A brief history of Kizhi, Russia
Kizhi, Russia, on the shore of Lake Onega, has the Kizhi Pogost UNESCO World Heritage Site. The three buildings (2 churches and a bell tower) earned the distinction because of their architecture, how they bear tribute to the carpentry skills of Northern Russians and their harmony with their surroundings.
This area of Russian is Keralia and the Keralians view the structures as the “the true eighth wonder of the world“. Trust us, the people of Keralia have such an inhospitable environment much of the year we’ll give them whatever distinction they want. The structures on the island are all built with wood from the Keralian forests – another source of pride.
Kizhi and its buildings trace back to the early 1700’s. That part of Russia was a form of democracy and did not have serfs so supposedly the inhabitants were freer spirits than Russians from other areas. They didn’t exactly have it easy but were known for being very simple people with good carpentry skills. It’s hard to separate legend from fact but we were told the churches in Kizhi were erected without using any nails.
The churches of Kizhi, Russia
After spending 13 days in Russia Blonde decided that Russian Orthodox churches are her architectural favorites. All of those onion domes create such a vivid picture above even the gloomiest of skies. One description we read said the churches look like “music frozen in the air” and that seems about right.
The Church of the Transfiguration, with its 22 onion domes, was built in 1714. Unfortunately, it suffered the fate of so many wooden structures and burnt down as the result of a lightning strike. The church standing there now was built in the 1800s.
We visited Kizhi, Russia on The Waterways of the Tsars river cruise with Viking River Cruises and they always provide a local guide and in this case entertainment too. We went inside the church and heard 3 young (at least to us) priests sing a few beautiful acapella hymns. The church interior is decorated extensively with ornately painted religious icons.
The Church of the Intercession was built half a century later and is an under-achiever with only 10 domes. It was the village’s winter church so smaller and more utilitarian. (Who wants to be fancy in a Russian winter?)
The Bell Tower used to be a tower before its stone foundation crumbled so now it’s more of a belfry. The fence that runs along the Kizhi Pogost Complex is intended to contrast with the vertical lines of the churches and the belfry.
A real home in Kizhi, Russia
A thought provoking experience in Kizhi was seeing a home that housed four families in an “open floorplan”. Privacy was not an option but hard work was a requirement. In the summer months all the members of the family lived in this very small – say less than 1,000 square feet – home. The occupants farmed and developed carpentry skills which were probably used for survival purposes then but now make for nice souvenirs.
In the winters (which are about 11 months of the year) the men went to the cities for work. These were some tough cookie women who kept the place going on their own. There was only one stove for heating and cooking and they survived on food they had put up in the summer. There wasn’t indoor plumbing so we’re guessing they didn’t have a problem with a lot of women lingering in the bathroom.
The village of Kizhi, Russia today
In addition to the churches and the house there are various other wooden structures. Kizhi is said to be named after a pagan shrine which means “Place of Merrymaking” but life there didn’t sound all that merry to us.
The local guide Viking provided was sort of a feminist elf who depicted a vivid picture of how hard life is in Kizhi even now. She made it very clear how hard the women work and even put in a non-partisan plug as to how it was high time the United States had a woman as President (but not any particular one..) She did everything but burst into “Who Run The World – Girls”. Watch out Beyonce!
A popular and allegedly health-ensuring fixture of many Russian country homes and villages is a banya. These small buildings are hot-water saunas where friends go and – as friends often do – hit each other with branches. (We aren’t sure why – maybe because it feels so good when they stop.) Sometimes the friends wander into a room that isn’t as hot and they socialize. When they are done they jump in a cold lake. One man on our tour tried it in another location and claimed to enjoy it. We took his word for it.
If you’re on a ship with a stop in Kizhi be sure to get off and have a look around. Maybe when you visit, the scaffolding will be gone from the Church of the Transfiguration and you can send us a better picture!
Possibly required disclosure: We were the guests of Viking River Cruises. They did not hit us with sticks to make us say anything. Yet.