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Author(s) of the publication: Olga BORISOVA

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by Olga BORISOVA, journalist

The Solovki State Historico-Architectural and Natural Museum-Reserve was established in 1967 on the basis of a unique architectural ensemble of the monastery of the same name-a masterpiece of Russian medieval architecture. In 1992, the whole complex of local ancient monuments formed a part of the UNESCO World Heritage, and in 1995 it was registered in the State List of valuable objects of cultural heritage of the peoples of the Russian Federation.

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The amazing place we are going to speak about is a man-made miracle in the midst of a beautiful, but unfriendly northern nature that attracts travelers from all over the world. The Solovki Archipelago, consisting of six big and a number of small islands in the western part of the White Sea about 160 km away from the Polar Circle, hosts one of the biggest cultural and educational centers of our country. It comprises over 1,000 objects of the 2nd-1st millennia B.C.-20th century, about 18,000 museum pieces of the main reserves and over 65,000 pieces of the subsidiary scientific stock.

Among the most ancient archeological monuments of the museum-reserve are remnants of sanctuaries and sites of fishers and hunters, which show that the first inhabitants of the islands were tribes of ancestors of the Sami people*, who also lived on southern and western coasts of the White Sea. Perhaps, it is they who constructed mysterious "northern labyrinths"—spirals of 3.4-25.4 m in diameter laid out on the ground using small-sized boulders. There are 35 similar structures on Solovki, 13 of them on Bolshoi Zayatsky Island (similar figures have been found in Ireland, France, Scandinavia, which makes many scientists believe that there once existed a single nation in the north and west of Europe).

On this small island (only 1.5 km2 in area), there are also located 35 symbolic stone layouts—dolmens**, rows of dikes, polygons, pyramids, etc., as well as hundreds of mounds. According to some researchers, these structures are spatially and functionally connected with the labyrinths; in ancient times all structures together formed a single ritual complex, which likely was a most central one in the south-western part of the White Sea.

Alongside with the prehistorical monuments, the Bolshoi Zayatsky Island also accommodates medieval monuments of the Sami culture—sacred objects called seids: big noticeable stones and piles of smaller ones. In the 16th century there was constructed a boulder harbor suitable even for rather big vessels—it is the most ancient harbor in Russia.

In 1702, Tsar Peter I accompanied by 13 combat ships visited the Bolshoi Zayatsky Island, preparing to attack the Swedes and get across to the Baltic Sea. On his order sailors rebuilt a wooden chapel, erected on the island in 1676, into a wooden church named in honor of the saint Andrei Pervozvanny (St. Andrew the First Called)—a patron of the Russian navy. According to the legend, first to be blessed St. Andrei's flag-the main symbol of the national navy. This small church sur-


* The Sami (Lapps)-a small people in the north of Europe. They mainly live in the north of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia (Kola Peninsula).-Ed.

** Dolmens—ancient megalithic (piled up of big stones or flag stones) structures when, as a rule, one stone is put on several others.-Ed.

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vived a number of reconstructions, and in 1972, restorers returned to it its original form of the early 18th century.

The first Slavonic colonists appeared in this northern land, located far away from central cities, in the 12th century, and in 1429 there appeared monks, who established the first monastic community. The monastery* was set up in 1436 near the Bay of Well-Being on the Bolshoi Solovki Island (the biggest island of the archipelago). Originally, all buildings were wooden and thus suffered from fires


See: V. Darkevich, "Sovereign Stronghold on the White Sea", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2000-Ed.

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many times. First stone buildings refer to the early 16th century, starting with the construction of a huge architectural ensemble—the Dormition Cathedral, a cellar (used as a storeroom and an office) and a refectory of about 500 m2 in area that hosted simultaneously over 400 people (one of the biggest cantilevered chambers of medieval Russia). The only bearing in the center, supporting powerful arches was 12 m in diameter. All three interconnected buildings were constructed in five years (1552-1557), under the guidance of experienced masters Ignaty Salka and Stolypa from Veliky Novgorod.

Later, in 1558-1566, these masters constructed the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Savior—the main cathedral of the monastery. The first floor, constructed of boulders, represents high dry cellars, the second floor—a church with two side chapels, and the third floor—four more side chapels with small corner towers. There is a five-tier iconostasis inside renovated in 2001-2003, the walls are decorated with paintings of the second half of the 19th century. This unique work of ancient Russian architects is crowned by a multi-stage cover with five heads and a light drum.

But the most impressive structure is a fortress (or a kremlin) around the monastery, erected in 1582-1596: its massive walls constructed of huge unhewn stones are 8-11 high, up to 7.5 m thick at the foundation and 1,084 m along the perimeter. Construction works were carried out by the "master of town design" from Vologda Ivan Mikhailov and a local monk Trifon (Kologrivov). Up to now the technical methods of ancient engineers, who used giant boulders to reinforce the fence, remain unknown.

In the 16th-18th centuries, the monastery with its garrison and artillery served as a border fortress guaranteeing security of the northern borders of the country—it repelled a number of attacks of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword and Swedes. But once local inhabitants took up defensive positions against their compatriots, renouncing the reform implemented by Patriarch Nikon (mid-17th century) as a heresy*. The confrontation with the state took the form of a siege—the beginning of the so-called Solovki sitting. In 1668, there came archers but they managed to take the fortress only 8 years after, on being betrayed by one of the monks.

This fact is described by the author of fundamental works dedicated to the history of Russian literature and culture Academician Dmitry Likhachev in his book Thoughts About Russia (St. Petersburg, 1999): "The monastery had enough supplies for a long period of time, but the monk Feoktist's betrayal, who showed the voivode Meshcherinov a secret passage through Sushilo, put an end to the armed struggle. The rebels were severely punished. Apparently in the last year of the siege there remained at least four hundred people in the monastery. Only fourteen of them were left alive. According to the traitor, Meshcherinov "ordered to hang some thieves, others were frozen to death being dragged out of the monastery to the bay. They were buried on the Babya Luda Island near the mouth of the Bay of Well-Being. The corpses were not dug in but were covered with stones."


See: V. Molzinsky, "Old Belief and Russian Culture", Science in Russia, No. 2, 1999. —Ed.

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In this fragment "Sushilo", one of the monuments of the museum-reserve, can tell many dark stories from the history of the monastery. This almost square building constructed of wild stones near the White Tower of the fortress projecting beyond the wall line, was used for storing corn and flour, and served as an additional fortification: the fourth tier has a battle passage with embrasures. But it had one more function: there were kept people who committed a serious crime.

At the present time, the first floor of this building and adjacent loopholes of the fortress wall are occupied by the exposition "The Monastery Prison". From the 16th to the early 20th century there were kept people, who committed religious, public and other serious crimes. Small dark cells with narrow apertures instead of doors were often used for solitary confinement of well-known people of the country. Thus, in the mid-16th century those were Father Superior of the Trinity-St. Sergius Monastery (town of Sergiev Posad, Moscow Region)*, the Nonpos-sessor** Artemy, in 1606-1612—a retainer of the tzar Ivan IV, prince Simeon Bekbulatovich, the former governor of Kasimov Kingdom***; in the second half of the 17th century—participants of the Solovki sitting.

The exact number of cells in this dreadful prison is unknown. Apart from numerous cells in the walls and


See: V. Darkevich, "The Monastery of St. Sergiy", Science in Russia, No. 2, 2000. —Ed.

** Nonpossessors—a spiritual and political movement of reformatory-humanistic orientation in Russia in the 15th century. Its representatives were against "grabbing" by the church of lands and other property. —Ed.

*** See: O. Borisova, "City of Two Cultures", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2010. —Еd.

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towers of the kremlin, there were even more terrifying ground prisons under the churches and chambers of the monastery used up to the mid-18th century. Those, who deserved the most severe punishment were kept in 2 m deep pits full of rats with brick side walls, a wooden floor and a hatch for food supply.

The Solovki prison was officially closed in 1883, but it was not vacant for long. In 1920, the monastery was liquidated, and three years later there was organized a special penitentiary camp. The number of prisoners grew very fast and soon reached 25-30,000. The majority of them were criminals; others were officers, nobility, intellectuals, members of non-Bolshevik parties. Scientists and men of culture and arts were not an exception—in 1928-1932 there was kept the future Academician Dmitry Likhachev, in 1934—Pavel Florensky, scientist, philosopher, theologian, sentenced to 10 year imprisonment, who was shot three years later.

In 1937, the camp was reorganized into a special-purpose prison for political prisoners (peasants, rural priests and Bolsheviks—former top officials), which existed till 1939. No one knows how many prisoners died there.

The second and third tiers of Sushilo are used as exhibition halls for Solovki Stoves—the only exposition dedicated to Russian stoves. It tells visitors about the progenitor of the most complex heating system, which was further developed in this monastery and in other northern churches. After comparing it with Roman, Byzantine and Eastern stoves (based on under the floor heating), we may conclude: Solovki stoves are the top stage of "stove evolution". By the 19th century, the stoves had become so sophisticated and effective that it was enough to stoke them up once a week.

In 1854, during the Crimean War*, the Solovki fortress once again proved its strength. Its defenders-monks and a small brigade with 10 guns—rejected the proposal of the English squadron to capitulate and met the enemy with case-shot fire. Then the artillery of British ships the Brisk and Miranda commenced shelling that lasted for two days. But it did not result in heavy destructions: the fortress turned out to be very strong; besides, the enemy could not approach it closer due to a rugged topogra-


* The Crimean (Eastern) War of 1853-1856—a war between Russia and a coalition of Great Britain, France, Turkey and Sardinian Kingdom. Hostilities took place in the Principalities of the Danube, in Caucasia, in the Baltic, Black, White and Barents Seas. —Ed.

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Attack of the Englishmen on the Solovki Monastery in 1854. Cheap popular print. 1868.

phy of the bottom in the Bay of Weil-Being and had to leave it empty-handed.

The section of the museum dedicated to the history of the Solovki fortress, built really for ages and preserved almost intact, is in the southern part of the monastery fence. Visitors can get acquainted with the history of its creation, examine documents of architectural measurements, graphic reconstructions, main design peculiarities of this splendid and beautiful monument. The main exhibit here is the kremlin: eight towers with gates, dozens of stairs and passages, hundreds of loopholes and embrasures.

There is a lot of other impressive evidence of industry and gift of people, who lived on the Bolshoi Solovki Island. As early as in the 16th century, they arranged fish ponds (a small bay was separated from the sea with a dike), constructed a drinking water supply system that linked 52 lakes (later on 26 more lakes made part of that system) and brought water to the walls of the monastery—to Sacred Lake. Three artificial water courses let water to the sea, one of which was used to construct a mill (it was first mentioned in 1640). At present, there is an exhibition in the mill dedicated to this technical wonder, which was operated only by five people and could carry out a variety of production processes, namely, grain grinding, three sorts of groats and tool sharpening.

But there are still lots of technical achievements of local dwellers to talk about! In the 1860s, the Bolshoi Solovki Island and the neighboring Muksalma Island were linked by a grandious stone bridge. It was a real surprise for guests, while monks used to say: "All this was planned and implemented by peasants."

Gardening is another entrancing thing for these poor lands. About 4 km away from the Solovki kremlin, on a high bank of Lake Nizhni Pert, there is Makar's Monastery (modern name—Gorka Farm) established in 1822 by the archimandrite Makary. In 1854, a small chapel of Alexander Nevsky was constructed on the mountain, which soon became Alexandrovskaya (of Alexander) in commemoration of the Crimean War, and 5 years later, not far from it, there started construction of the archimandrite's country house using imported larch; at that time it was called the house of tranquility and solitude. The cozy two-storeyed log house with a mezzanine and a balcony has been preserved up to now and we can see it standing in a spacious flower garden and shrubbery—honeysuckle, hazel, berberis, guelder rose, Siberian pea shrub, thuya and amelanchier.

Perhaps, in the early 19th century, monks of the Solovki Islands were attracted by the propitious microclimate of Makar's Monastery, protected from cold winds by mountains from three sides. Little by little, here appeared kitchen-gardens, including pharmaceutical, flower-beds and greenhouses. Slopes of hills were reinforced with boulders and decorated with terraces, where they planted fruit trees and berry shrubs. Seeds and seedlings were col-

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lected all over Russia. For example, bergenia was brought from Siberia, large-fruited dog rose, blue and pink lilac, chokeberry—from Pamir, thyme—from Caucasia. In 1860, a wax-bleaching plant was built in the neighborhood that supplied cold and hot water to heat greenhouses and hothouses, where flowers and vegetables were cultivated.

The alley of 80 beautiful larches leads to the archimandrite's country house; along the alley there are rows of bergenia. To the right we see a small grove of 35 wonderful cedars up to 20 m high; apple trees, cherry trees, bushes of Hungarian lilac; on the hill—a field of pine strawberry; to the left—garden beds and greenhouses. Closer to the top, there are magnificent bushes of blossoming Japanese rose brought from Tibet as a gift to the senior priest of the monastery from Dalai Lama. Since 1979, this wonderful garden, one of the most northerly gardens in our country (with the area of 5 ha, or 40 ha including the reserve), is a part of the Solovki Museum-Reserve, and in 1982 it was registered in the List of Monuments of History and Culture of federal significance. The collection is constantly growing and includes at the present moment about 500 species and varieties.

The "Underground Archeological Solovki" is one of the basic exhibitions located on the first floor of the Novobratsky block (1823). It acquaints visitors with the technology of excavations carried out to study an underground part of the architectural monuments, and with finds dug out. In particular, the visitors can see fragments of wooden (16th century) and stone cells (first half of the 17th century), of buildings—evidence of large-scale reconstruction and replanning works that took place in 1804, which depict in detail a complex process of development of the monastery. Articles exhibited in showcases were made by medieval bronze founders, smiths, potters, bone carvers and other craftsmen. Almost all exhibited pieces are a result of studies carried out in 1998-2002 by employees of the museum-reserve headed by scientists of the RAS Institute of Archeology (Moscow).

The second tier of the belfry unique by its acoustic characteristics (the 18th century monument of architec-

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ture) and the ground floor of the former monastery library are occupied by the most unusual exposition "Solovki Sound Library". There you can hear "voices" of local natural phenomena, sounds of vanished technological processes, ancient texts in their original sounding and peals recorded rather skilfully.

We would also like to tell you about Mount Sekirnaya, the highest mountain of the archipelago (almost 100 m).

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First research works were carried out there by national scientists in the 1930s, but they could not explain the origin of this height, unusual for the local plain relief. They hypothesized: it was formed by a glacier and later supplemented by a pyramid of boulders, constructed by people inhabiting coasts of the Arctic Ocean and the White Sea thousands of years ago. The Nenets (the Samoyed people that together with the Finno-Ugric people form the Ural family of languages), who came here from southern Siberia in the 13th-14th centuries called them "sikirtya", which probably could be of help in deciphering the mountain's name. In 2002, Russian scientists confirmed: the hypothesis of an artificial origin of the mountain has the right to exist.

In 1860-1862, there was constructed a three-storeyed house with two altars on the Mount Sekirnaya, designed by the Arkhangelsk architect Shakhlarev: the first tier commemorating the miracle of the Archistra-tegos Mikhail in Khonekh, the second tier—the Ascension, the third tier was occupied by the bell tower. Its dome is crowned by a small head with a beacon inside: monks lighted it at night from August 15 to November 15 to show the way to fishermen and sailors in a radius of at least 100 km. It is still alive, as is the unquenchable spiritual light of the Solovki monastery.


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