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Cultural and Historic Ensemble of the Solovetsky Islands

Cultural criteria: iv
Year of inclusion in the List of World Heritage: 1992

The Solovetsky Archipelago consisting of 6 islands, in total area of over 300 square kilometers, is situated on the west side of the White Sea, approximately 150 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle and 250 kilometers to the west of Arkhangelsk.

On the Archipelago great number of various archaeological monuments was found, the most ancient of which are dated to the 2nd or 3rd thousand years B.C.: they are early man sites, rock labyrinths, kurgans-burial grounds, dolmens.

Over 200 monuments of history and culture are dated to the monastic period that began in the first half of the XV century, when monks Zosima and German on the west side of the Big Solovetsky Island founded a cloister. It was called the Monastery of Our Savior and Transfiguration, but it came to be known as the Solovetsky Monastery. For several centuries it was the most powerful stronghold of the Orthodox faith in the north of Russia. At the same time the monastery played the role of an impregnable fortress, various useful arts developed here as well - salt, fish, trapping, micaceous ones etc.

A central position in the historical-architectural ensemble is held by the majestic Solovetsky Kremlin, surrounded from every quarter by powerful stone walls with 8 towers and 7 gates (raised at the end of the XVI century). In the plan the Kremlin’s territory (in area of 5 hectares) is shaped as a pentagon, stretched from north to south, whereas the total length of fortress walls is about 1,100 meters. The walls are rested on a foundation of 2.5 meters in depth. Their superstructure’s height is from 8 to 11 meters, thickness of masonry at footing comes up to 6 meters, and in the upper part – 3–4 meters. The walls are laid in granite detritus, coated with lime grout, and the weight of separate detritus reaches 6–10 tons at that.

Inside walls, on the Cathedral Square, main buildings of the monastery are concentrated. This is above all the oldest in the Monastery ensemble Dormitory church (the middle of the XVI century). The main content of this structure is occupied by not so much the church as by the refectory – almost the largest palace of then Russia having one internal pier (500 square meters), as well as cellarer’s palace, used for storage of rich tableware and other refectory tables articles.

One was just finishing construction of the Dormitory church and the Refectory, when in place of a small wooden church the building of the main cathedral of the monastery started – Transfiguration church (the middle of the XVI century too). Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible personally donated for this construction then-vast sum – 1 thousand rubles. Hegumen Philip, future Metropolitan of Moscow, decided to build a church, which in size, richness and perfection of architecture would not be worse than the most famous churches of Russia of those times. And he realized this plan, having raised an enormous church, which became the highest building in the country, having even excelled the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Moscow Kremlin. Thereafter this cathedral’s interior and iconostasis were painted by the best masters, but this heritage remained only in part.

At the turn of the XVI and the XVII centuries the complex of monastery’s buildings was expanded by the Gateway Church of the Annunciation. At the close of the XVIII century the monumental three-tier belfry and the Church of Philip, metropolitan of Moscow joined them. In the middle of the XIX century the Monastery ensemble was increased by the Trinity cathedral and the rebuilt St. Nikolai's Church.

Among monuments of the monastic period are also the churches and chapels scattered in various islands of the Solovetsky Archipelago (including the wooden Church of St. Andrew the First Called in the Big Zayatsky Island), hermitages and sketes (for example, the Makariev Hermitage and the Holy Ascension Skete in the Sekirnaya Mountain – on the Big Solovetsky Island, the Golgotha-Crucifixion and the Trinity Sketes – on the Anzer Island), as well as crosses, apartment structures, producers' izbas and moorage etc. The branched system of inter lake channels is of great value (burst by monks in the period of the XV-XX centuries), through which waters of northern and western lakes come to the central part of the Big Solovetsky Island.

In the early 1920's the monastery was closed and transformed into a prison for political and criminal prisoners (“SLON” - Solovetsky Special Camp), which existed till 1939. In 1967 an open-air museum was organized here that in 1974 was transformed into the Solovki State Historical, Architectural and Natural Museum-Reserve. And since 1990 in Solovki the cloister recommences.

In 1992 the historical-cultural complex of the Solovetsky Islands obtains this status of the World cultural heritage object. However, as many experts believe (particularly, specialists of the Russian Research Institute for Natural and Cultural Heritage, Moscow), this object must also include the surrounding natural landscape, which forms together with monastic buildings a single and indissoluble whole. In this regard there are two possible ways: 1) object rating as “cultural landscape”, and/or: 2) its transfer to nomination of the World cultural-natural (mixed) Heritage.