Cultural and Historic Ensemble of the Solovetsky Islands
Cultural And Historic Ensemble Of The Solovetsky Islands
Cultural Russian Federation Europe And North America Arkhangelsky Region, Solovetsky District.

The Solovetsky complex is an outstanding example of a monastic settlement in the inhospitable environment of northern Europe, which admirably illustrates the faith, tenacity and enterprise of late medieval religious communities.

The six islands of the Solovetsky Archipelago are in the western part of the White Sea, 290 km from Arkhangelsky. Human occupation began on the islands as early as the Mesolithic period, when the climatic conditions were more favourable than at the present day. The main prehistoric settlement period was in the 3rd millennium BC, when villages, sacred sites, and irrigation systems were built on Big Zayatsky and Anzer Islands. On the former there is a compact group of religious and funerary monuments, including 18 stone labyrinths, over 600 stone burial cairns, and several stone alignments and circles. Anzer Island has only four labyrinths and 38 cairns, disposed in three irregular rows along the sea shore. The area is of great importance to trace climatic history through changes of vegetation and variations in shorelines.

The Solovetsky Monastery was founded by three monks from the Kirillo-Belozersk and Valaam Monasteries in the 1430s. It expanded in subsequent centuries to cover not only the main islands of the archipelago, but also large stretches of land on the mainland. In 1478 it came under the protection of Novgorod State, passing subsequently to Moscow. There was a major economic reorganization in the mid-16th century, inspired by Father Superior Philip Kolichev, who built roads, founded a dairy farm, joined up series of small lakes to provide abundant fresh water, and created new industries, such as brickmaking and ceramics. He also inspired the erection of some of the major ecclesiastical monuments on the islands. A stone fortress was built in 1582-94, and Solovetsky became the economic, religious, military and cultural centre of the whole region. It was used as a place of exile and imprisonment for state criminals, but it also attracted many pilgrims. After surviving a siege by government troops in 1668-76 when the monastery revolted against the church reforms of Patriarch Nikon, the monastery continued to thrive, when many timber buildings were rebuilt in stone. The military function disappeared in 1714 with the construction of a fortress at the mouth of the Northern Dvina, but the Solovetsky fortress continued in use as a prison. Craft activities expanded into other fields (icon painting, wood carving, engraving, lithography). The detached monasteries on the smaller islands became trading outposts and trade generally increased with Russian cities, leading to improvements to the harbour and the construction of warehouses. The Makayev monastery became a botanical garden, supplying hothouse fruits to Russian cities. This ended abruptly at the Revolution, when the monastery was abolished and replaced by the 'Solovky' State Farm, in turn abolished in 1923, when the islands became camps for political and other prisoners. From 1939 to 1957 the islands were used by the navy for training. In 1967 the museum was created, and in 1990 the monastery was reinstated.

The heart of the complex is the monastery itself, on Solovetsky Island. It is in three parts, the central square with its complex of monumental buildings, and the northern and southern courtyards devoted to domestic and craft activities. The central square is flanked by the Church of the Assumption, in Novgorod style with its refectory and cellarage, the Saviour Transfiguration Cathedral, the Bell Tower (1776-77), the Church of St Nicholas (1831-33), and the Holy Trinity, Zosimus and Sabbath Cathedral (1859). The north courtyard complex includes high-quality craft buildings, including the icon workshop (1615), the tailors' and cobblers' workshops (1642), storerooms, the Father Superior's lodgings, and a 17th-century leather-dressing cellar. In the south courtyard area are a drying barn, a mill, a wash-house and a bath-house.

The Solovetsky Monastery Fortress was built in 1582-94 from boulders. It is five-sided, with a tower at each corner. The walls are 7 m thick at the base. The monastery village includes chapels built to commemorate several tsars, hostels for pilgrims, a dry dock, a hydroelectric power station, and industrial installations of various kinds. There are a number of detached monasteries: four on Solovetsky Island, the early 17th-century Trinity monastery on Anzer Island, a 16th-century complex, including a stone harbour, on Big Zayatsky Island, and the St Sergius Monastery on Big Muksalma Island, founded in the 16th century.