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

Vologda Oblast

Some say the Russian North begins in Vologda Oblast, a region famous for it lace and butter and regarded as the home of Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost). The region covers 145,700 square kilometers (56,300 square miles), is home to about 1.2 million people and has a population density of only 8.7 people per square kilometer. About 70 percent of the population is urban.

Among the attractions in the region are Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, wooden architecture, artisans, medieval towns, picturesque northern wilderness andVeliky Ustyug, said to be the home of De Moroz. The region is notable in that for long time its churches and monasteries escaped the “revolutionary whirlwinds”, meaning that mant of them are preserved in their original form. There are 13 nature reserves in the region.

The region is characterized by short moderately warm summers (average temperature +20 C degrees) and prolonged snowy winters, when the temperature can drop to -30 C. Popular summer activities include mushroom hunting, hunting, fishing and swimming. In area hundreds of small reservoirs and five big lakes: White, Onega, Vozha, Kubenskoe and Kurskoe. Kubensky Lake contains an island with the oldest of all the northern monasteries. Established in the 12th century, the Monastery of the Savior-in-Stone (Spas-Kanemnt) was decorated with frescoes by Dionysius. Little remain except for the ruin of an old bell tower.

Getting There: Prices for main routes: 1) Vologda-Cherepovets-from 440 rubles; 2) Vologda-Veliky Ustyug — from 1300 rubles; 3) Vologda-Belozersk — from 720 rubles By Plane: There are three airports in the Vologda region. The largest is not in Vologda, but in Cherepovets. It has the status of international airport, and most visitors prefer to come here. You can get to Vologda from Moscow directly: flights are operated by Vologda aviation enterprise. The cost of tickets is from 4600 rubles, The flight takes about 2 hours. By Train: Trains from Moscow to Vologda take about nine hours and tickets start at 1000 rubles. By Bus: The bus ride from Moscow to Vologda takes just over seven hours and costs 1100 rubles. Vologda and Veliky Ustyug can also be reached by bus from other regions. By Car: From Moscow to Vologda by car takes about 6.5 hours. Vologda is connected to other cities by a network of reasonably quality paved federal roads.

Vologda Road From St. Petersburg

Ian Frazier wrote in The New Yorker: “Past the city, we turned onto the Murmansk highway eastbound. Its four lanes soon became two. Trucks were speeding toward us in the downpour. I thought Sergei was driving too fast but I couldn’t tell for sure, because the speedometer needle, which had been fluttering spasmodically, suddenly lay down on the left side of the dial and never moved again for the rest of the journey. After a couple of hours, we came to the highway leading southeast to Vologda, and we pulled over at the intersection. The rain had let up by then. The intersection appeared to be a popular place to stop, with broad aprons of gravel beside the pavement and trash strewn around. We got out to use the facilities, which were bushes and weeds that had seen such employment before. Near the intersection stood a ruined brick church with grass and small trees growing from its upper towers and from the broken-off parts where the onion domes had been. [Source: Ian Frazier, The New Yorker, August 3, 2009, Frazier is author of “Travels in Siberia” (2010)]

“The Vologda road led through rural places with people selling potatoes along the narrow shoulder and irregularly shaped yellow meadows sometimes opening widely to the horizon. Then birch forest thronged close around, and Sergei said we were going into a huge swamp where many men had died in battles with the Nazis. People still go back in the swamp and find rusted grenades and skulls in helmets, he said. This conversation got Volodya talking about Ivan Susanin, the heroic Russian peasant who deliberately misled a Polish army deep into a swamp in order to save the life of the first Romanov tsar, in the Time of Trubles, during the seventeenth century. The Poles, discovering the trick too late, killed Ivan Susanin before perishing themselves. He is the main character of Glinka’s opera “A Life for the Tsar,” Volodya told me. (Later, in my more uncertain moods, I wondered if my guides might be Ivan Susanin, and the Polish army might be me.)

The woods continued; now we came to a rotary completely enclosed by forest. On a pedestal in the middle of the rotary, pointing nose upward as if about to swoop into the sky, was a bright silver MIG fighter jet. I had never seen a MIG up close. We had passed no airbases or factories that I recalled, so I couldn’t figure out what it was doing here. Sergei seemed not to know, either. The shiny MIG was a strange object encountered inexplicably in a dark forest, spaceship-like.

“The Vologda road had become a spill of pavement, untrimmed along its edges, with scalloping where the poured asphalt had flowed. Small villages followed, one after another, at regular intervals, roadside signs announcing their names. Often I looked up the names in my pocket Russian-English dictionary to see what they meant. According to my translations (verified by Sergei), that day we went through villages named Puddle, Jellies, Knee, New Knee, and Smokes.

“All along the road, sometimes to heights of ten or twelve feet, grew a plant that Volodya identified as morkovnik. This plant resembles a roadside weed in America called Queen Anne’s lace—except that morkovnik is like our modest, waist-high plant drastically and Asiatically enlarged. Queen Anne’s lace and morkovnik are in fact related, both belonging to the carrot family (morkov’ means “carrot”). Along the route we travelled, morkovnik grows abundantly from one end of Russia to the other.

“In early afternoon, we stopped at an informal rest area like the one at the intersection of the Murmansk and Vologda roads. Here for the first time I encountered big-time Russian roadside trash. Very, very few trash receptacles exist along the roads of Russia. This rest area, and its ad-hoc picnic spots, with their benches of downed tree trunks, featured a ground layer of trash basically everywhere, except in a few places, where there was more. In the all-trash encirclement, trash items had piled themselves together here and there in heaps three and four feet tall, as if making common cause. With a quick kicking and scuffing of nearby fragments, Sergei rendered a place beside a log bench relatively trash free and then laid out our cold-chicken lunch on pieces of cellophane on the ground. I ate hungrily, though I did notice through the cellophane many little pieces of broken eggshell from some previous traveller’s meal.

“Back on the Vologda road, we continued in the direction of Cherepovets. After not many kilometers, the warning light for the engine generator lit up on the dashboard, making a companion for the oil-pressure light, which had never gone off. I expected that soon every warning light on the dashboard would be glowing. I pointed out the generator light to Sergei, and to humor me he said that we would stop and have the generator looked at in Cherepovets.

Vologda City

Vologda (200 kilometers north of Moscow) is a city of 300,000 that has a history that goes back to the 11th century and is full of lovely churches, monasteries, parks and wooden buildings. Some people stop in while visiting the Golden Ring or journeying to Arkangelsk. The main attractions include the Archbishop's Courtyard, a multi-towered stone fortress (1671-75) with several old buildings; St. Dofia'a Cathedral and Belltower, commissioned by Ivan the Terrible; the Museum of History and Architecture; and several other churches.

Vologda is regarded as the cultural capital of the Russian North, known for its traditions of wooden architecture, lacework, church architecture and icon painting. Many pages in the history of Russian culture are associated with Vologda's name. The Vologda land gave Russia many outstanding figures of science, literature and art. Various crafts were well developed in medieval Vologda: carpentry, for example. “The house where the carved palisade is” comes from a popular song about Vologda that everyone in Russia knows. Vologda lace, which developed in the 19th century, is very famous in Russia.

On his brief tour of Vologda, Ian Frazier wrote in The New Yorker: “Here I am taking a walking tour of the city of Vologda with Stanislaus, an executive of the Start-Plus company. The van, which we hoped would be done by now, has apparently presented some new difficulties. Stanislaus is in his seventies, with thinning blond hair combed back, faded blue eyes, and an easygoing style. He seems to have done this kind of duty before. He shows me a cathedral that Ivan the Terrible got built in record time by denying food to the workers when they progressed too slowly; soon after the cathedral was finished, it began to fall apart, and it wasn’t consecrated for many years. Stanislaus also shows me the house of the first translator of Marx’s “Das Kapital” into Russian, and the building where Lenin’s sister lived while in exile, and a statue of Lenin that Stanislaus says is the only life-size statue of Lenin in the world. It looks painful—as if the powerful Bolshevik had simply stood on a pedestal and been bronzed alive. Now here I am with Stanislaus and Vyacheslav in a restaurant in Vologda having a late lunch.” [Source: Ian Frazier, The New Yorker, August 3, 2009, Frazier is author of “Travels in Siberia” (2010)]

Accommodation: Hotel “Vologda” is within walking distance of the Vologda Kremlin, St. Sophia Cathedral and the Museum of Lace. Despite the unpretentious appearance of the building, the rooms are quite comfortable. Room rate: from 3700 rubles per day. Transport: Buses and trolleybuses are the main means of public transport in Vologda. The fare is 25 rubles.

History of Vologda City

Vologda is said to have been founded in 1147, when, according to legend, the miracle worker Gerasim came to the river Vologda and established the wooden Church of Resurrection in the “middle town of a small haggling”.

The medieval Russian city served as a gateway to the North, was a major trade and craft center and Moscow's outpost in the struggle against foreign conquerors. In 1555, Russia entered into a trade agreement with England, the sea trade route from White Sea through northern rivers and lakes passed near Vologda.

Tsar Ivan the Terrible tried to turn the city into his northern residence. This is when construction started on the grand Kremlin and the majestic Sofia Cathedral (1568-1571). Vologda was a a key outpost in the North of Russia through the 17th century. Vologda was involved in the Kulikovo battle and fought off the Polish-Lithuanian invaders. At the beginning of the 18th century, Peter the Great visited Vologda. In memory of his stay, the first city museum was opened in the house of Dutch merchants Gutman.

Sights in Vologda City

The Vologda State Museum-Preserve of History, Architecture and Decorative Arts is one of the largest museums in the North of Russia and consists of an ensemble of monuments: the Vologda Kremlin, the Bishops” Court building and St. Sophia Cathedral. It has total area of 9,000 square meters and includes 40 monuments of architecture. Visitors can enjoy displays and exhibitions devoted to art, literature, history and ethnography and natural science. The collection of the museum has about 500,000 depository items: unique works of ancient Russian painting, graphics, ancient manuscripts, coins, archaeological findings and other items.

Vologda Kremlin is a strong defensive that has repelled the onslaught of several enemies. Founded in the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the white stone fortress is one of the main symbols of Vologda. A walk through the Vologda Kremlin gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in a bygone era. Cathedral Of St. Sophia The Wisdom Of God was also founded under Ivan the Terrible and is one of the largest buildings constructed in Russia in the 16th century.

House Museum of Peter the Great contains objects of Russian trading, crafts and everyday life from the 17th-18th centuries and items related to Peter The Great. Among them there are Peter the Great’s clothing, his death mask, a beater with Peter's monogram dated 1706, The Mirror with the Peter's Decree, a soldier jar for vodka inscribed withe message “Drink anise wine, but don’t drink the mind away”, some weapons, and a bronze cast of Peter’s hand.

Vologda Lace Museum is in the very heart of Vologda, near the Vologda Kremlin. Opened in 2010, the collection has more than 700 exhibits related to the history and culture of lace art. The museum presents not only famous Vologda lace but also pieces from elsewhere in Russia as well as England and France. The main exposition is located on the second floor of the building, on the first floor there are information terminals of the museum and the museum cafe

Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery

The Kirillo-Belozersky Museum Reserve (50 kilometers northwest of Vologda) is the main sight in Vologda Oblast and a treasury of Russian culture. The monastery ensemble — currently one of the largest in Europe — embraces Kirillo Monastery, Belozersky Monastery and Ferapontov Monastery in the village of Ferapontovo. In addition to this the Kirillo-Belozersky Museum-Reserve includes the wooden church of the Prophet Elijah, built in 1775, in the village of Tsypino.

The museum is famous for its old icons, including those from the iconostasis of the Dormition Cathedral. All of them are in good condition and can be seen in the main exhibition of the museum, where you can also find a unique collection of ancient Russian paintings, sewing, archeological finds, folk art objects and rare manuscripts. The Kirillo-Belozersky Museum Reserve and its departments are visited by 260,000 people every year.

The Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery is a the center of pilgrimage for many famous scribes and sages, as well as home to exiled nobles and the largest religious and cultural center of the north of Russia. The architectural complex of the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery was formed between the late 14th to the late 16th century. Gifts of land donated by tsars and princes, as well as rich contributions of the boyars and merchants enabled the monastery to become rich and powerful very fast. In 1601, the monastery owned 623 settlements of various sizes and 320 parcels of land.

Kirillo Monastery (50 kilometers northwest of Vologda) is an impressive but nonworking monastery reportedly founded in the 14th century by a monk who was repeatedly shown the site by the Virgin Mary. The monastery is famous for its well-maintained 15th century frescoes and icons.

Belozersk Monastery (near Kirilov Monastery) is one of the largest and wealthiest monasteries in Russia. Surrounded by a white fortress (kremlin) protected massive towers and cannons the monastery consists of several churches and a museum with an extensive collection of old and beautiful icons, including a famous portrait of St. Cyril, founder of the monastery. Ivan the Terrible and other tsars exiled their enemies here.

Belozersky Kremlin (within the Kirillo-Belozersky Museum Reserve) and it earthen rampart, surrounded on all sides by a moat, are the gems of defense architecture, The rampart was made during the rule of Grand Prince Ivan III. The city was to become another fortress on the northern borders of the country. Wooden walls with two gate and five blind towers were built on a thirty-meter-high rampart; they lasted until the end of the 18th century, when they were dismantled because of the deterioration. They were surrounded by a moat filled with water.

Initially, the fortress was entered from the north, where a cobblestone path was found during archeological excavations. A system of artificial reservoirs has survived inside the rampart. Some buildings have survived as well, including the Transfiguration Cathedral. You can go to the rampart by crossing a moat via a three-span bridge. The bridge was built in the 18th century, and two small wooden turrets were added in modern time.

Cathedral of the Assumption at Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery

Cathedral of the Assumption (within Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery) was built in 1497. It was the first stone church of St. Cyril-Belozersky Monastery and the third in the Russian North after the Cathedral of the stone and Ferapontov monasteries. It was preceded by two wooden Dormition Church. Because of a lack of local construction personnel — architects, bricklayers and other craftsmen — the rich monastery to seek help to build the monumental cathedral outside the diocese — in Rostov. According to the chronicle data arriving in Kirillov in 1497 Rostov master - twenty of masons and "stenschikov" headed by Prokhorov Rostov - for one summer season, built a stone cathedral church for five months.

New Cathedral of the Assumption in the chronicles called "the great church". Indeed, for its time, it was very significant, exceeding the size of many buildings of those years in Moscow and other cities. Even today, the building has not lost its majestic and solemn look. Its compact cubic volume with three wide and somewhat flattened semicircular apse crowned with a powerful, tightly planted the head. A similar type of church belongs to the most widespread in the Northeastern Russia in the second half of the 15th century, in the era of the formation under the leadership of the Moscow all-Russian architecture. However, to interpret it is very individual. Deprived of basement and first free closely extensions, the cathedral as it grows directly out of the land surrounding it now. The drum is not built over the middle of the main volume, and over the center of the building, including the apse. This technique will also benefit from rannemoskovskogo temples. Cathedral of the Assumption had a great influence on the formation and development of local stone religious architecture, largely predetermining the development of its space-planning and compositional forms, as well as the nature of the decoration.

Single storey vaulted porch of the cathedral on the western and northern sides refers to the 1595-1596 years. On the outer walls of the porch are well marked initial broad arched openings, in the 17th century laid and turned into small windows. High porch with head and low semicircular vestibule entrance, built in 1791, significantly distorts the appearance of the cathedral.

The interior of the Stone Cathedral of the Assumption, known from various sources, it was quite elegant and rich. The idea of non-possessors, obviously did not have a material impact on its design. Home "beauty" of the temple were icons and murals. The cathedral was painted in 1641 on the contribution of the king's clerk Nikifor Shipulin. Preserved on the north wall of the annals, the inscription had reported the name of the main author of the frescoes, "signed by the wall of icons Love letter painters Ageev and his comrades." After returning in 1643 from Kirillov Ageev painted the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin. But the frescoes in the 18th-19th centuries were recorded and updated, and the murals of the Cathedral of St. Cyril-Belozersky monastery is covered in 1838, gross oil painting. Cleared some minor fragments suggest

Temple of the Beheading of John the Baptist in the St. Cyril

Temple of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist with a chapel of St. Cyril of White Lake (with in Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery) was built in the years 1531-1534 on the contribution of the Grand Prince Vasily III. Dedication altar of the church John the Baptist - Angel of Ivan the Terrible - and Reverend Cyril associates it with the construction of the birth of Vasily III in 1530, the heir to the throne and with a trip to the 1528 Grand Duke in Kirillov monastery on a pilgrimage.

Church of St. John the Baptist was built almost simultaneously with the other churches of the Cyril-Belozersky monastery — in the name of the Archangel Gabriel. It is very likely that the construction of both buildings was carried out a team of artists, presumably - Rostovtsev.

The original appearance of the temple and its construction history to a certain extent recreated with the help of written sources - mainly inventories monastery 17th-18th centuries - and iconographic material. Inventory in 1601 briefly points to the existence of "two top" on the temples and the belfry "six pillars" with her. Inventory in 1668 says about the character existed by the time the cover of the temple and the heads of "Crosses and the head of the scales payany white iron is covered with planks." The same inventory leads interesting data about adjoined to the western and southern facade of the porch - of course, wood. The icon 1741 from the collection of the Museum-Reserve Kargopolsky temple shows the double-headed with a hipped, covered with planks roof. Inventory of 1773 mentions the wooden porch at the south and north doors. She paints a picture of the decaying monument to "the roof of the Old plank" bulls "from the walls otshatilisya" within the walls "of the arches to the foundation cracks, and toward the south wall from the foundation up to the vault of the Great Rift ...". According to the inventory of the church and the altar - "eleven windows in their window-sill micaceous iron dilapidated Bell" - hence, by this time the window openings in Kyoto, western and southern walls were already punched.

Severe condition of the building forced the church authorities to undertake major renovation work is completed, it must be assumed, until 1809. Then the church as a whole was now substantially complete, which recorded its image on watercolor from an album NM Borozdina 1809. It was probably carried out and the "strengthening of engineering" - patched cracks, reinforced buttresses.

Ferapontov Monastery

Ferapontov Monastery (15 kilometers northeast of Kirillo-Belozersky, 120 kilometers northwest of Vologda) is famous for it well-maintained 17th-century tower entrance and beautiful, well restored religious paintings. Painted by the artist Dionysius and his three sons in only 34 days in the late summer of 1502, the 115 frescoes, Harvard and Princeton Russian historian James Billington wrote, "may come as close to depicting the heavenly world as mortal man can attain." To cerate the works the artist superimposed 50 different colors on a special limestone whitewash.

Ferapontov Monastery is part of the Kirillo-Belozersky Museum Reserve and was sinscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. According to UNESCO: “ The Ferapontov Monastery, in the Vologda region in northern Russia, is an exceptionally well-preserved and complete example of a Russian Orthodox monastic complex of the 15th-17th centuries, a period of great significance in the development of the unified Russian state and its culture. The architecture of the monastery is outstanding in its inventiveness and purity. The interior is graced by the magnificent wall paintings of Dionisy, the greatest Russian artist of the end of the 15th century.

The Ensemble of Ferrapontov Monastery is situated in the Vologda region, in the northwestern part of the Russian Federation on a small hill, between Borodaevskoe and Paskoe lakes.The Moscow monk Ferrapont founded the monastery in 1398. The Ensemble of the Monastery was formed in the 15th-17th centuries. The core of the Ensemble is the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin (1490), which is especially remarkable among the six surviving buildings of the Monastery. The others are the Church of the Annunciation, with a refectory chamber, the Treasury Chamber, the St. Martinian Church, the Churches of Epiphany and St. Pherapont above the Holy Gate, and the Bell Tower. In the 19th century the monastery territory was enclosed with a stone fence.

The history of Ferrapontov Monastery was linked with important events at some crucial points during the conformation of the centralized Russian state, such as the approval authority of the first "Emperor of All Russia" Ivan III, the reign of the first Russian tsar Ivan the Terrible and the exile of Patriarch Nikon. In the 15th-16th centuries, Ferrapontov Monastery became a major cultural and ideological center of the region, and was one of the main monasteries that considerably influenced the policy of Muscovy.

The architecture of the monastery, a remarkable example of the Rostov architectural style, is outstanding in its inventiveness and purity. The buildings of the monastery retained all the characteristic features and interior decoration. The Ensemble of the Ferrapontov Monastery is also a vivid example of the harmonious unity with the natural surrounding landscape that has changed little from the 17th century, emphasizing the unique spiritual system of northern monks, while at the same time revealing features of economic structure of northern peasantry.

The murals of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin have a special significance for Russian culture and other cultures worldwide. The murals of the Cathedral are the only paintings of the greatest Russian master Dionisy the Wise, which have been entirely preserved to this day in their original form. The Ensemble of the Ferrapontov Monastery, with the most valuable and completely preserved frescos of Dionisy, is a unique example of the integrity and unity of the Russian style of the northern monastery ensemble of the 15th-17th centuries.

The site is important because: 1) The wall paintings of Dionisy in the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin at Ferrapontov Monastery are the highest expression of Russian mural art in the 15th-16th centuries. 2) The complex of Ferrapontov Monastery is the purest and most complete example of an Orthodox monastic community from the 15th-17th centuries, a crucial period in the cultural and spiritual development of Russia.

Museum of Dionisius Fresco Paintings in St. Therapontus Monastery

Museum of Dionisius Fresco Paintings in St. Therapontus Monastery (within Ferrapontov Monastery) is one the best place to see works by the famous painter Dionisius and is a rare example of a perfectly preserved monastery of the Russian North from the 15th-17th centuries. The Belozersk St. Therapontus Monastery of the Nativity of the Virgin was founded at the turn of the 14th-15th centuries ,during the period of expansion of the Grand Duchy of Moscow. For about 400 years, the monastery was one of the centers for cultural and religious education of the Belozerye region. At one point the elders of the monastery had a serious influence on Moscow politics. Vasiliy II, Elena Glinskaya, and Ivan the Terrible came here on pilgrimages.

The first stone church of the Belozerye was the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin in the St. Therapontus Monastery, erected in 1490 by craftsmen from Rostov. In 1502, the famous iconographer Dionisius, known for his icons and fresco paintings in Moscow and the Moscow Duchy, was invited with his crew to decorate the monastery. As denotes the inscription on the surface of the arch at the Cathedral North entrance, the work took them 34 days. It must be noted that this miraculously preserved work of Dionisius remained unknown until 1898.

The museum of Dionisius fresco paintings was established in the early 20th century. All through the 1930-1960s, the monuments were protected by a single guard. However, during the Second World War, when the Novgorod churches of the 12th-15th centuries were destroyed, the paintings of Dionisius became among the few remaining fresco painting ensembles from medieval Russia. The organization of the modern museum began in 1975. Eventually, it became a major center of scientific research and education. At the end of the year 2000, the complex of the St. Therapontus Monastery with its fresco paintings by Dionisius was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin in the Ferapontov Monastery is the first stone cathedral of the Ferapontov Belozersky Nativity monastery. Founded in 1408, the existing church temple was built in 1490 on the site of the former wooden church. The southern side chapel was built in a style similar to churches built in Moscow at the time: a cubic type with a cross-domed. But what is remarkable is that ther interior was painted by master Dionysius and his sons in 1502 but was forgotten. In the late 19th century no one knew anything about the painting. In 1915, under the leadership of N. Epanechnikov murals were restored. Now the cathedral is part of the museum Dionysius frescoes. Wall painting of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary — the only extant large-scale and holistic work of Dionysius. — and part UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Veliky Ustyug

Veliky Ustyug (400 kilometers northeast of Vologda) said to be the home of De Moroz (Grandfather Frost), the Russian version of Santa Claus, and is viewed as one of the more accessible areas of the Russian North. . In December-January many Russians head to the city when it becomes the center of the celebration of for New Year and Russian Christmas on January 7.

Sights in Veliky Ustyug include the Cathedral Courtyard, which dates back to the 15th century, when Ustyug was a rich merchant city. Due to the fact that water trade routes converged here, many merchants settled in Ustyug, which grew and prospered. The center of Veliky Ustyug is graced with a Cathedral settlement, which includes a temple complex of medieval churches and cathedrals, which have earned Veliky Ustyug the name Northern Suzdal. The viewing platform of the bell tower of Assumption Church offers a beautiful view of the city center and Dymkovskaya Sloboda. There is an embankment on the Sukhona river.

Dymkovskaya Freedom is a historical area in Veliky Ustyug with well preserved buildings from the 18th century. Among them are the gates, the Church fence and part of the corner tower, the winter Church of Sergius of Radonezh and the Church of Dmitry Solunsky with a bell tower, which is considered a unique monument of transition type from the traditions of the 17th century to the forms of the updated era.

Residence Of Santa Claus (13 kilometers from Veliky Ustyug) is an entertainment complex. In the winter, people from all over the country come here with children. And walk in the winter garden, go to the zoo, take a picture in the glacier owner, visit his post office, where tens of thousands of letters from children come. There is an opportunity to personally communicate with Santa Claus. The comfortable hotel complex here has a hotel with apartments, a restaurant, a Russian bath and its own cheese production.

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.

White Sea-Baltic Canal: Connecting the Arctic with Europe

White Sea-Baltic Canal (between the desolate town of Belomorsk on the White Sea and Lake Onega) is a 227-kilometer (140-mile) -long waterway built through thick forests and swamps between the Baltic Sea and the White Sea, which connects to Arctic Ocean, during the Stalin era between 1930 and 1933. The work was done mainly by gulag labor equipped with little more than shovels, pick axes and wheelbarrows. As many as 200,000 people died, many from hunger and cold. Many were buried on banks of the canal.

The canal facilities include 128 elements: 19 locks, 15 major dams, 19 outlets, 49 smaller dams, 33 artificial canals, five hydroelectric power stations. The important transport route, with its with a set of complex hydraulic structures, has provided vital communication links between the Baltic Sea and the North and made it possible to deliver more natural resources of the Kola Peninsula and Karelia to the processing centers further south, avoiding the distant roundabout way around the Scandinavian Peninsula.

Today, the White Sea-Baltic Canal historical and cultural complex operates on the canal grounds. This is a system of hydraulic structures, housing and administrative buildings, as well as memorial places of forced labor and canal workers burial grounds. The canal sometimes smell bad. Sometimes there traffic jams of barges and freighters at the locks but the people are friendly. "A lock lady to whom I had playfully blown a kiss," one National Geographic writer write, "returned to drop flowers on the deck." Sights include some 7th-century B.C. petroglyphs near Belomorsk and a museum at one the canal's 19 locks.

History of the White Sea-Baltic Canal

The 160-kilometer-long Suez Canal took 10 years to build, while the 227-kilometer-long White Sea Canal, which sometimes involved drilling through rock formations, was completed in a year and nine months. Forced labor was provided by the White Sea-Baltic Corrective Labor Camp and the infamous gulag, the Solovetsky Forced Labor Camp.

The construction of the White Sea-Baltic Canal began in April 1930. At that time, three years were allocated for its construction, but later the dimensions of the locks and the depth of the canals were changed to speed up the work. The construction was classified and supervised by the NKVD (forerunner the KGB).

The record speed of building the channel was achieved by the cruel exploitation of about 280,000 gulag prisoners who worked practically without equipment. From 1931 to 1933, the construction was supervised by N.A. Frenkel. It is he who is credited with the idea of using prisoners as a cheap labor to work on large national economic projects. According to various sources, from 50,000 to 200,000 people died from hardship and hard work during the construction of the canal.

The construction of the canal left a mark even in the slang. That's how the words “tufta” and “ammonal” appeared in the camp folklore: “We can't build the canal without tufta and ammonal.” Ammonal is an explosive. Tufta is a slang word for the Technique of Fictitious Labor. The word “zek” also appeared here. Originally it sounded like z/k — a shortened version of “zaklyuchonniy kanaloarmeets” (prisoner of the canal).

By May 1933 the first steamers were using the new canal, The official opening and first navigation took place in August 1933. After the construction ended, 71,000 prisoners were employed in the canal operation. During the World War 2, the canal was a prime, strategically-important target and took many hits. It southern part was completely destroyed. After the war, the damaged facilities were restored, and the canal was re-commissioned in July 1946. In 1950s, work to electrify its structures and mechanisms started.

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.

Volga–Baltic Waterway Between Lake Onega and Cherepovets

Volga-Baltic Waterway connects the Baltic Sea with the Volga River through a series of rivers, lakes and canals. The 368-kilometer (229-mile) stretch between the Rybinsk Reservoir at Cherepovets and Lake Onega is one of the most important — and last completed — links.

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.

Goritsy (15 kilometers north of the town of Kirillov,) is located between Lake Onega and Moscow at the entrance of White Lake, which links the Volga to the Baltic-Volga Canal. It s known for it collection of wooden “isbas” (huts).

Goritsy Monastery of Resurrection (in the village of Goritsy, Kirillovsky District, Vologda oblast, Russia. The convent is Kirillovsky District, which was the site of one of the historically most important (as well as wealthiest) male monasteries in Russia, and to which Tsar Ivan the Terriblehad planned to retire. Since the 1970s, the Kirillo-Belozerksy Museum of History, Art, and Architecture has operated parts of the Goritsky complex. Parts of Goritsky convent were reopened for religious purposes two decades later, and as of 2011 Goritsky was one of the four acting monasteries in Vologda Oblast, and the only one for religious women

Cherepovets (on the Volga River) is located a few miles north of a town that was submerged by the Rybinsk reservoir. The dome of the Lyubets church can often be seen piercing through the surface and 20 years ago you could see the entire town in the eight-meter-deep water before it was covered with silt and mud. Resurrection Cathedral in Cherepovets — the oldest building in the city. It was built in the 14th century, several times burned, lost its purpose. Currently, the temple is transferred to the Church and restored. The Cathedral has three altars, a place for prayer, ancient frescoes. There is an Orthodox school and a library on its territory.

On Cherepovets, Ian Frazier wrote in The New Yorker: ““If that city consists of buildings, like a conventional city, you couldn’t prove it by me, because all I saw of it was complicated highway ramps among a forest of power-line towers. The towers were everywhere, many stories high, sometimes clustering right up next to one another like groves of trees all striving for the daylight.” [Source: Ian Frazier, The New Yorker, August 3, 2009, Frazier is author of “Travels in Siberia” (2010)]

Vodlozersky National Park

Vodlozersky National Park (60 kilometers east of Lake Onega) is a national park in Arkhangelsk Oblast and Republic of Karelia. Established in 1991, it is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The park covers 4,280 square kilometers (1,650 square miles). The park area includes Lake Vodlozero, the river basin of the Ileksa, the main inflow of the lake, and the upper course of the Vodla, the outflow. At the time of creation, Vodlozersky National Park was the second-largest national park in Europe after Yugyd Va National Park. [Source: Wikipedia]

The two parts of the National Park—the southern part, around Lake Vodlozero, and the northern part, in the river valley of the Ileksa—are different and have different climate. The northern part has the climate typical for the northern taiga, with long and cold winters with temperatures that have dropped to −45°C (−49°F). The climate of the southern is milder.

The northern part is hilly, with the hills up to 20 meters (66 ft) high. The southern part is almost flat. There are many lakes in the park. By far the biggest one is Lake Vodlozero,. Among the lakes in the Ileksa river basin are Lake Monastyrskoye, Lake Nelmozero, Lake Luzskoye. Swamps cover about 40 percent of the area of the park. Almost the whole area of the part is covered by woods. Of these, 53.5 percent are spruce forests, 44.1 percent are pine forests, and about 2 percent are birch and aspen forests.

There is only one settlement in the limits of the park, the village of Kuganavolok. It is connected by road with the town of Pudozh. There is a visitor center in the village. There are also some recreation facilities as well as camping places elsewhere in the park. All visitors of the park need to buy a permit at a visitor center (in the park or in Petrozavodsk). The Ileksa and the Vodla are popular for whitewater rafting. There are birdwatching and fishing facilities.

Boats Sewing Museum

Boats Sewing Museum (in the village of Kanzanavolok in Vodlozersky National Park) was set up in 1996 by master boat-maker Michael Naimark. For thousands of years boats in remote areas of northern Europe and Russia were built without metal nails. Instead boards were connected by a special technology, somewhat resembling embroidery, in which sheathing made of overlapping boards was drilled with a series of holes and sewn together with fibers made mostly from the roots of spruce and pine trees. The museum contains some boats, a guest house, tools for sewing boats and fishing and other odds and ends.

The sewing technique dates from the Stone Age and was only abandoned relatively recently. The last sewn boats existed in remote rural areas of northern Russia — in the Karelia, Murmansk and Arkhangelsk regions — at least until the 1950s. Among those found in Karelia were boats called kizhanka and vodlozerka. Vodlozorki were sewn with spruce roots boats and used mainly for fishing and were powered by oars.

Vodlozerka were about six meters long, and 1.35 meters wide. They could accommodate six or seven people but usually only carried one or two people. They were equipped with steering oars in the back, a special feed paddle and four oarlocks with birch hinges and wooden fingers in the holes in the side springs. Some boats had a primitive sails but these were difficult to portage.

Constructing replicas of these boats, Naimark did not use any modern materials or tools: For tools used only an ax, knife, chisel and a drill ( "napar"). Simple peasants usually worked without saws. In some cases they made sewed boats in distant forest lakes, with only the tools that they brought with them. Tesa ax boards and pine timbers, and the scaffold were obtained by splitting the logs along with wooden wedges. The boats have a distinctive appearance because their entire surface is hewn with an ax and not planed with a plane.

Kenozersky National Park

Kenozersky National Park (in Arkhangelsk Oblast, 100 kilometers east of Lake Onega and 250 kilometers north of Vologda) is a fragment of the continental watershed of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, formed over 11,000 years ago. A narrow hilly beam-like isthmus between two lakes separates the waters of the Atlantic and the Arctic. A path running along the isthmus leads to the Kenozerskie Biryulki landscape park, featuring miniature copies of the most famous architectural hallmarks of the national park. A row boat trip along the ancient lake and canal system will take you to an operating water mill. A hiking trail on a path used by ancient Novgorodians runs through the holy groves to the Porzhensky graveyard,

The Kenozero National Park was created over here in 1991. It includes a system of lakes, the biggest of which are Kenozero and Lekshmosero. In 2004, the national park was named a UNESCO biospheric reserve. The Porzhensky graveyard is surrounded by forests with a church featuring painted “heavens”. “Heavens” are special flat ceiling beams used in ancient cathedrals and chapels. They are one of the trademarks of the Kenozersky National Park.

Kenozero Lake was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014 According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The National Reserve of Kenozero takes the territory of a hilly glacifluvial plain with many lakes and other diverse glacial forms of landscape. Due to geological conditions, the plain forms a specific uplift surrounded by vast wetlands and taiga forests. This fact induces a relative isolation and a high patchiness of the landscape. [Source: UNESCO]

“These mentioned peculiarities justify the exceptional attractiveness of this place for numerous peasant settlements inclined to limnic landscapes, as well as a highly developed communal farming system with its typical harmonious balance of forest industrial lands, pasturable lealands, and campestral agricultural lands. The settling system took shape in the 12th-15th I centuries and generally persists unchanged until nowadays. Historical plans and buildings, typical country estate organization and traditional country houses with their painted frontages, carved balconies, fenestral architraves, traditional inner decorations and housing facilities are preserved in settlements. Nearby almost each village are located wooden chapels, most of which are genuine masterpieces of Russian wooden art of building, as well as sacred groves, i.e. local territories of primary forest until now worshipped by indigenous people.

Picturesque lakesides with their fanciful shapes, various creeks and islands, silhouettes of wooden chapels and holy groves, ancient small villages, fluvioglacical hills and boulder fields represent masterpieces of beauty of the European North and, at the same time, vividly bear witness the Ice Age of geological history of this land.

Russia’s Most Beautiful Villages and Wooden Architecture in the Kenozersky Area

Most Beautiful Villages of Russia (in Arkhangelsk Oblast, 45 kilometers the north of Kargopol, 130 kilometers east of Lake Onega and 200 kilometers north of Vologda) described a group of villages in the heart of Russia’s great north woods. The village of Oshevensky Pogost houses the Holy Dormition Monastery dating back to the 15th century, a perfectly preserved area of traditional northern wooden architecture and the tent-roof Church of the Epiphany with a painted wooden ceiling or “heavens”. Travelers come here to experience old “black banya” and attend weaving and traditional baking workshops as well.

The Village of Kimzha features the northernmost post-based windmills, sturdy northern izba (log houses) and barns, as well as the early 18th century Church of Virgin Hodegetria, soon to be fully restored. The village of Kiltsa, referred to as a realm of izba, is hard to get to most of the year. Here, every house is a monument to the northern wooden architecture. The birthplace of the famous Russian writer Fyodor Abramov, the village of Verkola later served as a prototype for the fictional Pekashino in his popular Brothers and Sisters tetralogy. Many things here are linked to the writer's family, including a larch tree, a pechische (family-type commune), an ugor (hill) and the Paladyina Mezha path.

Kargopol is located near Lake Lacha, on the left bank of the Onega River. Kargopol,meaning either “Bear’s Land” or “Raven’s Field”. It is one of the oldest market towns in the Russian North, and a contemporary of Moscow. Kargopol's cityscape is dominated by the beautiful examples of Russian white stone architecture. The Church of the Nativity of the Virgin and the Annunciation Church are true masterpieces of the Kargopol ornamental stone work. Sobornaya Square hosts the city's oldest cathedral, the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ. Next to it is the 60-meter-high bell tower, where traditional festivities take place, including the Khrustalnye Zvony (Crystal Ringing) church bell festival.

According to the report submitted to UNESCO: “Peasant cultural landscape of Kenozero with its monuments of wooden architecture has reasons to be included in the World Heritage list as an outstanding example of the Northern European peasant cultural landscape formed in the 12th-16th centuries which preserved on its territory cultural traditions and archaic or relic forms of folk art and nature management. One can see here harmonious fusion of ancient rural settlements with a traditional for Russian North system of agricultural lands, which reflects the practice of communal farming existing for many centuries and individual characteristics of trade and agricultural household way of life. There are unique wooden temples (including architectural ensemble of St. George Church built in the 18th century in Fedorovskaya village and ensemble of a bell tower and two temples of the 18th century - hip Church of Christ's Precious wood and Church of John the Baptist in Filippovskaya village) as well as 35 chapels built in 15th III-X IX centuries, over 30 worship and holy crosses, 49 “sacred” groves, 52 monuments of archeology. [Source: UNESCO]

“Cult monuments have distinct interior decoration - painted heavens - chapel vaults with ample paintings on biblical topics (17 of them are preserved). Many chapels are situated in “sacred” groves - islets of particularly worshiped woods, which remained since paganism. Many holy crosses are also there. Such high density of “sacred” groves and chapels makes Kenozero a unique region with no analogues on the territory of Russia or other countries. Kenozero is a peculiar cultural area representing an exceptional value as a phenomenon of live culture as well, expressed in traditional know ledge, skills, notions, nature of preservation of cultural monuments, technologies of house-building and home adorning, life organization and features of festive culture. This is one of the main regions where Russian mythopoetics is formed. This form of art preserved ancient legends of Kyivska Rus, which was stated by leading Russian ethnographers as early as in the mid-19th century and became the legacy of world folklore and profoundly influenced culture of Russian Northern regions.”

Rybinsk Reservoir

Rybinsk Reservoir often called the Rybinsk Sea, is a water reservoir on the Volga River and its tributaries Sheksna and Mologa, formed by Rybinsk Hydroelectric Station dam, located in the Tver, Vologda, and Yaroslavl Oblasts. At the time of its construction, it was the largest man-made body of water on Earth. It is situated the northernmost point of the Volga. The Volga-Baltic Waterway starts from there. Its principal ports are Cherepovets in Vologda Oblast and Vesyegonsk in Tver Oblast.

The construction of the huge dam near Rybinsk began in 1935. Much of the work wasdone by Russian "volunteers" and German prisoners of war between 1941 and 1946. It was the first of three massive hydroelectric projects that submerged forests, villages and towns, and transformed the Volga into a "series of six massive inland seas, some with coastlines of more that 3000 miles."

The filling of the reservoir started in 1941 and continued until 1947. Some 150,000 people had to be resettled elsewhere, and the historic town of Mologa in Yaroslavl Oblast along with 663 villages were completely submerged. Today the dam is less important for hydroelectric power supply than it used to be, and the ecological damage caused by the reservoir is being reassessed, with some saying it is a typical example of Stalinism in which a bold nationalist projects was pursued with total disregard for the local people affected by the project.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (official Russia tourism website russiatourism.ru ), 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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