Valaam is a historical monastery located on an island in Lake Ladoga, Russia.

History of Valaam Monastery

It is not clear when the monastery was established. According to a theory supported by church, it happened in the X-XI century. According to a competing theory it appeared much later, in the XII-XIV centuries.

Not much historical evidence is left to cast light on Valaam early history. Situated close to Swedish territory, the monastery was often attacked and ravaged by Swedish troops.

A legend has is that Magnus II Eriksson Smek, a king of Sweden in 1319-1364, converted to Orthodoxy, 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."

In 1715, Emperor Peter I issued a decree for the reconstruction of the monastery.

In 1819, after visiting Valaam, Emperor Alexander I decreed the first-class designation of the monastery which gave 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.

The Gethsemane Skete on Valaam Island

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, or the Winter war of 1939-40, the island 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 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 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 and a cheese dairy. Vegetables and fruits are grown in vegetable gardens and orchards.

Attractions of Valaam

Every year, the monastery’s passenger fleet brings thousands of tourists and pilgrims to the island. Most of the daytrippers see the Transfiguration Cathedral and Voskresensky and Gethsemane sketes. The island, however, has much more to offer.

The Transfiguration Cathedral & the central Monastery Estate

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

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 the concert of Valaam Monastery Choir сhants.

Sketes

There are 12 sketes (hermitages) on the island and nearby; they represent different architectural styles and historical periods. In several sketes, monks live according to the strict rules and these dwellings are closed for visits. Nikolsky, Voskresensky and Gethsemane sketes are open to the public.

The Oboronny Island

The Oboronny (Defense) 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 nearly the whole Ladoga Lake under fire.

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 of the Svir still exists.

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.

Nature

Local weather is often milder 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.

When walking along the paths of the island you see fields sparkling with flowers, marvel at picturesque inner lakes and springs, and discover a remote hermitage or a farm that was tilled by monks centuries ago.

Ladoga Lake is rich in fish, its islands are populated with birds. A rare species of Ladoga ringed seal can be occasionally spotted along the shoreline.

Accommodation on Valaam

The island’s two hotels are open all the year round.

Pilgrim House "Valaam"
The hotel is located in 5 minutes’ walk of the Transfiguration Cathedral in the building of the XIX Century. After the big fire of 2016 the hotel was completely renovated and re-opened in 2021. Now the Pilgrim House Valaam has 48 rooms, including single, twin, triple and rooms for 4 people. Some rooms have private WC and shower.

Pilgrim House "Igumenskiy" (Abbot’s)
This hotel is located in the dormitory building of Valaam Monastery, just 2 minutes’ walk of the Transfiguration Cathedral. The Pilgrim House Igumenskiy has 1 single and 19 twin rooms; all rooms have shared WC and shower.

Questions & Answers

How to get to Valaam Monastery?

The monastery is located on Valaam Island in Lake Ladoga. In order to get to Valaam you may use one of the following options.

1. By boat.

Most trips to Valaam start from Sortavala. Travel time between Sortavala and Valaam by Meteor 120-seat high-speed hydrofoil boat is 50-60 minutes one way. Slower vessels navigate 2-2.5 hours. Some hotels and private persons in Sortavala have small motorboats for 4-6 passengers.

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

Valaam hydrofoil boat service starts in mid-May and ends in late September. Slower boats navigate in early May and October.

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 is announced on the basis of the operational report delivered at 6.00 am.

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

3. You can get to Valaam Monastery 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. It might be possible to get to Valaam Island in winter by hovercraft in case Lake Ladoga is frozen.
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