Transfiguration Cathedral in Kizhi Island

Kizhi Island: Russia's Peasant Heritage

St Petersburg and Moscow are not the only great places in Russia to visit. Situated in the north-west region of Lake Onega is Kizhi Island, home to an outdoor museum of fascinating edifices of northern wooden architecture. Typical non-city life is displayed here, past and present.

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About 50 people live here year round through the unmerciful winter, when the temperature drops to 35 & 40 degrees below zero, but come summer, the beautiful island welcomes visitors to explore Russian life. The tranquil island itself has a calming effect making one almost reluctant to leave it.

Officially it is called the State Historical, Architectural and Ethnographic Preserve of Kizhi. Original structures were brought here from the northern Onega region to illustrate the common styles of architecture. The island is small and narrow, measuring approximately 6 kilometers by 1 kilometer and visitors can leisurely walk around the paths visiting all the buildings.

One of the main attractions located there is the Transfiguration Cathedral built in 1714. Thirty thousand shingles, made of aspen wood, on twenty-two separate cupolas (domes) on five tents compose the ascending nest. The aspen wood reflects a myriad of hues changing the color of the cupolas depending on the light. A spectacular sight and hard to believe it was done with wood.

As usual with most Russian Cathedrals it is too big and costly to heat for use in winter so there is a smaller winter church next door. It too is filled with icons and frescos. Close by sits a fireboat to protect the cathedral even through the winter months. In 1951 the Oshevnev's house was moved to the island, this was the beginning of the open-air museum of history and architecture. One can visit the large wooden house, a typical family home for approximately 15 people. The house living area is upstairs on the second level. It has a large room for the family to use as a kitchen with table and work area for the women. The large wood burning heater/oven served two room and beds were made on and around it, with the eldest getting the warmest places.

 church interior in Kizhi Island
The families' most prized possessions including their best china, were kept in the second room or guest bedroom. The third room is an enormous room used all winter as a work room and to house their boats and sleds, tools and other large items they needed. They grew all their food during the summer months and stored it for the winter. There is a huge barn type door to the outside with a ramp for livestock and to haul up the large equipment. Because of the extreme cold the live stock was kept indoors on the ground level of the house.

These homes each housed one huge close knit family together inside for approximately five months of each year. There was always a bath house located away from the main house where people could bathe and take a sauna, even in the winter.

Each village had a wooden bell tower used for communication, a windmill for grinding the grain. Kizhi has full time bell ringers who researched and now perform traditional methods of chiming. The bell tower of Kizhi Pogost has 14 bells and the Archangel Michael chapel has eight. The chiming is performed every day for guests during the summer months.

Visitors will also find craftsman exhibiting the different artistic accomplishments of the long winter months including detailed paintings, woodcarving, and weaving.

Visiting this island shows the life of the people who were not living in the cities during the era of the Czars until now.

The River Cruise Tours bring their guest here to learn about the Russian Life, the Hydrofoil Ferry boats from Petrozavodsk on the mainland also bring locals and tourist to the island. Kizhi Pogost was declared to be a state reserve in 1945. It is now on the Heritage List of UNESCO. While in Russia it is definitely a worthwhile side trip. If you are not on a guided tour audio guides are available in English.

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Bobbie Green was born in West Virginia, grew up in Southern California. For the past seven years she has been owner/operator of a travel agency in Mesquite, Nevada. She has been writing travel articles for the past 3 years and is a member of North American Travel Journalist Association. She writes for various publications including, Desert Valley Times and Senior Wire Syndicates

Photos by Bobbie Green

Updated: January 2, 2017

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