Undoubtedly, the most famous attraction of the Arkhangelsk region is the Solovetsky Islands, where the Solovetsky State Historical and Architectural Natural Museum-Reserve is located . The archipelago has more than 100 islands located in the Onega Bay of the White Sea. Their total area is 300 sq. km. Bolshoy Solovetsky Island is the largest island of both the Solovetsky archipelago and the entire White Sea (area 219 sq. km.). Of the large islands, one can also distinguish the islands of Anzer, Bolshaya and Malaya Muksalma, Bolshoi and Maly Zayatsky.
Solovki became inhabited as early as the 5th millennium BC. The fame of the islands was brought by the hermits of the Kirillo-Belozersky monastery – the monks Savva and Herman, who came here in the first half of the 15th century. Here in 1429 they founded the first skete. In 1436, the hermit Zosima joined them, and this year is considered the year of the founding of the Solovetsky Monastery. By the end of the 15th century, the ministers of the monastery began to carry out missionary activities among the pagans. Solovki became the main stronghold of Christianity on the White Sea. The monastery gradually grew and strengthened, for 100 years it became one of the richest and most authoritative monasteries in Russia. Due to the threat of an attack by the Swedes, by the beginning of the 17th century, powerful fortifications were erected in the Solovetsky Monastery and its own military garrison was formed. Solovetsky ascetics began to establish more and more sketes on the archipelago.
In the 17th century, the monastery became the center of the Old Believer movement, which caused dissatisfaction with the authorities, who adopted the church reforms of Patriarch Nikon. From that time until the middle of the 20th century, the monastery became a place that kept all of Russia in fear., political prisoners were exiled here. The monastery was officially closed in 1920 by the Soviet authorities. From 1922 to 1939, places of detention were located on the islands. First, the Solovetsky special-purpose forced labor camp (SLON), since 1933 – the Solovetsky special (penal) department of the White Sea-Baltic Combine, since 1937 – the Solovetsky prison of the Main Directorate of State Security of the NKVD. These years became one of the most terrible in the history of the Russian people – thousands of innocent people were killed. For martyrdom, dozens of prisoners convicted for their faith were canonized as saints. Until the 60s of the 20th century, the architectural monuments of the archipelago were dilapidated and dismantled. In 1967, a museum-reserve was opened on Solovki, which has been operating to this day. At this time, the restoration of ancient architecture began. Solovetsky Islands, and in 1990 the Solovetsky Monastery was again transferred to the Orthodox Church. Nowadays, thousands of tourists and pilgrims come to Solovki who wish to bow to the holy places.
Solovki has become a popular tourist destination due to its unique nature, monuments of archeology, history, architecture, hydraulic engineering and road construction of the 16th-20th centuries. On the territory of the islands there is a large concentration of various natural complexes – these are tundra, forest-tundra, taiga forests, lakes and swamps. There are a lot of lakes on the islands, especially on Bolshoi Solovetsky Island. Not far from the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery there is a Botanical Garden. More than 500 species of plants grow here – plants of the subpolar latitudes, plants of the middle latitude and some species of southern plants. Most of the trees in the garden are over 100 years old, and those that were planted by prisoners of special purpose camps have survived.
Today, the Solovetsky Archipelago with all its sights is under state protection and is the location of the Solovetsky State Historical and Architectural Natural Museum-Reserve. It was founded in 1967, and since 1992 it has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The museum-reserve has over 250 immovable monuments of history and culture and diverse natural landscapes. On the territory of the museum-reserve there is the largest museum in the European North of Russiapagan sanctuary, a complex of cult and burial structures of the 2nd-1st millennium BC The lake-canal system of the Solovetsky Islands is also truly unique.
Bolshoi Solovetsky Island.
The main attraction of Bolshoi Solovetsky Island is the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery. The monastery was founded in the 15th century by hermits Herman, Savva and Zosima, and immediately became an important center of the White Sea region. It was used as a defensive fortification and was a stronghold of Christianity.
Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery stands on the shore of the Bay of Prosperity. Defensive stone walls up to 11 m high and up to 6 m thick have been preserved around the monastery. The walls of the monastery have 7 gates and 8 towers. The Transfiguration Monastery includes the gate church of the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos, where the relics of the Monk Zosima, Savva and Herman and the New Martyr St. Peter, Archbishop of Voronezh, are now buried, the Assumption Cathedral (mid-16th century), the Transfiguration Cathedral (1564), the Church of the Annunciation (the beginning 17th century), St. Nicholas Church (1834), a bell tower, a refectory, stone chambers, fraternal cells and a water mill. The rector’s building houses the expositions of the Solovetsky Museum-Reserve, and the exposition of the church-archaeological study of the monastery is open in the icon-painting chamber.
Not far from the Solovetsky Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery, several memorial crosses have been erected. This is a cross carved in honor of Saints Anthony and Theodosius, the Wonderworkers of Pechersk, and a cross on Seldyany Cape, which served as a lighthouse even in the pre-revolutionary years. In total, about 20 crosses were erected on the Solovetsky Islands, which were erected on the site of lost religious monuments. In 2007, the Great Poklonny Cross, created for the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the mass repressions of 1937-1938, was transported from Solovki to the Butovo training ground near Moscow. Savvatievsky Skete is located in the northwestern part of the Big Solovetsky Island.(18 century). According to legend, the founders of the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery, the hermits Savva and Herman, established the first settlement on this site. On the highest point of the island – Mount Sekirnaya (99 m) – in the 60s of the 19th century, the Sekiro-Voznesensky Skete was founded. According to legend, the mountain got its name after two angels carved the fisherman’s wife they had caught so that the island belonged undividedly to the monks. The Solovetsky Lighthouse was installed on Sekirnaya Hill. Its height is 123 m, it is the highest lighthouse in the White Sea.
According to U.S. vs. U.K. English, the first religious building was erected on the island of Anzer in the 17th century, it was the Trinity Skete. Not far from here on Mount Golgotha (the highest mountain of the archipelago, 200 m high) stands Calvary-Crucifixion Skete. It was built at the beginning of the 18th century under Peter I by the former spiritual mentor of the tsar, who was exiled to Solovki, after a miraculous vision, when the Queen of Heaven appeared to the monk and ordered him to found a cell on the mountain. In 1828 – 1830, a stone Crucifixion Church with a high bell tower was erected here. The Calvary-Crucifixion skete has always been distinguished by the particular severity of the charter – the monks did not eat fish, they were obliged to constantly work and pray, female pilgrims were not allowed here.
Bolshaya Muksalma Island.
At the end of the 19th century, a stone church was erected on the island in the name of St. Sergius of Radonezh, from which the construction of St. Sergius-Radonezh Skete began. Under him, a farm was organized, which became the standard for the conduct of the monastic economy on Solovki. In the second half of the 19th century, a sea dam 1220 m long was laid through the Southern Iron Gates from the island of Bolshaya Muksalma to the Bolshoi Solovetsky Island, called the “Stone Bridge”, it has survived to this day.
Bolshoi Zayatsky Island.
The main attraction of the island is St. Andrew’s Skete. Back in the 16th century, a port complex with a stone harbor and stone chambers for recreation was founded on the shore of Bolshoi Zayatsky Island. In 1702, ships of Peter the Great entered the harbor. During their stay here, the tsar ordered the construction of a church near the harbor in honor of the holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called. This is how St. Andrew’s Skete appeared. Bolshoi Zayatsky Island is dotted with mysterious Neolithic monuments – “labyrinths”, the purpose of which is unknown to this day. They are structures in the form of spirals, made up of small cobblestones, with one entrance and exit. Similar monuments are found not only in Solovki, but also in Karelia, the Murmansk region and in the countries of Northern Europe. The fact that such “mazes” have survived here to this day, Solovetsky Islands to such pagan structures.