Valaam monastery is one of the most interesting cultural, historical and nature attractions in the North-West of Russia.

Brief history of Valaam

The exact time of the founding of Valaam Monastery is unknown. According to one concept, the monastery was founded in the X-XI century. This concept is supported by the church and the monastery. According to the second concept, the monastery appeared in the XII-XIV centuries.

Several times Valaam was destroyed by Swedes, it is reflected in the historical chronicles.

There is a legend that the Swedish king Magnus II Eriksson Smek (Magnus Eriksson) converted to Orthodoxy, and became a monk, died and was buried on Valaam. In the old monastery cemetery there is a grave, supposed to be his, with the inscription: "Monk Gregory, Swedish King Magnus."

After the devastation of 1611, the monastery was desolate for over 100 years. In 1715, Emperor Peter I issued a decree on the reconstruction of the monastery. In 1819, Alexander I visited the monastery, after the visit he issued a decree on the transferring the monastery in the category of first-class ones. This provided many benefits.

The monastery achieved great prosperity during the reign of the Father Superior Damaskin (1839-1881). He ordered to build stone Transfiguration Cathedral with a bell tower.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Valaam Monastery became one of the richest in Russia. The monastery fully provided itself with everything necessary. Monks and novices worked at sawmills, farms and vegetable gardens, they also were engaged in construction and fishing

After the Bolsheviks revolt of October 1917, the monastery ended up on the territory of independent Finland. This saved it from anti-religious persecution, but led to the division of the fraternity between the Russian and Finnish Orthodox churches. After the adoption of the new (Gregorian) calendar by the Finnish Orthodox Church, some of the monks refused to follow it and were expelled from the monastery.

Nevertheless, Valaam remained a so called “corner of old, real Russia”. In the 1920s and 1930s, many Russian emigrants visited the monastery as pilgrims.

After the Soviet-Finnish War (Winter war) of 1939-40, Valaam became part of the USSR. The monks had to leave the island, and they founded the New Valaam Monastery in the Finnish town of Papinniemi. It is active even nowadays.

During the World War II, the Valaam archipelago was occupied by Finns and until 1944 the Finnish military base was located there. At the same time, there were no military operations on the island.

Starting from 1944 the monastery on Valaam did not function, the buildings disintegrated and collapsed. At different times on the island there was a state farm, a tourist base, a hospital for the disabled and a nature reserve. In 1979, the historical, architectural and natural museum-reserve was opened. Some buildings have been given the status of architectural monuments.

The restoration of the monastery began in 1989. Construction and repair of buildings, restoration of interiors and murals of the cathedral are still taking place. Monastic traditions, spiritual and working life are being revived.

The monastery has a trout farm, a cheese making farm. Vegetables and fruits are grown in vegetable gardens and orchards.

Every year, the monastery’s passenger fleet brings thousands of tourists and pilgrims to the island.

The major sights of Valaam

1. The Transfiguration Cathedral and the Central estate

The central monastery estate is the heart of Valaam. There are plenty of interesting things such as the residence of the Father Superior, the Transfiguration cathedral, monks' cell, a refectory and a hotel.

A visit to the Transfiguration Cathedral and the Central Estate of the monastery is included into the program of a sightseeing tour. During the excursion in summer, guests can listen to a concert of chants of the Valaam Monastery Choir.

2. Valaam Sketes (hermitages)

There are 9 sketes at Valaam and on nearby isles, they represent different architectural styles and historcial periods. In several sketes, monks live according to the strict rules of the Monastery, so they are closed for visits. Some of the sketes are open for visitors. They are Nikolsky, Voskresensky and Gethsemane sketes.

3. Oboronny (defense) Island

The Island is located to the south of Valaam, separated by a narrow canal. The name of the Island originates from its fortifications that still can be found there. During the WWII, Finnish artillery was located on the Island, with a cannon moving on rails and keeping under fire nearly the whole Ladoga Lake area.

4. Krestovoe Lake

The Lake in the south of Valaam, with great scenery and a worship cross on its shore.

5. The Holy island

In the XV century, the future reverend Alexander Svirsky became a monk on Valaam. Here he went through all obedience, took monastic vows and lived on one of the monastery islands, now called the Holy Island. There is still a cave in the rock, which served as his living space. From here he went to the Svir River, where he founded a monastery. The monastery of Alexander Svirsky still exists.

6. Canals, arch bridges, alleys

Canals with arch bridges connect inner lakes of Valaam Island. Beautiful alleys of silver fir and larch are a good place for a pleasant and meditative stroll.

7. Farms, cemeteries, household and housing facilities

8. Valaam Nature

Valaam has its micro-climate, which makes the weather warmer than in the neighbouring areas. In this northern region, monks cultivated melons growing up to three kilograms and watermelons up to eight. Nature is spectacularly beautiful there. Ladoga Lake washes the sandy and rocky shores of the Islands on which dense forests grow, and when walking along the paths of Valaam you see fields sparkling with flowers, picturesque inner lakes and springs, and find out a remote hermitage or a farm that was tilled by monks centuries ago.

The lake area around is rich in fish, islands are populated by birds and on the shore-line the Ladoga Ringed Seal lives - a rare and interesting animal species.

Getting here

In order to get to Valaam you may use one of the following options:

1. By boat from the cities of Sortavala, Lahdenpohja and Pitkaranta in Karelia and from the town of Priozersk in Leningrad Region.

Most trips to Valaam start from Sortavala. Travel time between Sortavala and Valaam by high-speed hydrofoil vessels “Meteor” with the capacity of 120 passengers is 50-60 minutes one way. Slower, vessels with displacement travel 2-2.5 hours. Private carriers take passengers by small motorboats. Some camp sites in Sortavala area have their own fleet of modern boats.

Travel time from Priozersk by hydrofoil is 1 hour and 30 minutes one way.

Passenger traffic by the high-speed hydrofoils opens approximately in mid-May and ends in mid-October. Typical displacement vessels begin to sail a little earlier, and finish a little bit later.

All trips are weather dependent. In case of big waves, hydrofoil trips may be canceled. Sometimes cancellation info becomes available 1-2 days prior to the trip, and sometimes cancellation of all departures is announced on the basis of the operational report delivered at 6.00 am.

2. By a cruise ship from St. Petersburg. Several cruising companies carry out cruises from May to October.

3. You can get to Valaam Island by helicopter from St. Petersburg or Petrozavodsk. There are no scheduled flights, but you can arrange a charter flight. Pilgrimage groups fly from St. Petersburg to attend some church holidays.

4. There is a possibility to get to Valaam in winter by hovercraft, but for several years the lake between Sortavala and the island has not been frozen completely, and travelling by hovercraft on open water is quite risky.