Being home to an incredible collection of monuments of wooden architecture, Kizhi Island is a must visit attraction in Russia.

Located in Lake Onega, Kizhi is the most popular island to visit in Russia. Having only 5,5 km in length and max 1,4 km in width, the island annually attracts about 200.000 tourists from all around the world. Most of them come to see the incredible collection of monuments of Russian wooden architecture, both church and domestic.

Kizhi Island history

The archeological record found on Kizhi Island consists of ceramic and bronze artefacts similar to those found in Veliky Novgorod and assigned to the period ca. 10th century AD. At that time, the Novgorodians had been colonizing Lake Onega, the White Sea coast and other northern territories.

Written sources of the 15th century describe 18 taxation, administrative and religious districts, known as Pogosts, introduced in the Lake Onega region by the Grand Duchy of Moscow following its annexation of the Republic of Novgorod. The 1582/83 Census Book first mentions the Transfiguration and Intercession churches as parish churches of Kizhi Pogost, a relatively big territory comprising 180 villages. A record of 1696 informs that those churches were destroyed by a lightning strike in 1693 or 1694. It was soon when local citizens rebuilt both of them.

In the early 20th century Kizhi district included 47 villages with population of around 2500 people. Fishing, agriculture, peasant crafts and trade were their principal occupations. Some of the peasants practiced otkhodnichestvo - out-migration and seasonal waged labor in Petrozavodsk, St. Petersburg and other cities. A folk school was located on the very island of Kizhi and 11 more in the nearby villages; most of the schools were parochial.

The remoteness of Kizhi Island could be one of the reasons that the Bolsheviks closed Kizhi churches only in 1937, twenty years after taking power. The priest Alexei Petukhov was arrested and executed in the same year. 

The area was under Finnish occupation from 1941 to 1944. The local population suffered from military actions and a range of abuses, but no harm was done to Kizhi churches and chapels. Among the Finns was Lars Pettersson, lieutenant and architect scientist, who performed an extensive research and photography of church architecture and art of the region. His book was published in Russia in 2020.

Established in 1966, Kizhi Museum Reserve brought numerous monuments of wooden architecture from all around Zaonezhye region to the island, which helped to preserve them from decay and dilapidation.

In 1994, the first modern time service was hold in the Church of the Intercession.

On 19 August 2021, the newly reopened Transfiguration Church hosted its first official service after 84-year break.

Kizhi Pogost

Today, the term Pogost is used with just one of its former meanings, namely that of “church with a graveyard”. The present Kizhi Pogost consists of the churches of the Transfiguration and the Intercession, a bell tower and a small graveyard, all fenced with a wall of wild stones and wood.

Church of the Transfiguration

The 22-dome Church of the Transfiguration of Our Savior is the key sight of the Pogost. Tree-ring analysis of its timber dates it back to around 1714. Legend has it that a master craftsman by the name of Nestor with a team of carpenters built it without a single metal nail and after they finished he threw his axe into the lake as a symbolic gesture of reaching inimitable perfection.

The 37 meter tall structure was made of the highest quality pine logs. Later, it was additionally protected from the elements with planks and iron shingles on the domes. During the works of 1950s, the restorers removed the protection layer and the church retrieved its original appearance. However, by 1980 the condition of the building was so poor that they had to close the church and install a metal inner framework to prevent its collapse.

The Pogost in the early 20th Century

In summer 2021, the Transfiguration church was reopened after extensive 40-year long restoration. The consecration took place on 19 August 2021, when the Orthodox Church celebrates the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Savior. The reinstalled 24-meter long iconostasis consists of more than 100 original icons of the 17-19 centuries. Being a summer church, it has never had any heating; thus to keep the icons safe the museum suspends inside visits for 6-month winter closure.

Church of the Intercession

Another famous church of the Pogost is the 9-dome, 27 meter tall Church of the Intercession of the Holy Virgin. According to the research, the church, destroyed in 1693/4, was rebuilt in a simple square cut form a few years later. Significant extension and redesign of 1720 – 1749 gave the church most of its present-day appearance.

A high wooden porch leads into the Seni, a kind of a vestibule. The refectory room comes next; initially it also served as a nave with its own iconostasis and a wood stove (one more was added later) for heating the church from October to April. During the 18th century redesign, the present nave with nine domes and the altar were attached. Re-installed during the restoration of 1957/9, the modern day iconostasis has several original icons dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

Further restoration of the Intercession church is planned for the near future.

Bell tower

The present bell tower was built in 1862-1874. Being 30 meter tall, it has a steep inside staircase, which leads to the bell chamber with several brass and bronze bells, big and small. The view from the bell tower is amazing and well worth the climbing effort and the admission fee.

The fence

The original fence was lost in centuries and there is a little evidence of its appearance. In the middle of the 20th century, the Pogost was encircled with barbed wire. The present 300-meter long fence appeared in 1959. Made of wild stone and wood, it looks authentic and right in place.

Other monuments

In addition to the Pogost, the island hosts many other historical buildings. Among them are chapels, traditional houses, windmills, granaries, banyas, etc.

Church of Lazarus of Murom

Believed to be one of the oldest wooden churches in Russia, this church officially dates back to the 15th century. Initially located in Murom Monastery at the southern shore of Lake Onego, it was brought to Kizhi Island in 1959 and placed next to the Pogost.

Kizhi Island Chapels

Four chapels are located on the island.

  • The Chapel of the Assumption of Virgin Mary. Dated back to the end of the 17th century, this chapel still nestles in its original place in the village of Vassilyevo, the western shore of the island.
  • The Chapel of Archangel Mikhail. This 18th century chapel was taken from the village of Lelikozero in 1961. The original iconostasis is preserved, as well as the colorful painted ceiling, known as nebo (heaven). After the tragic loss in the roar of flames of the Assumption church in Kondopoga in 2018, this kind of ceiling is the only one remained in Karelia. Located very close to the main churches, the Archangel Mikhail chapel is hard to miss. On a good day, your walk will be accompanied by bell ringing from the chapel’s belfry.
  • The Chapel of the Divine Savior, also known as the chapel from Kavgora village, dates back to the period between 1750 and 1800. Standing on the very northern tip of Kizhi Island it is seldom visited.
  • The Chapel of Peter and Paul. Originating from the village of Berezhnaya, this tiny chapel of the early 17th century now stands in Yamka village in the middle part of the island.

Domestic architecture

Aside from churches and chapels, old wooden households are also located on the Island. These are water- and windmills, granaries, blacksmith’s shops, chimneyless smoke saunas, known as "banya po-chernomy", houses of peasants who once lived in the region.

During the visit of the houses of peasants of Sergeyev, Oshevnev, Elizarov and others, a visitor can learn a lot about the life of residents of Lake Onega Region, their traditions and customs.

Nature

Established in 1989, Kizhi Natural Preserve includes the land area of several islands, including the biggest one - Bolshoy Klimenetskiy, as well as a large portion of the surrounding waters of Lake Onega. The area is rich with birds, such as gulls, loons, curlews, rails, wildfowls and birds of prey. Animal species include elk (Alces alces), white hare (Lepus timidus), common wolf (Canis lupus), Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), fox (Vulpes vulpes), common weasel (Mustela erminea), European polecat (Mustela putorius) and red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris). Occasionally, brown bears and their traces are seen on Bolshoy Klimenetsky Island. European vipers are common in stony habitats and grasslands - please beware.

The museum has a few nature excursions, including a 2 hour walk from the main boat pier to the Chapel of the Divine Savior on Naryina Hill, a 2 hour “Hunter’s trail” in the northern part of Kizhi island and a 45 minute Apothecary garden’s visit.

Having a motorboat, it’s great to take a trip to see natural attractions of Bolshoy Klimenetskiy, Radkolye and Gryz islands.

Museum opening hours

The museum is open daily without breaks and days-off.

Summer (01.05–31.08) — from 08.00 till 20.00;
Autumn (01.09–31.10) — from 09.00 till 18.00;
Winter (01.11–28.02) — from 10.00 till 16.00;
Spring (01.03–30.04) — from 09.00 till 17.00.

Accommodation 

There is a nice guesthouse in the village of Ersnevo, just over the strait from Kizhi Island. It has several twin/triple rooms, all with en-suite WC and shower. 

The museum owns a few simple cabins on the very island but it is not always possible to book them.

Questions & Answers

How to get to Kizhi Island?

1. Travel to Kizhi Island by boat (hydrofoil)

From around 20th of May till around 15th of October, Petrozavodsk and Kizhi Island are connected by hydrofoils. The distance is 63 km; non-stop travel time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Timetable.

  Petrozavodsk, departure 

  Kizhi Island, arrival / departure 

 Petrozavodsk, arrival 

09:00

10:30 / 14:30

16:00

10:00

11:30 / 15:30

17:00

11:00

12:30 / 16:30

18:00

12:30

14:00 / 18:00

19:30

The timetable is only indicative and may be updated according to demand. During the high season the number of trips to Kizhi can be as high as 6-7 per day, but on certain days in May or September there may be no departures at all.

Boat cancellation and delay notice

In case of a heavy storm or thick fog boats can be delayed or even cancelled, though it does not happen often.

Combination of different departures

On a standard day tour, visitors use the same boat for the trip to and from Kizhi. It may be possible to use different boats, for example, the boat at 09:30 for the trip to Kizhi and the boat at 17:15 for the trip back.

2. Motorboat

It is possible to use private motorboats for getting to the island. In the summer time it is usually not practical as regular hydrofoils are bigger, cheaper and more comfortable. However, in late September and early October when the hydrofoil season is over travelling by a motorboat from Velikaya Guba village can be the only reasonable option. Direct route from Petrozavodsk goes across the open lake greatly affected by winds and that is why it is not reliable.

3. Helicopter

The helicopter company in Petrozavodsk owns big MI-8 helicopters for 20-22 people which are quite expensive in operation. The cost of a charter flight to the Island is rather high. Flying time is about 25 minutes one way.

4. Hovercraft

We use hovercrafts for trips to Kizhi on the ice of Lake Onega. Depending on weather conditions, a trip from Petrozavodsk takes 60-90 minutes.

However, direct trips are possible when Lake Onego between Petrozavodsk and Kizhi is completely covered with ice. In case of a warm winter, as it was in 2019-2020, tours are carried out from the village of Oyatevshina, which is located on the Zaonezhsky Peninsula. The distance from Petrozavodsk to Oyatevshina by road is 300 km. A hovercraft ride from Oyatevshina to Kizhi takes around 15 minutes. The whole trip via Oyatevshina takes around 13-15 hours.

In spring, ice conditions usually allow travelling until mid April.

5. Snowmobile

Safe driving on the frozen lake depends on ice conditions. Whilst hovercrafts need at least some ice and can move over areas of open water snowmobiles require much thicker ice. February and March are the months when it is usually possible.

How much does it cost to visit Kizhi Island?

A day trip from Petrozavodsk to Kizhi for two people costs about 200 Euro (100 per person), including the roundtrip hydrofoil fare, the entrance fee and the private museum walking tour with a local English-speaking guide.

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