Arkhangelsk Oblast is a large region in northeastern Russia that mainly lies south of White Sea but includes the Arctic archipelagos of Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya, as well as the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea. Arkhangelsk Oblast borders Kirov Oblast and Vologda Oblast to the south, the Republic of Karelia to the west, the Komi Republic to the east, and the White, Pechora, Barents and Kara seas to the north. It also has administrative jurisdiction over the Nenets Autonomous Okrug.Including Nenetsia. Website: Tourist portal of the Arkhangelsk Region: pomorland.travel
Arkhangelsk (known in English as Archangel and Archangels) Oblast covers an area of 587,400 square kilometers (226,800 square miles), is home to about 1.25 million people (including Nenetsia) and has a population density of only two people per square kilometer. Cape Fligely in Franz Josef Land is the northernmost point of Russia, Europe and Eurasia and Cape Zhelaniya in Novaya Zemlya is the easternmost point of Europe. Both are located within Arkhangelsk Oblast.
Arkhangelsk Oblast is home to deep rivers, clear lakes, northern taiga forests, large expanses of tundra, the icy White Sea, snowy and windy coastal villages, medieval churches and majestic monasteries used a prison labor camps and outstanding examples of Russian wooden architecture with intricate carvings. The Arctic begins on the shores of the White Sea, right where Arkhangelsk is situated. This is the legendary Pomorye. Here it is possible to admire Aurora Borealis and marvel at the sheer power of spring ice breakup. Arkhangelsk was founded by Peter the Great in the estuary of the Northern Dvina River. The shipyards of Severodvinsk, where the country's nuclear submarine fleet is built, maintain sea shipbuilding traditions.
The best time to visit Arkhangelsk is during the White Nights — from the second half of May to the end of July — or in the snowy winter months. Winter here lasts from October to April. In the winter, Aurora Borealis can often be seen in Arkhangelsk Region. This natural phenomenon occurs all year round. All you need to observe it during the corresponding solar activity phases is cloudless night sky. The Northern Light period in Arkhangelsk Region begins as early as August when the nights get dark enough and ends by March.
See Separate Article WESTERN RUSSIAN ARCTIC factsanddetails.com
The White Sea is a southern arm of the Barents Sea located on the northwest coast of Russia. Covering an area of 90,000 square kilometers (34,700 square miles), about the size of Portugal, it is bordered by Karelia to the west, the Kola Peninsula to the north, and the Kanin Peninsula to the northeast. The whole of the White Sea is under Russian sovereignty and considered to be part of the internal waters of Russia. Administratively, it is divided between Arkhangelsk and Murmansk oblasts and the Republic of Karelia. The Barents Sea connects with the Arctic Ocean.
The White Sea was previously called “Studyonoe”. It has an average depth of 60 meters (197 feet) and a maximum depth 340 meters (1,115 feet). It has recorded the world's lowest surface sea temperature (28 degrees F). It is often covered by ice until mid June. The ice is not stationary; about 90 percent of it is floating and is continuously removed to the Barents Sea. Ice thickness is usually about 40 centimeters but may reach 150 centimeters in cold winters. The weather on the sea gets rough starting in mid-September. The White Sea is navigable more months of the year than you would think because the Gulf Stream ends at Solovetsky Island in the White Sea and keeps the sea relatively ice free. That is why the Soviets selected the area as the location of their largest submarine base.
The White Sea contains a large number of islands, but most of them are small. The main island group is the Solovetsky Islands, located almost in the middle of the sea, near the entrance to Onega Bay. Kiy Island in Onega Bay is significant due to a historic monastery. Velikiy Island, located close to the shore, is the largest island in the Kandalaksha Gulf. The White Sea is one of the four seas named in English after colors. The others are the Black Sea, the Red Sea, and the Yellow Sea.
Getting to and Traveling in Arkhangelsk Oblast
Getting to Arkhangelsk: By Air: : The flight takes 1 hour 45 minutes from Moscow; 1 hour 30 minutes from St. Petersburg; 1 hour 50 minutes from Murmansk and 3 hours 15 minutes from Syktyvkar. Arkhangelsk is served by Arkhangelsk Airport named after Fyodor Abramov, located within 10 kilometers from the city center. Expect a 15–20 minute taxi or regular bus ride.
By Train: :A train journey from Moscow takes 21 hours, 25 hours from St. Petersburg and 30 hours from Murmansk. The railway also connects Arkhangelsk to Syktyvkar, Vorkuta and Salekhard via Kotlas. You can check the journey time on the Russian Railways JSC official website.
By Car: Arkhangelsk can also be reached by the M8 Kholmogory federal road that stretches for 1,241 kilometers from Moscow. It is a modern highway. To reach many places within Arkhangelsk oblast you will need an off-road vehicle or motorboat or both. Arkhangelsk Region has a well-developed road network. Road conditions are often much rougher than those typical in western countries. Be alert for stones and bumpy stretches In the winter, it is enhanced with zimnik (winter tracks) and ice crossing and roads on frozen rivers and lakes.
The Key cities in the northwestern Russia are Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, and Petrozavodsk. The main roads are often in pretty good but some roads are in poor condition. Harsh weather conditions contribute to the difficulty of building and maintaining highways and roads. Distances between cities are great. Fuel may be difficult to find. Take a spare fuel can; unleaded fuel is not available. It is not a bad idea to carry a significant amount of spare fuel. Take spare tires, a tire repair kit, a hand pump and a towing service number. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT)]
Northern Railway (Severnaya Railway) is a railway network that embraces about 6,000 kilometers or track. It covers parts of central Russia and extends far to the north, with lines that running through Yaroslavl, Vologda, Kostroma, Ivanovo, Arkhangelsk, Vladimir, Kirov and Tver region as well the Republic of Komi and Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District. Half of the system operates in Arctic conditions.
The Northern Railway links Moscow with Arkhangelsk, stopping in Yaroslavl and Vologado before heading into the great northern forests.. Its oldest part — The Yaroslavl Railway, owned by Savva Mamontov — was one of the first railways in Russia. It opened in 1872, liking Alexandrov, Yaroslavl and Vologda line was opened in 1872. In 1894, the construction of the railway connecting Vologda with Arkhangelsk started. The decision was taken to construct the line along the shortest route, which at the time ran through a sparsely populated area, and not along one of the existing trading routes.
Many parts of the Northern Railway were built through harsh conditions — in marshes and swamps and over icy rivers — in a relatively short time. One the primary purposes of the North Railway was to connects the industrial areas of central Russia with suppliers of raw materials in the mining regions in the far northern territories.During the war, the railway North made a significant contribution to the victory over Nazi Germany, ensuring the delivery of ammunition, military equipment and food to the front in the front-line area, as well as the evacuation of wounded soldiers, civilians.
The Northern Railway runs through the territories with a unique history and nature, many of which are under the protection of UNESCO, such as Pechora-Ilych Nature Reserve and National Park "Yugyd Va" in Komi. In northeastern Russia the railway connects large and small towns, monasteries and churches, beautiful wooded and lowland landscapes alomg with the historic towns of Vladimir, Yaroslavl, Rostov, Kostroma and Ivanovo — the Golden Ring of Russia — and passes through taiga, tundra and the Polar Urals — with their pristine rivers, virgin beauty and vast spaces — and helps to develop and exploit the resource-rich regions in Arkhangelsk Oblast, Komi Republic and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug.
Arkhangelsk (1,250 kilometers north of Moscow) is a grim city with 350,000 people located in the White Sea. Known in English as Archangel and Archangels, it sits on a peninsula that just into the Severnaya Dvina River and is ice bound from November to May. Much of beautiful old city of Archangel and all of its old churches, were destroyed in World War II. The port of Arkhangelsk is located on the White Sea. For much of Russia's history this was Russia's main center of international maritime trade, conducted by the Pomors ("seaside settlers") from Kholmogory. In the modern era it became an important Soviet naval and submarine base. The White Sea–Baltic Canal connects the White Sea with the Baltic Sea. Including Nenetsia. Website: Tourist portal of the Arkhangelsk Region: pomorland.travel
Arkhangelsk today is a military town with strong links to the oil, diamonds and timber industries. Many people walking around wear uniforms. The smell of sawdust is in the air; lumber yards and sawmills run for more than kilometers aon the river. The oil companies Conoco, E20thon-Mobile, Texaco and the Australian mineral giant BHP are all developing proven resources in the area and look for ne ones
Arkhangelsk is a true city of the White Nights. The sun hardly leaves the horizon from the middle of May until the end of July; about 77 days. The night is more like twilight, and the day is unusually long. The longest day (21 hours 34 minutes) and the shortest night (2 hours 26 minutes) come on June 21 and 22 every year.
History of Arkhangelsk
Arkhangelsk became Russia’s first real port to the outside world in 1575 when Ivan the Terrible established it a receiving place for good after he set up trade links with Britain. The city was expanded into a navy base by Peter the Great and Catherine the Great and further developed by the tsars that followed them. Foreign mercenaries unloaded here in 1918 to fight for the Whites against the Reds. In World War II, it was a major Allied lend-lease supply port and because of this was heavily bombed by the Germans.
In the 12th century, the Mikhailov Arkhangelsk Monastery was founded on the site of the future Arkhangelsk. A village with a pier grew up near the monastery, as it usually happened in Russia. In the 16th century, when Tsar Ivan the Terrible the Terrible began trading with England through the northern seas, a wooden fortress (1584) was laid near the Mikhailov Arkhangelsk Monastery on the Pur-Navolok island. The unfinished city was called New Kholmogory, New Town and Novokholmory. In 1613, Novoholmogory was renamed into the city of Arkhangelsk, and the name was gradually transformed into the modern one.
The city burned down almost completely in 1667. The first stone building Gostiny Dvor was built there after the fire. According to the plan of the architect Dmitry Startsev, it was a closed complex of three adjacent yards with six towers. The seaside location of Arkhangelsk interested Peter the Great. The shipyard was founded on the island of Solombala by order of the Tsar. In 1694, the solemn launching of the first Russian merchant ship St. Paul took place.In 1762, Arkhangelsk was equalized with St. Petersburg in trade rights. In 1794 regular building began, wide streets and embankments were laid. The city was the starting point for many polar expeditions between the 18th and 19th centuries.
Sights in Arkhangelsk
There isn't much to see in Arkhangelsk, which most visitors use as a jumping off point for the Malye Korely or the Solovetsky Islands. The Fine Arts Museum has a 16th to 18th century religious works as well as period costumes and samovars. The Regional Studies Museums has exhibits on Samis and Afghanistan war veterans. Among the drab concrete buildings, you can still find charming wooden beacons, wooden boats, wooden jetties and wooden houses as well as a "ramshackle tsarist-era yacht club." Many of the old wooden houses have large piles of wood outside to heat the wood stoves inside during the long winter.
An enormous scale model of the old Arkhangelsk lies in the main hall of the Palace of Culture of the Sailors of the North Sea Fleet. The House of Propaganda is located in a fine wooden house and has displays that have little to do with propaganda. Along the wide Severnaya Dvina Embankment you can take a long stroll past old buildings and monuments and the massive walls of Russia's first fort to the local “Arbat”, a pedestrian street referred to as Chumbarovka. There is beach where it is not uncommon to see people taking in the freezing river that flows into the White Sea. It is possible to hire a boat to take you to one of the nearby islands.
Arkhangelsk is called the cultural and historical capital of the Russian North. Architectural attractions, including the Solovetsky Monastery and the oldest Gostiny Dvor building in Russia, one of the few preserved monuments of Russian architecture of the second half of the 17th century. There is the Novodvinsk fortress on the Arkhangelsk territory, the first bastion seaside fortress in Russia. It was built between 1701 and 1721 by decree of Peter the Great to protect Arkhangelsk from attacks from the sea.
The city has three theaters, museums, festivals, concerts, fairs. The International Festival of Street Theaters, which attracts dozens of theaters from different countries, gets special love from the residents and visitors of the city. The city is also the home of the Museum of Russian Superstitions, the Literary-Memorial Museum-house of Joseph Brodsky. On weekends and holidays river tours to the Sea-River Station Arkhangelsk are offered in . "N. Gogol", a wheeled passenger river boat built in 1911. On weekdays, the ship is located in Severodvinsk,
Monument for the Savior Seals thanks seals for the meat and oil they provided which saved many families from starvation during World War II. Those saved were not only from Archangel but also from Leningrad, which received seal rations on the "road of life"to besieged Leningrad. During the Great Patriotic War (World War II), Arkhangelsk mortality rate from starvation was second to that of Leningrad. More than 38,000 people died. According to veterans testimony, the daily bread ration of the military in Arkhangelsk was 125 grams. Meat and fat from seals rescued thousands of people from starvation. The seal monument was made by sculptor and architect Igor Skripkin. Weight It weighs 900 kilograms and is 1.5 meters tall. The monument is located on a pedestal of white-gray granite, which in turn is set on a black base. Light pedestal symbolizes the ice floe, dark base - cold Arctic waters.
Malye Karely (a half-hour ride from the center of Arkhangelsk) contains an open air wooden architecture museum with 19th-century wooden buildings, water mills, wind mills and an inspiring five-dome cathedral. The architecture is somewhat similar to that found at Kizhi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site at Lake Onega, except there are more buildings. The surroundings are very beautiful. There are churches, chapels, bell towers, peasant farms, mills, and granaries. Particularly charming are the "black cottages," small houses without a full chimney that have smoke-stained walls. An "ecological trail" leads to a small village of peasant houses.
The museum of the traditional wooden architecture and local culture is located on a high bank of the Northern Dvina River. The buildings represent the “wooden civilization” of the entire Arkhangelsk Region, including the typical “villages” of the Kargopol and Onega, the Dvina, the Mezen and the Pinega sectors with izba (log houses), barns, wells and hedgerows. At Malye Korely you will find a giant mechanism of a tent-roof windmill, huge houses-estates of rich Kargopol peasants, a Kholmogory smithy, a fisher's house, a hunter's hut, and a Dvina inn. . The Malye Korely Museum museum was established in 1964 as an open-air preserve for wooden architecture. The 160 hectare property is divided into six sectors, each with a model settlement with a layout and buildings characteristic a certain area. Currently, the Kargopolsko-Onezhskiy, Dvinskiy, Pinezhskiy, and Mezenskiy sectors are open to the public. A total of 120 buildings of various types, from the 16th to the early 20th century, are assembled here: The Novitsia Folk-Ethnographic Theater performs here, There are demonstrations by folk craft masters as well. People come here celebrate folk holidays like Maslenitsa, the Trinity festivities, and even Christmastide. Among the related sites are the shrine complex in Nenoksa village, the Nikolskaya Church in Lyavlya village, the mansion house of M.T. Kunitsyna, and the House of the Commercial Assembly (the so-called Marfin Dom) in Arkhangelsk.
Severodvinsk (40 kilometers southwest of Arkhangelsk) is a dumping ground for retired atomic and diesel-powered submarines. Many are parked in the harbor across from the naval base. The area is restricted and leaking radioactive material. Visitors risk arrest and deportation but many come anyway and don’t seem to suffer any problems.
Severodvinsk’s Center for Nuclear Shipbuilding and ship repair is the cradle of the Russian nuclear submarine fleet. It was formally founded in 1936 by the personal order of Stalin, but has a history of shipbuilding that goes back several centuries. The city’s main museum has simulators that allows visitors to try their hand at controlling a submarine. There are also exhibitions devoted to the island Yagry (one of the neighborhoods of Severodvinsk) and the famous Englishman Richard Chancellor, who forged a trade deal with Ivan the Terrible, allow foreigners to trade in Russia.
Within the property of Sevmash defense enterprise is Korelskiy Nicholas Monastery, founded in the 15th century. The building is well preserved, and today the public services are conducted in it. The promenade, the seashore and the pine forest are favorite places for walking.
Lomonosov Diamond Mine
The Lomonosov Diamond Mine (100 kilometers from Arkhangelsk) is the largest diamond mine in Europe. Named after the great Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov, the mine has estimated reserves of 220 million carats of diamonds and an annual production capacity of 2 million carats. Including Nenetsia. Website: Tours are generally not offered but you can try contacting pomorland.travel to see what’s up.
The Arkhangelsk diamond deposits is comprised of six tubes, two of which are actively being mined. The total stocks of tubes contains about 20 percent of Russia’s diamond deposits. The Arkhangelsk diamond-bearing area covers about 20,000 square kilometers of the east coast of the White Sea area and has more than 70 tubes.
Today diamonds are mined in the "Arkhangelsk" and "Karpinskaya-1" tubes. The mine is a huge hole. From the bottom, multi-ton dump trucks transport the ore to the processing plant. The diameter of the large pit is 1.13 kilometers and the depth of about 130 meters. The geological age of rocks on the bottom of the quarry comes are about 360 million years old.
Pinega Caves (120 kilometers east of Arkhangelsk) are one of the most well-known and mysterious landmarks of Arkhangelsk Region. Halls created by groundwater, bizarre bends of karst corridors, disappearing lakes and streams and ice crystals mysteriously gleaming in cool darkness attract tourists in the winter and in the summer alike.
Going underground is only allowed here as part of an excursion group. Tourists are provided with helmets and headlamps. However, you'd better take care of warm clothes and comfortable shoes yourself, since even in the summer the temperatures here rarely rise above zero, while ice and frost-covered walls can be seen already at the entrance.
The caves look most spectacular from January to March, when the vaults sparkle with hoarfrost and textured karst bends and intricate icings create a new one-of-a-kind interior of the Pinega underground kingdom every year.
Solovetsky Islands (between Arkhangelsk and Karelia) are a string of islands in Onega Bay in the White Sea near the Arctic Circle. On the largest island is a high-walled, 15th century monastery that was transformed in 1923 into the headquarters of a series of Stalinist labor camps from which few survivors emerged. The islands are called or Solovki for short and there are various ways of spelling them, including Solovetskiye Islands.
Today, People come to the Solovetsky Islands,, to visit the Solovetsky Monastery, founded in the 15th century by Orthodox monks, and worship the holy relics and graves of unknown martyrs. About 1,500 people live on Solovetsky Island in wooden houses and abandoned prison barracks. A dozen or so monks run the monastery, which now contains a museum with a handful or religious items and letters from prison camp victims.
The monastery itself has massive walls between 8 and 11 meters high and four to six meters thick with seven gates and eight towers, Inside the kremlin are a number of 16th-century buildings: St. Nicholas Church, refectory, Assumption Cathedral and Transfiguration cathedral. There are few remains from the gulag.
Solovetsky Islands: UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Cultural and Historic Ensemble of the Solovetsky Islands were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.: According to UNESCO: The site “comprises six islands of the Solovetsky Archipelago situated in the western part of the White Sea, 290 kilometers from Arkhangelsk, the center of Arkhangelsky region. Founded in the 1430s, the Solovetsky complex is an outstanding example of the tenacity, courage and diligence of monks of the Russian Orthodox Church in the inhospitable environment of Northern Europe. The complex is unique in its integrity and safeguarding of its religious, residential, domestic, defence and waterside constructions, its road network and irrigation systems of the Middle Ages harmoniously blended with the surrounding natural and cultural landscapes as well as archeological sites that reflect the ancient and medieval culture of the islands for six thousand years. The Solovetsky complex represents all periods of the history of the archipelago and the Russian North in general.
“The Cultural and Historic Ensemble of the Solovetsky Archipelago comprises a monastery-fortress of 15th to the early 20th centuries, a former monastic village of 16th to the early 20th centuries, cells and hermitages of 16th to the early 20th centuries, insular hydraulic and irrigation systems, sacred sites and dozens of settlements of 6 to the first millennia B.C., groups of memorial constructions of the Solovetsky Special Prison Camp of 1923-1939 and the surrounding natural and cultural landscapes throughout the archipelago.
“The heart of the historic and cultural complex of the archipelago is the architectural ensemble of the Solovetsky Monastery, which is a holistic unique architectural complex. Its constructions are characterized by their monumentality, individuality and integrity of all components resulting from the centuries-old tradition of building. The Solovetsky historic and cultural complex is the only large set of monuments in northern latitudes, built from local boulders in combination with rare brick and forge iron produced on Solovki. The peculiar linear design of the facade and high density of buildings on small areas contribute to the integrity and architectural expression of the ensemble. The fortress is the only Russian fortification complex built with the use of large boulders, which adds greatly to its individuality. The vast variety and uniqueness of the Solovetsky monuments together with the northern wilderness create a rare cultural and natural synthesis. Archeological studies over the last 20 years have identified some interesting new materials that expand the cultural context of the property.
“The Solovetsky complex is an outstanding example of a monastic settlement in the inhospitable environment of northern Europe, which admirably illustrates the faith, tenacity and courage of late medieval religious communities. The subsequent history of the monastery is graphically illustrated by the wealth of remains of all types that have survived. The Solovki is often recognized by the public as one of the first and best known Soviet special purpose camps of the GULAG. The islands have been used as a place of exile since the 17th century.”
History of the Solovetsky Islands
According to UNESCO: The Solovetsky archipelago comprises six islands in the western part of the White Sea, covering about 300 square kilometers . They have been inhabited since the 5th century B.C. and important traces of a human presence from as far back as the 5th millennium B.C. can be found there. The archipelago has been the site of fervent monastic activity since the 15th century, and there are several churches dating from the 16th to the 19th century.” [Source: UNESCO]
Isolated by storms and ice seven months of the year, the monastery was founded in the 1400s by two monks on a remote site to commune with God. Over the next hundred years the site attracted other monks who built a Kremlin, factories and smelters from boulders. Later, the monastery became an important center of Eastern Orthodox tradition.
By the 17th century the fortress ran 50 saltworks, employed 600 workers and was home to 300 monks and was strong enough to repel attacks from the Swedes. In the mid 17th century it declared its independence from Russia and survived for eight years and was finally captured by the tsarist army and everyone inside was slaughtered. For centuries, Solovetsky Monastery served as a tsarist-era a military fortress and prison and then a Soviet “special-purpose” labor camp. In 1992, the monastery and its churches were revived and the monastery’s holy relics of St. Zosima, Savvatiy and Herman — Solovetsky founding monks and miracle workers — were returned.
History of the Gulag at Solovetsky Islands
In 1923, the monastery at the Solovetsky islands was turned into a Stalinist labor camp. The island with the monastery appealed to Stalin as a place to set up a prison camp because it was virtually escape proof: the water that surrounded it was too cold to swim in the summer and the ice wasn't thick enough to walk on in the winter. After it was set up the camp served as a model for other prisoner and forced labor camps. The Russian historian Yuri Brodsky told the Washington Post, "it was the camp on which all future norms were designed: how much food to give, what kind of clothing, how to execute people and get rid of their bodies." Thousands of "class enemies"—aristocrats, artists, scientists, historians, lawyers, officers and writers—were sent there.
At first things weren't so bad. The prisoners were poorly feed and clothed but they were allowed to move freely on the island and even formed study groups, a theater troupe and a newspaper. By the late 1920s things had taken a turn for the worst. Thousands of prisoners arrived every day and they were stuffed into cells already crammed with people.
A colony for children between 12 and 16 was set up; mass executions, where prisoners were shot in their underwear and buried in pits, were commonplace; people were tortured by having water poured on them in the freezing cold and handcuffed in swarms of mosquitos in the summer. Many prisoners were forced to sit on poles and if they fell of they were severely beaten,
The historian Dimitry Likhach told the Washington Post, the prisoners "were shot in the back of their heads. The executioners and others were often drunk, so they did not always manage to shoot people to death right away, but they threw them in the pit all the same. The soil-covered pit sometimes showed signs of movement, even on the day after the shooting."
Golgotha Crucifixion Monastery located on a hill on Anzerskiy Island has a nave where "frozen corpses of political prisoners were stacked to take up less room," one escaped prisoner wrote. "From 1923 to 1939 some 83,00 counter-revolutionaries and common criminals were held here in some of the most brutal conditions, starving and often semi-naked. Every race, creed, and profession was represented: bishops doctors, murderers, princesses and prostitutes. Beatings, drowning, shootings, epidemics, and the 'mosquito treatment.' in which offenders were tied naked to boulders and trees were only part of a litany of terrors that claimed more that 43,000 lives."
In 1939, the labor camp was shut down, because of fears it might be discovered because it was too close to Finland, and survivors were sent to other gulags. The monastery was turned in housing for soldiers, clinics and schools and frescoes. Icons were used for target practice. In 1962, the military moved out and it became a historical and nature center.
Visiting the Solovetsky Islands
The Solovetsky Islands can be reached from Kem and Arkhangelsk. The most inexpensive way to get to them is by sea. Ferry boats leave from the ports of Kem and Belomorsk on the Karelia side of the White Sea not the Arkhangelsk side. The ferries usually runs from at least form early June to late September 20. The time frame can change depending on the weather. Tours can be arranged to the Solovetsky islands in from Kem, Belomorsk, Arkhangelsk, St. Petersburg and Moscow..
Kem from (500 kilometers north of St. Petersburg on the road and railroad to Murmansk), a a small town of 18,000 on the White Sea. There isn't much to do here but see some old wooden houses. It is however the most convenient jumping off point for Solovetsky Island. The boat journey is two hours, much less time than from Arkhangelsk.
Kem can be reached by the R21 road or on one of the Murmansk trains. The journey from Moscow will take one day. Couchettes in open type carriages cost from RUB 2,000. The journey from St. Petersburg will take 13–15 hours.
The Solovki Hospitality Center and Museum-Reserve Information Center on the Solovetsky Islands offers excursions to the islands of the Solovki archipelago. Apart from thematic excursions to Solovki, one can visit Sekirnaya Mountain and the Holy Ascension skete; take a boat ride along Solovki's small circular lake-channel system; or take a boat tour to Bolshoy Zayatsky Island and Bolshaya Muksalma Island. Dozens of excursions are available.
If you have enough time, take a walk along the Boulder Dam. This is a stone bridge that connects the Bolshoy Solovetsky and the Bolshaya Muksalma islands. It was built by monks in the 19th century. Anzersky is the remotest island of the archipelago. It houses hermitages occupied by eremitic monks. A guided tour around the island will take an entire day. Apart from their rich and sometimes tragic history, Solovki are renowned for unspoilt nature, which is best observed from water. Rent a boat and take a tour along the small or the big circle of the vast lake and canal system.
The Solovetskaya fortress (on the Solovetsky Islands) was constructed at the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century and designed for active defense from all sides with the use of artillery. The battle towers are evenly distributed along the perimeter of the fortress and positioned forward from the walls. The Solovetsky Fortress houses a number of buildings, including ones that contain the Solovetsky State Historical, Architectural and Natural Museum-Reserve and the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Solovetsky Monastery.
The total length of the walls of the Solovetsky Kremlin is 1200 meters. They are seven meters thick at their base and up to 10 meters high.. The towers are up to 17 meters high. There are five round towers built of huge boulders: Nikolskaya, Korozhnaya (Storozhevaya), Pryadilnaya (Stratilatovskaya), Belaya (Golovlenkova) and Arkhangelskaya. The towers are topped with tent-like roofs and observation platforms.
Within the fortress walls are churches and monastery buildings. From the mid-16th to the end of the 19th century, the Solovetsky Monastery was a state prison, where prisoners were sent for crimes against the church and the state. Several prisons of the 16th-17th centuries have been preserved: Korozhnaya, Golovlenkova and Sushilennaya. One prison was established at the end of the 18th century in a building with an icon-painting chamber.
Spaso-Preobrazhensky Solovetsky Monastery
Spaso-Preobrazhensky Solovetsky Monastery (on the Solovetsky Islands) is one of the most revered monasteries in Russia. The central ensemble of the monastery includes the unique architectural monuments of 16th-20th centuries that are regularly attended and visited by pilgrims. The history of the monastery begins in the 15th century, with the first Solovki monks and the founders of the monastery: Savvatii and German. In 1429 they arrived in the Big Solovetsky island and set up a cell on the shore of the White Sea. They briefly left the Solovki in 1436 returned with another monk — Zosima — who is also counted among the founders of the monastery. This time they chose to settle on the shore of Prosperity Bay, where monastery stands today.
St. Philip, Metropolitan of Moscow and All Russia, did a lot for strengthening and bringing prosperity of the monastery. From 1538 to 1565, while he was rector of Solovetsky monastery, the first stone building of the monastery were built. Before that the buildings were made of wood. Between 1552 and 1557, Assumption Refectory complex, the first stone building of the monastery, was built. Between 1558- and 1566, Transfiguration Cathedral, the main church of the monastery, was constructed.
Still-preserved, five-domed St. Nicholas Church was built in 1834 based on the design of single-domed predecessor, one of the first churches in the monastery. St. Nicholas has traditionally been greatly revered in the North. He is regarded as the patron saint of sailors and coast-dwellers and is inextricably linked with sea fishing. The holy trinity Zosimo-Savvatiy Cathedral, built in 1859 and designed by architect A. Arkhangelsk provincial Shahlareva, is one the largest structures in the monastery..
Filippovskiy cages are located to the northwest of the Solovetsky monastery. The cages were built in the 16th century under abbot Philippe and named in his honor. It is believed that the monks constructed the cages for breeding and keeping of fresh cod. This design was used until the 19th century, when the sea level fell due to natural geological processes, and they they became shallow ponds left to stand as a monument to bygone days. The Filippovskiy cages area is a quiet place where tourists usually don’t go. It consists of a complex of dams with two stone fences in the largest of the ponds. A 150-meter-long, 2.5-meter-high dam separates them from the sea cages.
The Solovki State Historical, Architectural and Natural Museum-Reserve (on the Solovetsky Islands) is one of the largest museum reserves in Russia. The museum was created in 1967 as a branch of the Arkhangelsk Regional Museum. In 1974, it became independent. It contains more than 1000 items of cultural heritage ranging in age from the 5th millennium B.C. to the 20th century.
Several museum exhibits are located in the Solovki Kremlin. The Underground Archaeology of Solovki exhibit in the Novobratsky building was created as a result of excavations. The exhibit depicts the construction stages of the buildings in the reserve. On display are ruined remnants of wooden monastic cells from the 16th century. In the water mill building, visitors can see the Solovki Mill exhibition. On the first tier of the Sushila facility, a building for drying and storing grain, there is an exhibit on the monastery prison. The exhibits in the historical barracks building (1929) are dedicated to the history of Solovki Special Purpose Camp of 1923-1939. There are two expositions on the Solovki Sacristy: the historical and cultural heritage of the Solovki Monastery and the Solovki Fortress.
Stone Labyrinths of Bolshoi Zayatsky Island
Bolshoi Zayatsky Island (one of the Solovetsky Islands) is home to a group of 13 or 14 labyrinths. They are believed to be about 2500 years old based on their orientation, their supposed ritual use, and changes in the direction of the zenith on the solstice throughout history. On top of this, there are more than 850 heaps of boulders and numerous other stone construction such as a stone symbol with radial spokes, possibly representing the sun. All the labyrinths are concentrated in an area of about half a square kilometer on the western part of the island. A large complex of stone settings can be found on Sopka Hill, in the eastern part of the island, but there are no labyrinths. The labyrinths at Cape Fireplace were reconstructed by students in 1978 on the site of old structures [Source: Wikipedia, Russian Tourism Official Website]
All together there are 35 labyrinths (known as vavilons – "Babylons" – in the local dialect) in the Solovetsky Islands. All have been made of local boulders. Excavations in the stone heaps have yielded parts of bones. Measuring between 6 and 25.4 meters in diameter, the labyrinths are mostly made of large stones 30–40 centimeters in diameter set in a row. The rows are twisted in the form of a spiral; often there are two spirals set one into another, which has been likened to "two serpents with their heads in the middle looking at each other". Intermittently along the spiral there are thicker or wider heaps of stones; the ends of the spirals are also wider.
The entrances are generally on the southern sides of the labyrinths, but can also be found in the south-western, eastern or western parts. The labyrinths have five types of settings, but each has only one entrance which also serves as an exit. The function of the stone settings is unclear. One suggestion is that they were connected with a cult of the dead and may have symbolised a border between this world and the underworld and the labyrinth may have been used for specific rituals to help the souls of the dead travel to another world. Another hypothesis is that they were complex fishing traps.
Cape Beluzhiy: Beluga Whale Watching Site
Cape Beluzhiy (Bolshoy Solovetsky, Solovetsky Islands) is one of the best places in the world to see white beluga whales. This cape is one of the rare places on the Earth the whales come close to the shore. In other places, you need to go to the open sea, which does not allow approaching the belugas too closely, because these animals are very timid.
At low tide, the belugas swim near Cape Beluzhiy twice a day. But this unique act of nature can be seen during a very short period: from the middle of June until the middle of August, and only in when the sea is relatively calm. At this time, the belugas are breeding and training their young in the shallow water.
A tower was constructed here for watching belugas by scientists of the Institute of Oceanology RAS, which have been studying are carrying out since 1994. You can get to the cape by the road leading to Sekirnaya Mountain or the old monastery road along the seashore. Theoretically, you can get to the cape by boat, but it is not recommended because it would disturb the belugas. Still many people do take boats. One person wrote in Trip Advisor: “Took around 30 minutes one way to the cape where is at the White Sea. We successfully saw some white whales near our boat. The boat ride was pretty windy and cold. Have to be well prepared even in the summer.”
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