Visiting Kizhi island Russia on a cruise
Things to know about Kizhi island Russia:
- Kizhi used to be the biggest island of the area. Very few Russians ever visited Kizhi, this is how unique its location is. In winter sometimes the ice gets up to 3 m thick. In summer, boats or helicopters can get to the island, in winter you can go around by cars or helicopters.
To get on the island, you need to get through security. The locals live on the left side of the island and the churches are on the right. The cemetery is quite an experience, too.
- Kizhi is only 6 km long and less than 1.5 km wide and mostly covered by trees.
- The island is protected by UNESCO since 1990 that’s why they are restoring the main Transfiguration Church nowadays. So we entered the other church which is a museum.
Last winter they had many wolves coming to Kizhi from other islands. There are not many grocery stores but some souvenir shops close to the place where the cruiseships anchor.
Items and souvenirs from Shungite black mineral are sold on the island. It’s said they protect from bad luck. Shungite can be found only in this area of Karelia republic on the Onega lake. Sometimes also pyramids are made from shungite (I bought one home) and shungite stones are put into water bottles as the locals believe they purify water from bacteria (I do it now at home, too).
Officially, Kizhi is an open-air architectural museum with more than 80 wooden structures.
- Two Russian Orthodox churches were opened here in late 17th century. There were only 200 people living on Kizhi but they were built also for people from the surrounding islands.
- Altogether 60 people come to Kizhi to work in the museum.
- There are cell phones and mobile internet but no running water as it was not good enough. So it’s taken from the lake in buckets and in winter it’s taken from underneath the ice layer.
- The tour guides don’t live here in winter but the museum is still open. It’s very dark and cold so only few tourists come in winter months. If tourists come, a guide has to accompany them.
- Poisonous snakes adder live here but they don’t bite until you bite them first. Mostly of grey color, sometimes greenish or black.
- Russians came here from Central Russia, and then people from Lapland. The Russians brought Orthodox religion to Kizhi.
- In the late 17th century the original church was burnt by lightning, then in 1714 the current one was built using no nails. That was the first mentioning of the church in the historical documents. One legend says a person called Nesta built the church on his own. And then he said there was never going to be another church like this one and drawn in the water. (weird legend!)
- The church had originally 22 domes. Only half of the domes could be seen in 2015 when I visited, the rest were under reconstruction.
- The church roof is covered with aspen shingles which reflect grey from clouds, scarlet from sunrise and sunset, or silver from Sun. Aspen has to be replaced every 30 to 40 years. Other parts of the church are from original hard pine. Only an ax was used for it, no saws.
- Restoration is going on now when they totally dismandle the church from below up. It had no solid foundation so it’s difficult to restore it and it began to tilt. In 1980 a huge metal scaffold was put there to prevent the church from falling. In 2007 the church got a new foundation.
- Now we can see that the church is made of partly original wood and partly new wood. No chemicals are used to make it look old as they don’t know how the wood would react. When all the logs are replaced or repaired, the church will get a unifying colour.
- The church weighs 600 tons. In 2018 the whole church will be restored completely with benches and floor. Scots Pine older than 150 years was found somewhere in Russia so it’s the one used to repair the church parts.
- Transfiguration church was only used in summer as it was too big to be heated so a smaller Intercession Church opened next to it. The 22-dome Transfiguration Church and the 9-dome Intercession Church) and a bell-tower are known as the Kizhi Pogost.
- Since 1937 the church has been open for masses but then the last priest was executed as he was proclaimed an enemy against the Soviet people. Now there are services again in warm season and on special occasions only.
- The Intercession Church used to be heated with big stoves but they were removed. The floor is elevated high above the ground and ceiling low to keep the heat inside.
- In the passage there is a small exhibition with photos from the 19th century.
- Many religious people were buried there but unfortunately during the restoration the cemetery was destroyed. When the wooden cross was up, the grave was kept. Otherwise no people were buried on top of each other. When the church was closed, the cemetery was closed as well and another one close to town on the other side of the island was opened. Now no one is registered as Kizhi inhabitant so they cannot be buried here.
- Big room in the museum is painted according to certain rules. In the 17th and 18th century some icons were repainted by local countryside people so they broke some rules and thus some look different to the icons in other Russian churches.
- Professional singers sang for us, they are not priests but just to show us the atmosphere.
- The icons in the Intercession Church have no frames vs. we find golden frames in the Transfiguration Church. The Finnish who came to the island returned the icons back to the church, except the icon frames.
- The bell tower from the 19th century was built with a lot of nails. The price of ten nails was the same to 10 cows at that time.
- The small church is made of logs. Traditionally these churches had another floor but the structure like that would not match so they built only 9 domes here. The roof is like an umbrella so the zig zag shape gets rid of water to keep it dry.
- The traditional wall was built here on the island. All the other structures were built on other islands or mainland and brought to Kizhi museum.
- Besides the churches and the bell tower, we can learn more about the local Russian habits, e.g. in the big house on stone foundation which is part of the island museum. It was built in 1876 for 4 generations of a family of 18 people, cattle and a work shop.
- We can find traditional fish element decorations in the big house. The narrow gallery served as a small balcony for housewives to close shutters at night. Back in time, a house without this gallery was like a man without a beard. The architect of this house brought the Baroque style from big cities. The house has 5 rooms and a guest room. In winter the whole family lived altogether in the winter living room which was the only one warm. The family slept on the floor and only children and elder people had a privileged bed on the stove. The bigger stove, the more heated the house was. The animals – 10 cows, horses and sheep lived just next to it.
- In the past, once a week everyone went to sauna next to the lake, scrubbed themselves with birch bark and then washed in the lake.
We didn’t see any sunset on the Kizhi island Russia as we had to leave just before it. However, we could enjoy many beautiful sunsets on the cruise other days.
Together with my mom we were guests on the Rachmaninov cruise organized by the Gvidon Tours.