Kizhi Island, Russia - Russia Travel Guide

You are here

Why Take a Trip to Kizhi Island

Blessed with one of the most picturesque ensembles of Russian wooden churches, the Lake Onega island Kizhi provides the most scenic destination on Russia's greatest waterway, the Volga. Situated in Europe's second-largest lake's geographical center, Kizhi has long since been a strategic stopover for travelers.

At one point in the 16th century, the island was declared a pogost (or parish center) by the Russian Orthodox Church and produced lumber and iron in an economy that sustained over 100 villages. After a two-year rebellion was quelled in 1771, Kizhi's importance waned until finally, in the 1950s, the island was almost forgotten. Most of the inhabitants left, all of the original villages disappeared, leaving behind impressive wooden relics.

Today, this collection of traditional log structures, centered on two churches and a bell tower set in an enclosure still called the Kizhi Pogost, lives on as one of Russia's greatest open-air museums. The pogost and the other buildings from the region left behind were augmented in the 1960s and restored within this newly established reserve for historical wooden buildings.

The buildings were set in 3 special sectors, named after the regions that the structures came from North Karelia, Karelia, and Pudozhsky. Moreover, the island was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990.

What to See in Kizhi

Among the highlights to see during your Russian trip while on tour to Kizhi is the 22-dome Transfiguration Church. Built-in 1714 from locally cut Scots pine logs using a special notching technique that precludes even a single nail. It replaced an earlier church that burnt down. It served as the year-round religious center of this part of the lake until 1764 when the smaller 9-dome Church of the Intercession was constructed for winter use. In 1862, the bell tower was constructed to tie the two places of worship together.

Another must-see place to put on your Kizhi itinerary is the Church of the Resurrection of Lazarus, which moved to the island from the Murom Monastery on the lake's eastern shore. Dating back to the 14th century, it is by far the oldest building in the collection, and indeed, the oldest wooden church still standing in Russia.

Tradition holds that the building, a pilgrimage destination, has healing powers. The Chapels of Archangel Mikhail, of the Assumption of Virgin Mary, of the Divine Savior, and many others complete this spiritual island's ensemble.

Kizhi is especially beautiful during the long northern summer when the church domes shine with a mysterious, phosphoric light. Yet winter mornings show off the church in dazzling light, making it look like a lost fairy tale setting.