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The Solovetsky archipelago

Solovetsky archipelago is situated in the western part of the White Sea between the Carelian maritime area and the Summer coast of Onega peninsula, close to Polar circle, and consists of 6 big and great number of small islands.


The most well-known is Bolshoy Solovetsky island, which is often called Solovki, with the area of 246 square km. After this island the whole archipelago was named. The other islands are considerably smaller and are situated around the main one: Anzersky island is to the east, Bolshaya Muksalma and Malaya Muksalma are to the southeast, Bolshoy Zayatsky and Maly Zayatsky islands are to the southwest.


There are about 1200 archeological sites and more that 100 historical and architectural monuments. The history of Solovetsky archipelago development is measured by thousands of years and is cloaked in mysteries and legends. The most mysterious sites are the ancient pagan sanctuaries including famous northern labyrinths.


Among the most important architectural sites of the archipelago there are:


On the Bolshoy Solovetsky island:

-         the Solovetsky monastery ensemble;

-         the remains of the first hydroelectric power station in the north of Russia;

-         lake-canal system that unites more than 70 lakes;

-         the northernmost outdoor botanic garden in the world;

-         the 1000-meter-long stone dam that connects two islands.


On Bolshoy Zayatsky island:

-         the first Russian locked stone harbor of XVI century with man-made dam;

-         the Andrey Pervozvanny church, built in 1703 with the direct participation of Peter the Great;

-         the greatest sanctuary of northern labyrinths of III thousand year B.C. in Northern Europe.


On Anzersky island:

-         Golgofo-Raspyatsky skete;

-         Bulk pyramid “the Peter’s town”


In Soviet times the first USSR Administration of Labor Camps, which was the foundation for Stalin’s GULAG, was situated on the archipelago. More than 1 million prisoners passed through Solovetsky camps and their branches on the mainland. Solovetsky stone in the centre of Moscow is a symbolic monument commemorating the victims of repressions. About fifty monks live in Solovetsky monastery nowadays.


To express the impressions of Solovetsky archipelago we would like to use the quotation:


“… How beautiful are the Solovetsky islands! Every one of us possibly thought when we saw them through the illuminators. The plane slowly made a circle along the coast that has unkind and weird fame, and we avidly watched the incompatible magnificence of one the most mysterious places in Russia.


Here are the two small Zayatsky islands with ancient harbour, assemblage of stone mounds, mysterious magical boulder constructions – labyrinths, next to which the Andrey Pervozvanny church soars up. It was built by order and direct participation of Peter the Great in 1702. In that very year the first Andreevsky flags of Russian fleet were blessed. Then we fly over the Blagopoluchiya bay that leaped from the pages of fairytale about Czar Sultan. It is crowned by churches and towers of Solovetsky monastery. Then there is woodland with lakes like mirrors and mount Sekirnaya with graceful white Voskresenya Gospodnya church and light house on the very top. Then there are the stone buildings of Sabbatius skete, the place of shelter for the first Solovetsky monks, Sosnovka inlet, and the remains of Rebald settlement. Here is the Anzerskaya Salma straight and beyond the second large Anzersky island. You can see the shabby redbrick walls of Svyato-Troitsky monastery complex, then the steep mount Golgotha, the highest peak of the archipelago, with the soaring solemn “castle” ruins of Golgofo-Raspyatsky skete. We fly over the Caporskaya inlet and the 10-meter high boulder pyramid in the sea, and then past the ancient Neolithic constructions of the mysterious cape Kolguev. And again the straight and the Bolshaya Muksalma island with monastic buildings, former terrible GULAG prison and colossal kilometer-long dam made of boulders, that connects Muksalma and Bolshoy Solovetsky…


The ancient history of these nowise simple islands is full of special, unrevealed mysteries.


… It is amazing, but in the north, especially on the islands with undisturbed nature, far away from the vanity of the world and self-deception of the “powerful” technocratic civilization, the invisible gates of time are opened. An incomprehensible spellbinding energy, bringing an exciting breath of visionary revelations of the past, starts to flow through you, pulsating like gentle waves. And you are embraced by the complex feeling of real presence in every époque of the past, here and there, and there, and there… many centuries ago…


… Is it not because of the feeling of proximity to the secrets of universe, to its cosmic sense, to God, that came to Saint Sabbatius and German, this monastery unusual in all respects was found. Sure it is because of this proximity Solovki had (and will have again) its mysterious influence on fate of Russia”.

Quotation is taken from the article “In search of White waters” by S.V. Golubev, based on the materials of Complex Northern search expedition (CNSE) of the Russian Geographical Society’s Committee of scientific tourism.

Based on the materials of Solovetsky state historical-architectural and natural open-air museum.

Anzersky island
Solovetsky fortress
Bolshoy Zayatsky island
Lakes and canals of Bolshoy Solovetsky island
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