Cover photo © credits to Mikhail Sukharev
Cover photo © credits to Mikhail Sukharev

An emerald necklace of Kizhi Island

3 minutes to read

If you are travelling across the lake Onega to Zaonezhje on a cruise ship or hydrofoil, you will notice that it slows down and carefully makes its way through the skerries. Soon, you’ll see a small dreamlike island with wooden churches, chapels and houses, surrounded by an emerald necklace of many islands. This is Kizhi Island and an open-air museum of history, architecture and ethnography in Karelia, one of three places that were among the first in Russia to be included in the World Heritage List of UNESCO (together with Moscow Kremlin & Red Square and Historical Centre of St. Petersburg).

Photo © credits to Boris Bosarev

In the centre of the necklace

In the centre of the necklace is Kizhi Pogost, an architectural ensemble, which includes the Church of the Transfiguration crowned with 22 domes, more modest winter Church of the Intercession and the Bell Tower. The domes of the churches are covered with aspen shingles that change their color according to the weather, so you can see the domes to be golden, silver or bronze. The Church of the Transfiguration is equally beautiful from each side, and it is not accidental. It was built with the money from the villagers of the surrounding area. The facades were intended to be impressive to all the parishioners, when they approach it.

Photo © credits to Wikipedia/commons/ Anne annette

Built only with an axe and without any nail

It is really a wonder that this architectural masterpiece was built in the 18th century by the local carpenters, who didn’t have any special education and didn’t make any architectural drawings, but just built “as a sense of reason and understanding of beauty dictated”. They built this gem of Russian wooden architecture only with an axe and without any nail that could damage the wooden substance. The legend has it that, when a carpenter Nestor completed the work, he threw his axe to the waves of the lake Onega and said: “There was not, there is not, and there will never be the same”.

Photo © credits to Zaharov

Walk, ride, and take a boat

After visiting the Kizhi Pogost, you can have a walk or ride a bicycle to the other end of the island. If on the half-way you go up the Naryina Hill, which is the highest point of Kizhi, you will see not only the Holy Mandylion Chapel (Vigovka), but also the whole island from a bird's-eye view. Reaching a solitary end of the island, you can take a rest on the wooden steps of the Chapel of the Transfiguration from the Kavgora village. To enjoy the whole necklace, you have to take a boat tour.

Photo © credits to Timin Ilya

A necklace of different feelings

Many green islands with their tiny wooden chapels surround the Kizhi architectural ensemble like an emerald necklace. The chapels have their inimitable images that are harmonized with their environment and bring out different feelings. All of them were born on this land and absorbed the beauty of this land. The chapel in the Eglovo village, like a beautiful girl, looks in the mirror of the lake.

Photo © credits to Andrei Baskevich

One has a feeling of joy and festivity, seeing the Chapel of Sts. Peter and Pavel on the flowery meadow of Volkostrov. A narrow dark path takes you to the chapel in Podyelniki, hidden among the ancient giant fir-trees.

Photo © credits to Andrei Baskevich

A search for harmony and beauty guided the creativity of the local masters for several centuries. Staying here for several days or even for several hours, we can feel the magic the emerald necklace of Kizhi Island. The harmony of its nature, the beauty of its architecture, and the music of its bells will stay with us forever.

Photo © credits to

Kizhi Island, Karelia
Kizhi Island, Karelia

The author

Victoria Derzhavina

Victoria Derzhavina

I live in Moscow. I am passionate about travelling, history, nature and architecture. I worked as a tourist guide in Moscow and other Russian cities for several years. I get inspiration visiting new places and like sharing it with others.

Stories you might also like