covers the central parallelepiped space, gives it a more static appearance. To the east a five-sided small apse contains the altar. To the west is a long nave accessible by a single stairway. The 30 meters-high bell tower is of the traditional "octagon on cube" type with a high cube (2/3 of the structure height). The belfry crowns the structure. It has nine posts supporting the tent roof with an onion dome covered with shingles.” [Source: UNESCO]

“The Kizhi Pogost is an illustration of a carpenter pushing a technique to its furthest limits. The traditional building techniques and the structural and decorative elements that have been used in Russian architecture for centuries are brilliantly and perfectly implemented in the ensemble structures.

“Throughout its 300 year history, the monuments have been periodically repaired. In the 19th century, the walls of the churches were covered with protective siding boards and painted white and the domes were covered with metal sheets. Restoration works in 1949-59 returned the churches to their previous original appearance. In 1980-83, a steel framework was installed in the interior of the Church of the Transfiguration and the iconostasis and interior elements were removed from the structure.

“In spite of these interventions, the structures have not been significantly reconstructed and have preserved a substantial part of the original elements and material. To maintain the conditions of authenticity, restoration criteria and guidelines are crucial to address the treatment of elements from different periods, of witness marks, among other issues. The Kizhi Pogost represents an important step in the establishment of Orthodoxy in the Russian North. The churches have been used for liturgical services since their construction, except during the Soviet period of 1937-1994. “

Transfiguration Church at Kizhi Progost

Transfiguration Church (on Kizhi Island) is the ultimate in Russian fairy tale architecture and the main attraction of the Museum of Wooden Architecture. Sort of like what St. Basil's Cathedral would look like if it were made of wood, it features 22 bulbous aspen-shingled onion domes, piled on top of terraced towers, gables and innovative decorationse that help shed rain.

Transfiguration Church was built with out any nails in 1714 by a single carpenter. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is currently closed and no one is quite sure how to restore it. According to UNESCO: “The Church of the Transfiguration is a monument with exceptional architectural and structural features. It has no parallel in either Russian or global wooden architecture. Considered by locals as the true wonder of the world, it gave birth to the legend about Master Nestor, who built the 37m high nail-less church using nothing but an axe. The Church of the Transfiguration was used during the summer, when the faithful journeyed from the outermost regions of the parish to attend services.

“A dendrochronogical study of the materials sets its construction date after 1713-14. The octagon, which defines the composition of the cruciform church, is extended by oblong bays facing the four cardinal points. The nave, flanked with side aisles, is preceded on the west by a projecting narthex reached via two staircases. The height of the Church of the Transfiguration, whose central cupola culminates at 37m, is a masterpiece of a multi-storey, multi-cupola, and single-block structure. Here, over a central volume covered with three octagonal frames, the architect placed bochkas (roofs whose peak is shaped like a horizontal cylinder with the upper surface extended into a pointed ridge) topped with 22 bulbous cupolas. Inside, under the so-called 'heaven' - a superb vault shaped like a truncated pyramid - there is a gilded wood iconostasis holding 102 icons from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Construction and Architecture of Church of the Transfiguration in Kizhi

Church of the Transfiguration, Kizhi architectural core, is the pinnacle of national wooden architecture, a unique example of the skill of a carpenter. Unfortunately, history has not preserved the name of the master carpenter, built the Church of the Transfiguration on Kizhi Island. Before we heard a legend about a master Nestor, who completed the building, he threw the ax in the Onega and said: "It was not, and never will be like that!". In fact, the church is one of the best examples of folk architecture of the world and shows the top of the carpentry trade. [Source: Russian Tourism Official Website]

The appearance of the Transfiguration Church is monumental and whimsical. Its pyramidal silhouette on closer inspection flows numerous curves domes, barrel, Podzorov and crosses. No wonder the building creates a thousand poetic associations. It is known that the church was building artel Zaonezhye carpenters, and helped them to the entire district. Built the church as it was instituted in Russia, not on projects and drawings, and in the tradition passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth. Built traditional many-headed round the church, "about twenty-walls", with twenty-two chapters, which was not a little to the north. The merit of the local carpenters consisted in the fact that they are old, long-used items managed to combine a new, previously unseen entity.

The basis of the church is a large eight-sided log building - "octagon", which raised octagonal much smaller volume, and on it - the third, the smallest. Three octagon create a pyramidal foundation of the church, and that the structure was stable, with its four cardinal prop four prirub. From the west, the lower tier of the church includes a large refectory with a high half-pace porch.

The total height of the church - 37 meters. No wonder its silhouette dominates the neighborhood. However, being next to the church, a person does not feel overwhelming height and power of the masses of the log. On the contrary, the construction of commensurate human growth and look. This effect - a consequence of clever "game" volumes. Changing the volume of octagons. Changing volumes prirub - they are low flame. Tiered domes volumes change. The rhythm of change is calculated on the perception of the bottom and attached to the construction of a special dynamic. Hlávka installed on kileobraznyh barrels and are cascaded, one above the other. In order to achieve a particular integrity of the silhouette of the church each cupola as it slid into the overlying barrel. This technique - finding talented nameless masters.

Gingerbread Church top and an abundance of elegant elements - it's not just decoration of the building. Carpenters follow the "golden" rule that the most important thing in the structure - the good, the strength and beauty. Decorative, at first glance, details of the "top" of the church are united into a coherent framework for the protection construction system - log - from rain and moisture. Raindrops that fall on top of a chapter, slide down to the coulter blade, with a cupola on the barrel, and then - on the roof overhangs, going well beyond the log house. If a leaky roof, is arranged inside the structure more gable roof, as it were turned upside down. Moisture on the inside of the roof dripped into a large trough-water jet and evacuated outside the building. In case, if it is worn out, under the chute installed a second, exactly the same. Maybe,

The four-iconostasis once in harmony with the severity of the interior, but it was replaced by a gilded, luxury noble metal contrary to the harsh nature of the temple. In contrast to the canonical art schools in the capital northern painters more freely interpreted religious themes - are introduced into the rear of construction plans of the local landscape, and borrow the form of local clothing. With great taste and scenic perfection Kizhi master paint icons in soft, muted colors colors of local origin.

Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin

Church of the Intercession is both a typical representative of 18th century northern wooden architecture and an example of the high level of artistry that this type of architecture can achieve. Externally, the Church of the Intercession is quite different than its majestic neighbor, the Church of the Transfiguration. The ground-level structure consists of a long rectangle with several adjacent tetrahedral log cabins, or "bushels". One of them is raised high above the other and is topped by an octagonal log building — "the octagon".

"Octagon on the quadrangle" is the most common type of traditional northern wooden churches of the 18th century. By tradition, this church was supposed to be like a tent. However, it is clear that its additions and ornaments add weight and make the appearance of the church heavier and stockier. Worried that the silhouette of the tent might take away from the silhouette of the Church of the Transfiguration, builders, replaced the single tent with a crown of 10 tent domes. With these domes the this top of the Intercession Church appears as if it is floating in the air, and the silhouettes of the two churches merged into a single architectural chord.

Intercession Church, as well as the Transfiguration Church, are built according to the "golden rule” of carpenters: "good, the strength and beauty." The entire structure of the church, as well as its decorative features, aims to protect the base construction — the frame — from rain. The upper rims of the quadrangle and octagon expand outward, creating a large distance between the walls of the ends of the roof, helping to keep the walls dry during rains. Under the domes are collars — or "beaks" — which direct the rain flow after the rain strikes the domes. Even the gables belt, which hang like a necklace on the pillars of the octagon, is not just ornamental, but is also part of the overall water supply system: Each gable departs a little from the groove to remove rain.

It is not known when construction of the church began but I was completed in 1764. At the end of 18th - early 19th centuries, "newer", wall sheathing planks were covered with roofing iron. Inside plaster was placed on the log surface and windows extended in the manner of urban windows. The nave of the church is a spacious room with wide carved benches along the walls and iconostasis. Unfortunately, the church art was not preserved, so the iconostasis is made from other churches icons. The current church was rebuilt in 1950. In 1959, the plank siding was removed and the roof was replaced.

Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea

The Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea were nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2018. Dated to a Neolithic period beginning 6,600-7,000 years ago, the site has 33 components: 11 sites at the White Sea and 22 at Lake Onega. There are at least 4,500 petroglyphs in these two parts The most famous image is a two-meter petroglyph depicting a humanoid with a rectangular head.

Petroglyphs are rock carvings, or more technically “images created by removing part of a rock surface by incising, picking, carving, or abrading, as a form of rock art.” Those found found in Karelia are often carved on granite. Dating them is difficult because of lack of organic compounds in granite.

Locals believe that the petroglyphs depicts representatives of evil spirits, and therefore have nicknamed the rock on which they are depicted, Devils Nose. It is believed that places with petroglyphs were sanctuaries for the people that created them, where the indigenous inhabitants of Karelia prayed to their gods and, perhaps, offered sacrifices to them.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The petroglyphs of Lake Onega and petroglyphs of the White Sea “are located 330 kilometers apart from each other, in southeastern and northeastern parts of the Republic of Karelia. Petroglyphs of Lake Onega are located along the eastern shore of Lake Onega for the distance of 18.5 kilometers, including more than 1,200 figures in 25 groups located at 17 capes and 6 islands. Petroglyphs of the White Sea are located 6-8 kilometers from Belomorsk, on small and large islands in the branching delta of river Vyg, occupying a territory of 1.8 kilometers from north to south and 0.6 kilometers from west to east, including at least 3,400 individual figures in 11 groups. [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Russian Federation to UNESCO]

“Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea are the unique samples of primitive monumental art that are among the most important ancient cultural and historical attractions of the Northern Europe. They form an individual major center of Neolithic rock art characterized by originality and mystery of its pictures, diversity of themes, vivid imagery, abundance of scenes and multi-figure compositions, good preservation, exceptionally expressive natural surroundings and cultural context represented by nearby ancient settlements. The nominated property is a serial one as its components reflect the cultural and functional relations preserved for a long time stipulating respectively cultural, chronological, evolutionary and landscape-ecological interrelation.

“Complexes of Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea form kind of primitive sanctuaries under the open sky together with the surrounding landscape, with each of these having its own characteristics, similarities and obvious differences thus naturally supplementing each other. Similarities are due to the shared timeline, connatural environment and common culture, while the differences are associated with the local traditions and preferences. The same technique used in carving the figures (picking), presence of common basic themes, similar or in some cases even identical petroglyphs idnicate possible direct contacts between the population of both territories and a certain continuity in creative practices during the evolution of rock art of the Lake Onega and White Sea.”

“Rock art appeared on the granite cliffs of the eastern bank of Lake Onega and the White Sea only 6,600-7,000 years ago and it was only active during Neolithic era, being drastically different from the similar monuments of Northern Europe created over many millennia and dating back to various eras. Petroglyph paintings of Karelia were created by representatives of archaeological Pit–Comb Ware culture and Rhomb-Pit Ware culture. This layer of middle and final Neolithic period antiquities is well represented in the basin of Lake Onega and southwestern White Sea area.

“Physical appearance of creators and contemporaries of Karelian petroglyph can be learned from craniological materials of Late Mesolithic Oleneostrovsky burial ground located nearby from the Onezhskoe rock sanctuary. Unique horn rods crowned with expressive sculptures of moose heads found in this burial ground are quite similar to those on rock carvings and allow us to suggest continuity between Mesolithic and Neolithic population of Karelia.”

Petroglyphs of Lake Onega

Onega petroglyphs are located in Pudozh district, on the eastern shore of Lake Onega. Petroglify arranged in groups on rocky promontories nose Besov Kladovtsa, Gagazhem, Peri Nose and Gurias island. In general Onezhskoye petroglyphic sanctuary lake shore portion covers a length of 20.5 kilometers, and has approximately 1200 images, often combined in the composition. Onega petroglyphs discovered in 1848 by geologist from St Petersburg K.Greving. [Source: Russian Tourism Official Website]

Devil's Nose Cape is located 18 kilometers south of p.Shalsky. Residents blizlezhayshih villages have long been aware of the rock paintings and believed their offspring "evil forces", as evidenced by the name of the cape itself. The monks of the nearby monastery of Murom tried to neutralize the "devilish pictures", beating out Christian crosses in some figures.

North of Besov Nos is Peri Nos. It also preserved petroglyphs - 7 of disparate groups. Further north, on a promontory Karetsky nose, found a cluster of 120 pieces, where petroglyphs stretch almost along the entire southern slope. Interesting petroglyphs on Kochkovnavolo Peninsula to about p.Shalsky. They were found in 1970 - 1990s. and employs approximately 200 vybivok, including a three-meter Swan, a variety of complex scenes of mythological character of people, birds and boats.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Rock carvings of Lake Onega are located in isolated groups on flat or inclined smooth sections of capes and coastal islands along the eastern bank of Lake Onega, for almost 20 kilometers. Eight groups are located in the mouth of the Vodla river on the Kochkovnavolok peninsula, on islands Bolshoy Golets, Mikhailovets and on the cape Cherny. The rest petroglyph spots are located to the south, in the area of former Besov Nos village on the capes Karetsky Nos, Peri Nos, Besov Nos, Kladovets Nos and Gazhyi Nos as well as on small islands Koryushkin, Moduzh, Malyi and Bolshoy Guriy, being a part of the protected natural landscape: Muromsky landscape reserve of regional significance. In total, there are 1,224 images in the Onega rock art complex, with more than half of them focused on the capes Kladovets Nos, Peri Nos and Besov Nos. The last cape with its three symmetrically arranged figures of a demon, a burbot and an otter is considered to be the central part of the ancient sanctuary. [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Russian Federation to UNESCO]

“Forty-nine archaeological monuments were identified in the immediate vicinity of the rock carvings, comprising remains of ancient settlements and a Neolithic burial ground; most of these monuments are culturally and chronologically related to the petroglyphs. Comprehensive research of the recent decades allowed establishing the dating and periodization as well as tracing the general evolution of Onega petroglyphs. It is presumed that petroglyphs first began to appear on rock surfaces of capes Koryushkin Nos, Kladovets Nos and Gazhyi Nos, then, almost simultaneously, on capes Peri Nos and Karetsky Nos (figures of the lower tier), later on cape Besov Nos.

Lake Onega Petroglyphs Images

Dimensions of figures vary from a few centimeters to four meters. Usually they are 20 - 30 centimeters. They are dominated by birds (mainly swans) but also include forest animals, people and boats. Among the many Onega petroglyphs (and this is their essential difference from the White Sea) mysterious, original and full of fantastic content petroglyphs. First of all, this is the famous "triad" at the tip of Devil's Nose "devil" (the human figure of more than two meters, fingers spread, and a disproportionately small feet), catfish (burbot) and otter (lizard), as well as solar and lunar symbols - circles and semicircles with lines extending from these rays (in another version, image hunting traps).

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: ““The special peculiarity of Onega petroglyphs is evident in the themes and composition of the carvings. They include birds, animals, mysterious signs in shape of a circle and a crescent (solar and lunar symbols) often supplemented by small details in the form of “rays” or “hands” as well as fantastical images combining human and animal features. However, the most striking and unusual feature is the abundance of waterfowl images, mostly swans. Perhaps, for the residents of eastern bank of Lake Onega the imagery of swan was somehow connected with their totemic forefathers. Such preference is unique and not seen anywhere else in the rock art of Northern Fennoscandia and Europe in general. A great advantage of Onega petroglyphs in comparison with other concentrations of rock art of Northern Europe is their pristine picturesque natural landscape: long rocky capes cut the vast expanse of the lake, alternating with coves with dune shores overgrown with pine trees; a chain of small granite islands lies not far from the coast. [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Russian Federation to UNESCO]

“Small sketchy outlines of waterfowl are predominant in the earliest carvings, usually swans. There are also images of simple linear boats with rowers shaped as protrusions perpendicular to the boat body as well as symbolic signs on the form of silhouette or contour circles. The latter are interpreted as the earliest solar symbols. The middle stage of development of Onega petroglyph has the highest diversity of themes and stylistic features and techniques never encountered before. First of all, it is the use of natural features of microrelief and colour of rocks in creation of a range of images or complete interrelated compositions. As before, ornitomorphic themes prevail, but their range was significantly extended and there is fantastic or exaggerated waterfowl imagery now too. At the same time there are plenty of complex sign carvings with solar and lunar theme as well as a variety of anthropomorphic figures, including those dualistic in nature, including for example, moose-man, bird-man, or even boat-man. The final stage is represented by contour petroglyphs of Kochkovnavolok peninsula existing for a fairly short period. It is then when the large (1-1.5 meters long) and even giant (up to 4 meters long) images appear. The range of plots is considerably narrowed: there are still images of swans and, to a lesser extent, moose, as well as occasional figures of boats and humans.”

Comparison of the Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Components of the nomination, namely Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea are removed more than 300 kilometers apart from each other and are located in slightly different biomes: middle and northern taiga, respectively. Of course, both rock complexes have independent outstanding value, but they were linked to each other by ancient waterways through most of their active time for about 500-700 years. Comparative analysis of petroglyph carving technique, semantics of basic and original images, hunting compositions and overall similar cultural context (Neolithic Pit–Comb Ware culture) indicate direct contacts between the populations of both territories and trace the origin of White Sea rock art traditions from the Onega one. Both the role and content of such outstanding phenomena as rock art of Karelia can only be fully revealed in a serial nomination. [Source: Permanent Delegation of the Russian Federation to UNESCO]

“Comparison of Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea can be prominent in clarification of peculiar development of rock art of various local areas. All petroglyphs of the White Sea are located on islands while those of Lake Onega are mostly located at the capes, but sometimes on coastal islands. In the White Sea area predominant are the figures carved for their entire silhouette while it is common for the Onega ones to be only traced along the contour or half contour. In general, the White Sea petroglyphs are more realistic than the Onega ones as there are fewer fantastic characters. Onega cliffs also include multi-figure compositions though their plots are mostly underdeveloped and there are fewer details than in the best rock paintings of the White Sea. There are notable differences in themes. Bird images are predominant in the Onega sanctuary while in the White Sea one they are few; mostly replaced by high-sided boats with a moose head stem post with visible differences from the linear Onega carvings. However, a small petroglyph group was discovered recently in the lower reaches of the Vyg river with carvings of similar narrow boats adorned with swan heads. Onega rock paintings have plenty of half-human half-animal figures almost unknown in the White Sea area, where carvings of people are much more common: hunters for forest and sea animals and birds. Except one case, there are no solar or lunar carvings among the White Sea petroglyphs, but there are bows, arrows, skis, plenty of sea animals and sea hunt scenes, animal and human footprints that are either not represented or very rare at the Onega cliffs.

“However, similarities between Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea are significant. Both at Lake Onega and in the White Sea areas pictures were carved on the sloping rock outcrops near the water, grouped in isolated clusters. These clusters have some variations in their themes, number of carvings, density of placement and degree of conservation. Central rock paintings are standing out dominated by large and even giant anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures. The places of localization of clusters have expressive landscape features and certain natural uniqueness especially intensifying the human perception of the surrounding environment. There is a range of close art correlations between the two petroglyph centers regarding the imagery of birds, anthropomorphic figures in profile, scenes of hunt for white whale, moose and bear, propagation of human race etc. The cultural context is represented by settlements of Neolithic Pit–Comb Ware culture and Rhomb-Pit Ware culture also indicating the direct contacts between the populations of both areas.

“The range of plots represented in the both petroglyph complexes of Karelia is rather close: anthropomorphic images, forest and sea animals, waterfowl, boats etc. Moreover, the analysis of stylistic features of Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea from the art standpoint fixes numerous cases of interaction and obvious contacts between the creators of these rock paintings. These features and a range of some other ones allow us to speak about the common beliefs and culture of population as well as chronological proximity of Onega and White Sea petroglyphs. Onega petroglyph tradition, appearing a little earlier, could give a certain impetus to emergence and development of carving traditions for the White Sea cliffs and lower reaches of the Vyg river.

“According to the archaeological, geographical and palaeographical data, the rock art of Karelia was interrupted abruptly due to natural processes associated with sharp rise in water level and drowning of the rock paintings, and, most likely, never got renewed again. Thus, Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea together with surrounding natural landscape present a unique evidence of extinct cultural rock art tradition of the Northern Europe.”

Looking for and Studying Petroglyphs

Even today, scientists discover new drawings or previously unknown important part of the old images. One of the reasons for such surprises is the poor preservation of many of the rock figures. The clarity of he rock engravings largely depends on the lighting. It is best to examine them in the early morning or evening sunlight. The slanting rays of the rising or setting sun makes the image more prominent and clearly visible. Light effects often so strong that literally transform the drawings.

Many figures clearly stand out against the reddish cliffs, many though are covered by lichens, soil and moss, so finding them is not easy. It can take a lot of work to find and identify the Onega petroglyphs. A.Y. Brusov, a petroglyph researcher, specializes in trying to locate the images on rock surfaces, often checking the same rocks at different hours of the day. He has said that a see a number of poorly visible images are only visible during certain hours.

"One day,” Brusov wrote: “a strong wind arose after the big rain that quickly dry the smooth surfaces of rocks, whereas even in subtle depressions moisture stained with a dark color Here at devils nose, to the east of the central group, for high. crack clearly loomed multiple images, which under other circumstances remain invisible during all hours of the day. Only the sharp difference in the color of dried smooth surface and still humid tiny potholes, the difference is that it is almost impossible to carry out an artificial way,”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (official Russia tourism website ), Russian government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in September 2020

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