The Solovetsky Archipelago is situated in the western part of the White Sea, less than 100 miles far from the Arctic Circle, and consists of 6 big and many small islands. The biggest one is the Greater Solovetsky Island which hosts the famous medieval monastery.
When visiting Solovetsky Island (also called Solovki), you can get acquainted with the legendary Monastery and fortress, learn the history of the notorious Stalin's Gulag camp.
You can see numerous hermitages in different parts of the Island, the monastery drydock, stone labyrinths of prehistoric times, take an exciting boat trip along the intricate canal system of the Island, connecting its largest lakes.
The archipelago is the habitat of white whales (beluga), thriving in the wild. Beluga whale watching is a never-to-be forgotten experience.
1. Solovetsky Fortress and Cathedrals
Walls and 8 towers of the Solovetsky Fortress were built of giant wild boulders and reach up to 6 meters thick. Household structures, churches and cathedrals are situated inside, under the Fortress protection.
2. Sekirnaya Hill, the Church of Ascension, Commemoration Cross
Sekirnaya Hill is situated in the northwestern part of Solovetsky Island. On the top of this high hill, in the 19th century, monks built the Church of Ascension, which served also as a lighthouse - it is an unusual church that has a cross on its top and a lighthouse lens under it. In the Gulag times, one of the most cruel punishment cells was located in this church, and in memory of people executed there the Commemoration Cross was later erected.
4. Solovetsky Canals
Solovetsky Island does not have rivers, but it has hundreds of lakes. In the 16th century, monks started to connect lakes by means of canals. This system of lakes and canals was used as a fresh water resource, for transport and cargo Transfers purposes. Nowadays, a good active tour by rowing boats with opportunities to enjoy the nature of the Island is available.
5. Solovki Botanical Garden
More than 100 plant species can be found in Solovki Botanical Garden, including those that usually grow far to the south.
6. Negotiation Stone
It was put on the shore of the southwestern part of Solovetsky Island in memory of the victory over the British fleet in 1854.
7. Zayatsky Islands
This group of islands has a lot of attractions, including Church and sea-birds on the Big Zayatsky Island at Solovki. Photo by I.Georgievsky prehistoric sacred labyrinths, burial mounds (presumably, created by protosaami people), a medieval church, household structures and a stone dock. About 90 plant species inhabit the Islands, mostly of a tundra type, including "dancing" birch trees. Gulls and terns colonies, foxes, field voles can be found in the area.
8. Muksalma Island and Muksalma Dam
On the Big Muksalma Island situated to the southeast of the Big Solovetsky, monks used to keep the cattle there. To make transportation between the islands easier the moks made a boulder dam. This outstanding hydroengineering facility is about one kilometer long and 6,5 meters thick.
9. Solovetsky Gulag history museum
Solovetsky Gulag history museum is housed in a building which belong to Solovki prison. The exposition of the museum is devoted to the history of SLON (Solovetsky Camp of Special Purpose) and STON (Solovetsky Prison of Special Purpose) which were located at Solovki from 923 till 1939.
The habitation of the Karelian coast of the White Sea began in the 12-13th centuries when fishermen and hunters from Novgorod settled down in this area. Monks were the next to move there. Local inhabitants new about the Islands in the sea, and told about it to the old monk Savvaty. Savvaty at that time was looking for loneliness after the death of his teacher Kiril Belozersky and travelled in the north of Russia. For some time he lived in Valaam Monastery, but found it overcrowded and went away far to the north. In 1429, he reached the Solovetsky Islands.
Savvaty was later respected as the pioneer on the Islands, but it was not him who established the monastery. In 1436, Zosima, a son of rich parents lived on the shore of the Lake Onego (near Kizhi). One day he decided to devote the rest of his life to monkery and gave out all his property to poor men. Zosima and his team of followers landed on the Solovetsky Island and established a monastery.
Until to the middle of the 16th century Solovetsky Monastery was alike other small-sized monasteries in the north. But in 1549 the Monastery got a new leader Fillip, who was an energetic and outstanding person. Under his leadership the Monastery started building stone temples, new roads, canals to connect its numerous lakes.
Solovetsky Island. Monastery and Fortress That time the Monastery began to play an important role in the defense of the north of Russia. In 1582-1594 a new fortress was erected on the Island by monks upon the order of Tzar. It was built of huge boulders and became one of the biggest and most powerful Russian fortresses. For many centuries the fortress and its garrison guarded the border.
In the middle of the 17th century, the Monastery's political and moral influence on Russian life became very strong. And that time the Monastery authorities started to resist the religious reforms of the Russian Church supported by Tzar. Peace negotiations gave no results and Tzar sent army forces to punish the rebels. It was time of the famous "Solovetsky siege" (1668-1676). The strong and well equipped army managed to capture the Monastery only with the help of a traitor in January 1676. The punishment was very cruel and many monks were executed. This was the only time in the Monastery's history when it was occupied.
Another military attack took place in 1854. It was the time of the Crimean War. On 6th of July 1854, two British 60-cannon frigates "Brisk" and "Miranda" approached the Island. A skirmish started. The ships made about 1800 shoots at the monastery within 9 hours. The surprising result was that there were no human casualties after such an intensive fire and only a few buildings were slightly damaged.
Solovetsky Monastery was often used as a prison for criminals and heretics. In 1923, an infamous prison SLON (Solovetsky Camp of Special Purpose) was set up. Hundreds of thousands prisoners were kept on the Island. They suffered badly and many of them died. The prison was closed in 1939.
Since 1965 the restoration works in the Solovetsky Kremlin has been going on. In 1974 Solovetsky museum was opened.
A comprehensive tour of Karelia, including the Solovetsky Islands
Feel free to request a tailor made tour to Russia
1. Boat from Kem.
Boats depart from the pier in Rabocheostrovsk (port of Kem). It is located near the hotel "Prichal". Boats arrive at Tamarin Prichal on Solovki.
Two boats are operated - "Vassily Kosyakov" (bigger boat) and "Metel". Departures are daily from 01 June till 31 August.
After 31 August there is only one departure a day by "Vassily Kosyakov" and the timetable can be different. Regular departures from Kem are usually operated until 15 September (depending on weather and number of passengers).
The Monastery is running own boats which can be booked via their pilgrimage service.
Solovetsky arrival / departure
10:00 / 19:00
14:30 / 16:00
2. Boat from Belomorsk.
The capacity of the "Sapfir" boat is 250 passengers. It is operated daily from June till late August, except for days when the boat is on maintenance.
The boat departs from the Rybniy port in Belomorsk, arrives at Tamarin Prichal on Solovetsky.
Solovetsky arrival / departure
12:30 / 18:30
Boat cancellation and delay notice.
In case of a heavy storm or thick fog boats between Kem, Belomorsk and Solovetsky can be delayed and even cancelled.
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