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Russian Sacred Places: the Mystery of Solovetsky Monastery
July 28, 2011 13:42

The monastery location is a mystery itself. The Solovetsky Islands (known as Solovki) are six islands located in the threatening waters of the White Sea in the North of Russia, 165km from the Arctic Circle. The islands are hard to access and it adds a special attractiviness to this place. Throughout its entire history it has been a place for lonely, but spiritually strong people.

         Important historical facts

  • Solovetsky Monastery was founded in 1429 by three monks Gherman , Zosima and Savvatiy from the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the monastery expanded and extended its production and commercial activity which turned it into the economic and political center of the White Sea region
  • The great monastery was a center of christianization in the North of Russia, a place of pilgrims, and starting in the 16th century it became a place of exile for political and religious figures. For many years this place will be associated with imprisonment and fear. Solovki archimandrite Illarii wrote: "the name Solovki became terrible in the history of Russia".
  • Archimandrites of Solovetsky Monastery were directly appointed by the tsar and the Orthodox patriarch. In 1765, Solovetsky Monastery became stauropegic, reported directly to the Synod.
  • Solovetsky Monastery also functioned as an important frontier fortress. The monastery succeeded a number of times (in 1571, 1582 and 1611) in beating off  attacks of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword and the Swedes. During the Crimean War, Solovetsky Monastery was attacked by three English ships. After 9 hours of shelling on the 6th and the 7th of July, the opponents had to leave.
  • After the Revolution of 1917, the Soviet authorities exported from the monastery 2528 kg of precious stones, gold and silver. They closed down the monastery and built  there one of the earliest Soviet forced-labor camps. There was a well-known slogan at the time : "Today in Solovki, tomorrow all over Russia!"More than 1 million people were prisoners of this camp and of its other departments on the continent. In 1923 it was called Solovetsky Prison of Special Destination (SPSD).
  • In 1937, Stalin reorganized it into the one of the severest camps (GULAGs) in his empire. Prisoners lived and worked in inhuman conditions, with officers torturing or killing them at will. Over a million prisoners died there, many of whom were priests, artists and writers. The prison was closed in 1939.

  • During World War II, the Solovetsky Islands were used as a naval base. The monastery restoration started in the 1960s, and in 1974 it was turned into the State historical-architectural complex and nature reserve.The monastery was reopened in the early 1990s and began to accept visitors. Many of the churches and other monastery buildings remain under reconstruction.

  • In 1992 it was added tp the UNESCO World Heritage List.


The Main Places of Interest

The Solovetsky Monastery is surrounded by high walls (up to 11m in height and 6m in width) with several gates and towers.

The main monastery buildings are connected to one another with arched passages, and include :

  • Uspensky Cathedral (1552-1557)
  • Preobrazhensky Cathedral (1556-1564)
  • Annunciation Church (1596-1601)
  • Church of St. Nicholas (1834) and also stone chambers (1615), watermill (early 17th century), bell tower (1777), and refectory.

Preobrazhensky Cathedral is one the most ancient cathedrals with rich history. This is the place where in the times of GULAG the company of the Kremlin's section of SPSD was located. As one of Solovki experts Pavel Illarionov said : "Each brick here breathes a history, one doesn't need anything else. The place is a history itself ".

Many of the churches are under reconstruction, but can be visited. The public liturgies are served in Uspensky Cathedral, Preobrazhensky Cathedral and Annunciation Church, which are open from 8am to 5pm daily.

The monastery village includes chapels built to commemorate several Tsars, hostels for pilgrims, a dry-dock, a hydroelectric power station (19 lo- 12) and various industrial sites.

Founded in 1822, the monastery's botanical gardens are famous all over the world with its 100s of plant species, including  trees and plants found only in southern climates. The plants survive due to the gardens' initial location in a quiet valley and tangled system of underground hot-water pipes.

12 km from the kremlin one can see the hill of Sekirnaya Gora ("Hatchet Mountain"),which is topped by a 19th-century church used for solitary confinement. In the 19th century, monks built the Church of Ascension, which was also a lighthouse - it is an unusual church that has a cross on its top and a lighthouse lens under it. In the times of GULAG, one of the most cruel punishments was an imprisonment in this church. Years after the Commemoration Cross was erected in the memory of people executed there.

The State Historical and Architectural Museum Reserve is a 15-19th c. fortified monastery with household buildings and churches, Neolithic labyrinths, Botanic Gardens and memorial sites, related to the prison camp of the 1920s, and a system of lakes, canals, and a dock. Office hours: 9.00-19.00. Museum is open all the year round. Over 15 guided tours are provided to all museum sites, in Russian and English languages.

In addition to the main Solovetsky Monastery, there are several individual monasteries at Solovki: 4 on Solovetskii Island (all 19th century); the early 17th century Trinity Monastery on Anzer Island; a 16th century complex, including a stone harbour, on Big Zayatskii Island; and the St Sergius Monastery on Big Muksalma Island, founded in the 16th century.


An average number of excursional routes is about 14, including routes to the fortress, a monastery prison, and cathedrals.The price depends on the duration of the excursion. Two hour's long excursion costs 350 rubles (9 euros, 12 dollars) for foreign visitors. You can order a full excursional tour or travel to Solovki on your own and stay at the hotel. Average hotel price for double room - 5500 rubles (138 euros, 198 dollars).

How to Get There

By water:
Boats from Karelian towns of Kem and Belomorsk (2,5 - 4 hours).
Boat from Kem is operated from June to September. Boat from Belomorsk is operated from mid June till mid August.
Departures from Kem (port Rabocheostrovsk) at 8:00 (bigger boat) and 10:00 (smaller boat).
Departures from Solovetsky at 16:00 (smaller boat) and 17:30 (bigger boat). All times for 2010.

By air:
Airplane from Arkhangelsk: 6 days a week in July-August, 2 days a week on Friday and Monday the rest of the year,
Charter flights from Petrozavodsk, St.Petersbrug, Moscow.
Helicopter flights from Petrozavodsk and Arkhangelsk.




Tags: Solovki Solovetsky Monastery Karelia Russian sacred places Arkhangelsk region 

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