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Solovetsky Islands

Solovetsky Islands
The Cultural and Historic Ensemble of the Solovetsky Islands is a medieval Russian Orthodox monastic settlement in an inhospitable environment.

The Solovetsky Islands are an archipelago situated north of St. Petersburg. There are about 100 islands, inhabited by only 1400 people. Greater Solovetsky Island is the biggest, on which the famous medieval monastery and Kremlin is built. Its beginnings as a religious center date to the mid 15th century: in 1436 the monastery was founded.

The complex also includes a monastic village and a number of detached monasteries (on other islands too).

In 1920 Solovetsky Camp became the first Soviet concentration camp, on the grounds of a former monastery. People persecuted by the Soviet government were sent here, and it became a model for the gulag system that later spanned the country. Later it was turned into a naval base. Its monastery function was restored in 1990.


Wojciech Fedoruk (Poland):
If you want to visit solovetsky Islands, you have at least two possibilities to do that. The simplest is taking a plane from Arkhangelsk (around 300 USD roundtrip, depending on the booking period). More difficult, but also more rewarding is by train from Sankt Petersburg (around 20 hours) or Murmansk (11 hours). Being in Murmansk I could not skip this place so I went there with my friend, taking a place in plackarta for around 40 USD one way. We left the train in Kem, a town in Karelia in the early morning, then taking a taxi to Rabotsheostrovsk (around 10 USD for 20-minutes trip, during the day there are shuttle buses for 3 USD). From Rabotsheostrovsk we tried to catch a ferry to Solovki, but the tickets were already sold. I recommend booking them in advance then. However, we took the ferry for pilgrims operated by the monastery, paying even slightly less (RUB 750 = USD 25) than for the civil ferry. After almost three hours we finally reached Solovki.
Solovki are the place with extremely complicated history. From XVth century the place served as monastery and hermitage for the most devoted Orthodox monks, becoming during the ages one of the most important centre of Russian Orthodox church. The Bolsheviks, after taking over power in 1920s, wanted to kill to birds with one stone by closing the monastery, expelling the monks and using this place as a first GULAG (called SLON – Solovetsky Special Purpose Camp) in the empire. Solovetsky camp was one of the harshest in the Soviet Union (the conditions were widely described in Solzhenitzyn’s famous The Gulag Archipelago) and became the symbol of the Gulag system.
From 1992 the monks came back to Solovki and from then the monastery reopened. Now undisputedly the most impressive place in the archipelago is Solovetsky Monastery, rounded by high walls made from huge stone blocks. The wall looks really amazing and I dare say that is more interesting than the monastery itself. Now, all buildings are subject to wide renovation but there is still lots of work to do.
If you like the sumptuousness of the Russian Orthodox churches, Solovki is not a good place to visit. The walls are plain white and it is visible that the monastery was as a center of pure faith, solitude and atonement, rather than for flamboyant ceremonies.
The must see place is also the museum of the Solovetsky Gulag, located a few hundred methers from the monastery, in the original camp building (actually, many of them, initially occupied by the camp administration, survived until now). I could not omit a small memorial valley with a stone devoted to the Polish prisoners of Solovki camp.
After spending a couple of hours we took a ferry back to Kem and then train to Murmansk, but after three weeks we came back to Solovki on a yacht and spent a night there.
Date posted: October 2013
Jorge Sanchez (Spain):
Archangelsk is today one of my most loved Russian Oblasts. The main reason is the Solovetsky Archipelago, a real wonder, a Patrimony of the Humankind by UNESCO.
In the past I had crossed Archangelsk Oblast, stopping for half an hour in the railway station of Kotlas (in my way by train to Vorkuta, in the Republic of Komi).

But in July 2009 I made a visit of five days to the Archangelsk Oblast. Three of them were devoted entirely to the Solovetsky Monastery in the main island of the archipelago (composed by six islands, known as Solovki), whereI lived as a pilgrim, inside the monastery premises, sleeping in the dormitory, having breakfast, lunch and dinner with the pilgrims and monks, and participating in all the religious services, some of them lasting four and five hours.
For your guidance, in the Orthodox Masses, faithful people do not sit down in a bench, like in the Catholic Churches, but stand up all the time….! So, sometimes (in fact very often!), I was tired to pray so long.

I reached the Solovetski islands first by train to Kem, and then I took a bus to the port and boarded a boat to the islands. Unfortunately, I did not know that there is a boat for pilgrims, practically for free, sailing at about 5 AM in the morning. In fact I arrived to Kem at about 3 AM and decided to stay for a while in the wooden benches of the waiting room, together with many pilgrims who spent two hours signing religious songs and rejoicing very much. Then at about 5 AM they left and I slept for a while, until 7 AM, when I drank a coffee, ate some sweets, and afterwards took a bus to the port (it is very far away from Kem, in another village), arriving at about 8 AM. But at that time the daily Pilgrims Boat had left, and there were only commercial boats.
So, because I slept until 7 AM, I had to pay an expensive boat ticket.
The navigation took about two and a half hours.
The monastery was already seen from a few kilometers distance before arriving. It was simply WONDERFUL, one of the most beautiful monasteries that I have seen in my life (and I have seen hundreds of them). From the boat I counted eight solid towers and seven gates to enter the monastery, which looked like a Kremlin, or a fortress. I also distinguished the domes of the churches. The entire complex enclosing the monastery offered a visual image like a beautiful tale place with exquisite architecture.
When I disembarked, I rushed to the monastery to request being accepted as a pilgrim to the monk in charge of the visitors. I was allowed to stay there for three days, free of charge.
Outside the monastery there were several hotels for the tourists who arrived to Solovetski by plane, plus a hostel for students, but I preferred to sleep inside the monastery, and not in order to save money, but to breathe its holy atmosphere.

The Solovetski Monastery was founded in the XV century by monks from the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, in Vologda Oblast (monastery that I would visit in the town of Kirillov a week later).

There is a negative aspect (sacrilege) concerning Solovetsky archipelago. In the year 1921 Lenin inaugurated in those islands the first prison camp (Gulag) of the many hundreds of them that would follow (especially during Stalin times) in the coldest and most inhospitably places of the Soviet Union.

The Solovetsky Monastery has suffered because of the wars. One of the most fatidic was the one against the English (in the Crimean War context), when three ships of the British Royal Navy bombed without pity the monastery, during 9 hours divided in two days, destroying treasures and a unique architecture, not to count the monks casualties.

Inside the monastery there is a museum showing manuscripts and old religious relics. There is also a shop selling religious items for the visitors.

The atmosphere with the pilgrims in that monastery was very intimate and warm and made me feel at home. I made friendship with pilgrims coming from all parts of Russia and also from Ukraine, who spend most of their lives on pilgrimage, from monastery to monastery, from holy place to holy place, often on foot. Pilgrim is a high category of traveller.

The pilgrim with whom I made more friendship was called Alexander Vashchenko. In the card that he gave me it was written: “Pilgrim – Photographer”. Alexander was born in Ukraine and had made many pilgrimages to the most remote monasteries of Russia, taking pictures that he sold for a living. He was lame, but in spite of that he walked in his pilgrimages, and during the religious services in Solovetski he always kept standing, during several hours, only helped by his stick.

After Solovetsky I left for Arkhangelsk city, a very pleasant town with many tourist attractions that I visited on foot during a whole day.

When darkness fell in I took a night train to the city of Vologda, in Vologda Oblast.
Date posted: July 2013

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Site info

Cultural and Historic Ensemble of the Solovetsky Islands
Country: Russia
Inscribed: 1992
Cultural Heritage
Criteria:  (4)
Category: Religious structure, Christian

Site history:
2005Requested by State Party to not be examined at WHC session
Extension to include adjacent water area withdrawn
1992 Inscribed
Reasons for inscription

Site links

Official website:
»Solovki Monastyr (in Russian)

In the news:
» Russia to spend $22 million to restore Solovetsky Islands (19-08-2014).
» Scrap heap meets visitors (22-09-2012).

Related links:
» Travel info.
» Solovki - UNESCO On-line.

Related Forum posts:
Not available

Getting there

This WHS has 6 location(s).


Canals . Cycoliths (Stone circles) . Mazes . Prison . Tumuli .
Arctic Ocean .
Sieges and Battles .
Human Activity
Botanical Gardens . Irrigation and drainage .
Built in the 15th century .
Cultural sites taking up an entire island . On Banknotes . Works by Nobel Prize winning authors .
World Heritage Process
Inscribed on a single criterion only .

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