Solovki, or Solovetsky Archipelago, are located in the White Sea. They include six big and about 70 small islands. Many factors make these remote islands very attractive. Picturesque nature, constantly changing sceneries, an old monastery founded in 1429, engineering wonders created by the monks in the past ages. Forest paths, 600 lakes and hills inspire to spend time in the open air walking, climbing and rowing. Several museums unveil the heroic and tragic history of the islands.
The harmony of nature and architecture of the Solovetsky Monastery creates an image of the Kingdom of Heaven. Two monks, Sabbatius and German, settled here in 1429. The prayer cross of St. Sabbatius of Solovki is kept in one of the churches. Except for main churches, there are ten hermitages hidden from the view on the hills or tiny islands or in the depths of a forest, where the monks lived in isolation to communicate with God through silent prayers.
On the islands of Solovetsky Archipelago, there are many engineering wonders. All of them were created in previous ages by the monks who didn’t have any machines or special instruments. It is still a mystery how they were able to construct thick and high monastery walls of giant stones, which could withstand the attacks of the British Navy in the 19th century. Not a single of 2000 cannonballs damaged the monastery wall. The monks had their own watermill, electric station, botanical garden and fish ponds.
To supply the monastery with water, the monks constructed a system of channels. In the 16th century, under the guidance of Abbot Philipp, ‘Russian Leonardo da Vinci', they connected 78 lakes. Later, other systems were constructed for transporting fish, hay, and wood to the monastery. You can rent a rowboat and travel along the lakes and channels. Enjoy the picturesque views, but be attentive, some channels are too narrow, and you can’t row but have to punt with an oar. Red arrows on the shores of the lakes show the way to the next channel.
The monks led a rough life away from civilization. However, they used their zeal and wisdom to create earthly heaven. In the museums of Solovki or during guided tours, one can touch the heroic and tragic history of the islands: the Solovetsky Monastery uprising of the 17th century, attacks by the Swedish navy, a strict political prison in the 1930s, Ship's boys school in the World War II (where 14-15 years old boys studied naval science).
Wandering around the Solovki Islands, you can come across many other interesting things: the smallest chapel in Russia (4 square meters), stones with ancient texts, burial mounds and stone labyrinths, old wooden well or ‘dancing’ birches. In the botanical garden founded by the monks, you can find Siberian fir, planted by Charles, Prince of Wales. Priest Pavel Florensky, who was a prisoner of Solovki, wrote that it was the beauty of nature that helped him to survive.
It takes about 50 min to reach Solovki by plane from Arkhangelsk or two hours by ship from Kem. It is necessary to book tickets in advance. Check the weather forecast while planning your journey. Even in summer, the temperature can be about +10 C. Take enough cash with you, there is no ATM, and they don’t accept cards. Most of the travelers who visited Solovki, the remote islands in the White Sea, dream of revisiting this harsh but beautiful place with its contrasts and harmony, tragedy and spirituality, facts and riddles.
Cover photo © credits to photorelax.ru/Petr Kosykh
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