Day 6 |
Aug 06, 2012

Solovetsky Island, Russia 

By Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist

Co-ordinates: N 65º01'50", E 35º41'24"
Weather: Overcast, some showers, clearing in afternoon
Air Temperature: 13ºC
Pressure: 1007 hPa
Wind: 7 knots

Today was a very unique day for all of us. We were heading to one of Russia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Sites established in 1992 – the Solovetsky Monastery, located on one of the Solovetsky Islands. These are a group of islands about 200 km northwest from Arkhangelsk, in the southern part of the White Sea.

The architecture varied greatly from the very old original style with onion-shaped domes topping the several churches) to the more recent styles the early 1900s. I was particularly amazed by the 2 – 3 m thick stonewalls that surrounded the monastery and protected it from attacks from the seaside.

The extent of the history here is phenomenal – it was first founded by German monks in the early 1400s, and subsequently became one of the most famous and powerful monasteries in the Russian Empire. The Russian government closed the monastery down in 1921, and by 1923 it had reopened as a prisoner work camp for the ‘enemies of the peoples’. Many of them were scientists, writers, artists or priests. In 1937 Stalin reorganised this prison into one of his severest Gulag camps, where prisoners were kept in intolerable conditions and tortured or killed at will. The prison was closed in 1939.

Restoration work on the badly damaged monastery began in the 1960s. A few monks returned to live here in the late 1980s, and by 1992 the site was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. Today there's a flourishing monastic community as well as tourism industry.

The Russian government and the monastery are working hard to raise funds to continue the renovation of this significant site. Our guide was telling me that most of the labour is donated by people belonging to the Russian Orthodox church

As we strolled through these buildings and grounds, our guides told us stories of faith, torture and human endurance. If only these wall could talk!

We headed back to the ship for a late lunch while the ship repositioned to a small island 6km away called Big Zayatsky Island. Here, we did a short walking tour with the same local guides from this morning. We visited the small church of the Apostle St Andrew before heading off down narrow paths to look at the Neolithic structures on the island.

By the time we were heading back to the ship for our Recap & Briefing, the rain had stopped and the sun was shining. As we sailed out we could look back at the Solovetsky Monastery and see the towers reflected in the calm waters of the White Sea – a very pretty view!