Kizhi Island, Russia
Kizhi Island lies in the center of Lake Onega, in the Republic of Karelia, and is a stop on the riverboat route between St. Petersburg and Moscow. Originally inhabited by agricultural peasants who were forced to work in the nearby iron ore mines and iron factories, it was mostly abandoned by 1950. That is until the Republic decided to establish an open-air museum of local wooden architecture. The UNESCO-designated complex is unique and a true delight to behold.
What We Love
It's a Fantasy Island: The lovely island setting is home to a sort of a fantasy village containing nearly 90 weathered wooden buildings representing churches, houses, barns, mills, and even saunas built with the region's abundant timber. It is fascinating to walk amid structures ranging from the simplest frame residences to the most elaborate Russian-style churches — including the country's oldest (built of wood), dating to the 14th century.
Best Known For
Its Onion-Domed Churches: Kizhi Island's two principal churches date to the 18th century and are festooned with 31 wooden onion domes, with the Church of the Transfiguration sprouting 22 domes of different sizes and the Church of the Intercession topped by the remaining nine; a bell tower is positioned in between. Transfiguration has colorful frescoes inside while Intercession is heated and holds services even in the winter.
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Who It's Best For
Fans of Historical Architecture: Wooden structures often caught fire, were struck by lightning, or simply deteriorated in times of trouble and neglect — so this varied collection is remarkable and much appreciated for the history it has preserved.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Wet Is Not so Wild: If it rains, Kizhi Island can be a sodden and windswept place. Take refuge in the museum and in any of the other open buildings, between furtive glances at the entire village as you make your way to and from your riverboat.
Theodore W. Scull is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has written several books on crossings.