Kizhi is an island on Lake Onega in the Republic of Karelia, Russia, with a beautiful ensemble of wooden churches, chapels and houses. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Russia and a World Heritage Site.
The island is about 7 km long and 0.5 km wide and is washed by the Onega waters.
The name of Kizhi Island originates from the Karelian word kizbarsuari (“island of games”). In the remote past, it was a site of pagan practices that is why it was settled very early. In the 14th century, Novgorod merchants stopped here on their way to the White Sea where they bought furs and walrus bone articles.
The Livonian war, in the reign of Ivan the Terrible, didn’t spare the island. During the Northern War, it suffered from the Swedes’ severe attacks. The Russian victory in that war was commemorated by construction of the 22-domed Transfiguration church (1722), with a fine baroque iconostasis.
The nine-cupola Intercession Church was built half a century later, in 1764. A bell tower with a tent-shaped roof was added to it in 1874. The most impressive thing about these structures is that they were erected without any nails or other metal ties - even the joints were made from wood.
The few nails you can see today remain from the restoration work done in the 1960s. The island’s main architectural landmark is the Transfiguration Church built in 1714. This strikingly beautiful structure crowned with 22 cupolas seems to be hovering in the air in any weather, whether the lake is calm and peaceful and its surface smooth or it is rough and the waves violently break on the shore. The church cupolas made of aspen wood gleam in the sunlight in daytime and the moonlight at night.
The structure looks even more impressive if you believe a popular legend that it was built by one man and with one tool, an axe. Upon affixing a final shingle, the master, whose name was Nestor, hurled the axe into the lake pronouncing that there had never been and would never be another such thing.
In 1951, the island became an open-air museum of Old Russian wooden architecture. Best wooden constrictions have been transferred here from nearby and distant villages. Noteworthy is St Lazarus’ Church which, according to the legend, was built by the monk Lazarus, the founder of the Murom Monastery, it is the oldest wooden church extant in Russia.
Other relics of the past located here are two wooden houses, two windmills and traditional Russian bathhouses, which stand on the shore. Russian church feasts are traditionally celebrated in Kizhi. They include Easter (Resurrection of Christ), the day of the apostles Peter and Paul (July 12), the day of the prophet Elijas (August 2), the Transfiguration of Our Lord (August 19) and some others. Kizhi has churches dedicated to all of these feasts.
During the walking excursion, you will visit the open-air museum of wooden architecture with a visit of Intercession Cathedral and 1 izba.