Solovetsky Islands
The Solovetsky Islands , or Solovki , are an archipelago located in the Onega Bay
Onega Bay
The Onega Bay is located in [the Republic of Karelia and Arkhangelsk Oblast in Northwestern Russia, west of the city of Arkhangelsk. It is the southernmost of four large bays and gulfs of the White Sea, the others being the Dvina Bay, the Mezen Bay, and the Kandalaksha Gulf. The area of the bay is...

 of the White Sea
White Sea
The White Sea is a southern inlet of the Barents Sea located on the northwest coast of Russia. It is surrounded by Karelia to the west, the Kola Peninsula to the north, and the Kanin Peninsula to the northeast. The whole of the White Sea is under Russian sovereignty and considered to be part of...

, Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

. The islands are served by the Solovki Airport
Solovki Airport
Solovki Airport is an airport in Russia on the Solovetsky Islands. It is believed to have had a minor Russian Navy presence but primarily serves as an airport for the island....

. Area: 347 square kilometres (134 sq mi).

Administratively, the islands are incorporated as Solovetsky District , one of the twenty-one
Administrative divisions of Arkhangelsk Oblast
Administratively, Arkhangelsk Oblast is divided into six cities and towns of oblast significance, twenty-one districts, and two island territories . Besides, Mirny is a town under the federal government management....

 administrative districts (raion
A raion is a type of administrative unit of several post-Soviet countries. The term, which is from French rayon 'honeycomb, department,' describes both a type of a subnational entity and a division of a city, and is commonly translated in English as "district"...

s) in Arkhangelsk Oblast
Arkhangelsk Oblast
Arkhangelsk Oblast is a federal subject of Russia . It includes the Arctic archipelagos of Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya, as well as the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea....

, Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

. Municipally, they are incorporated as Solovetskoye Rural Settlement which belongs to Primorsky Municipal District
Primorsky District, Arkhangelsk Oblast
Primorsky District is an administrative district , one of the twenty-one in Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia. Municipally, it is incorporated as Primorsky Municipal District...

. The administrative center of the district and of the rural settlement is the settlement of Solovetsky
Solovetsky, Arkhangelsk Oblast
Solovetsky is a rural locality and the administrative center of Solovetsky District, Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia, located on the west coast of Bolshoy Solovetsky Island in the White Sea. Municipally, it is the administrative center of Solovetskoye Rural Settlement of Primorsky District...

, located on Bolshoy Solovetsky Island. Almost all of the population of the islands lives in Solovetsky. District's population:


This archipelago
An archipelago , sometimes called an island group, is a chain or cluster of islands. The word archipelago is derived from the Greek ἄρχι- – arkhi- and πέλαγος – pélagos through the Italian arcipelago...

 consists of six islands known collectively as the Solovki:
  • Bolshoy Solovetsky Island
    Bolshoy Solovetsky Island
    Bolshoy Solovetsky Island , or simply Solovetsky Island is the biggest island of the Solovetsky Islands archipelago in the White Sea, northern Russia. The island is home to Solovetsky Monastery, a medieval monastery and a fortress included in the World Heritage list.-Location and geography:The...

     – 246 km².
  • Anzersky Island (Anzer) – 47 km².
  • Bolshaya Muksalma
    Bolshaya Muksalma
    Bolshaya Muksalma is one of the Solovetsky Islands. Bolshaya Muksalma is situated to the east of Bolshoy Solovetsky Island and is separated from it by two straits: Severnye Zheleznye Vorota and Yuzhnye Zheleznye Vorota...

     – 17 km².
  • Malaya Muksalma – 0,57 km².
  • Bolshoy Zayatsky – 1,25 km².
  • Maly Zayatsky – 1,02 km².

The islands separate the Onega Bay from the main volume of the White Sea
White Sea
The White Sea is a southern inlet of the Barents Sea located on the northwest coast of Russia. It is surrounded by Karelia to the west, the Kola Peninsula to the north, and the Kanin Peninsula to the northeast. The whole of the White Sea is under Russian sovereignty and considered to be part of...

. The closest mainland is the Onega Peninsula
Onega Peninsula
The Onega Peninsula is located in Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia. It protrudes into the White Sea, with Onega Bay to the south-west, and Dvina Bay to the north-east. The length of the peninsula is about , and the width varies between and .-Geography:...


The shores of the islands are very indented. They are formed of granite
Granite is a common and widely occurring type of intrusive, felsic, igneous rock. Granite usually has a medium- to coarse-grained texture. Occasionally some individual crystals are larger than the groundmass, in which case the texture is known as porphyritic. A granitic rock with a porphyritic...

s and gneiss
Gneiss is a common and widely distributed type of rock formed by high-grade regional metamorphic processes from pre-existing formations that were originally either igneous or sedimentary rocks.-Etymology:...

. The relief
Relief is a sculptural technique. The term relief is from the Latin verb levo, to raise. To create a sculpture in relief is thus to give the impression that the sculpted material has been raised above the background plane...

 of the islands is hilly (the highest point is 107 m). Most of the Solovetsky Islands are covered with Scots Pine
Scots Pine
Pinus sylvestris, commonly known as the Scots Pine, is a species of pine native to Europe and Asia, ranging from Scotland, Ireland and Portugal in the west, east to eastern Siberia, south to the Caucasus Mountains, and as far north as well inside the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia...

 and Norway Spruce
Norway Spruce
Norway Spruce is a species of spruce native to Europe. It is also commonly referred to as the European Spruce.- Description :...

 forests, which are partially swamp
A swamp is a wetland with some flooding of large areas of land by shallow bodies of water. A swamp generally has a large number of hammocks, or dry-land protrusions, covered by aquatic vegetation, or vegetation that tolerates periodical inundation. The two main types of swamp are "true" or swamp...

y. There are numerous lakes, which were joined by monks so as to form a network of canals.

One interesting feature of these islands is stone labyrinths and other stone settings, especially the Stone labyrinths of Bolshoi Zayatsky Island
Stone labyrinths of Bolshoi Zayatsky Island
Stone labyrinths of Bolshoi Zayatsky Island are a group of 13 or 14 labyrinths on Bolshoi Zayatsky Island, one of the Solovetsky Islands in Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia....

. Such labyrinths were typical for Northern Europe
Northern Europe
Northern Europe is the northern part or region of Europe. Northern Europe typically refers to the seven countries in the northern part of the European subcontinent which includes Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Finland and Sweden...

, but most have perished and now Solovetsky Islands have some of the best remaining examples.


Historically the islands have been the setting of the famous Russian Orthodox Solovetsky Monastery
Solovetsky Monastery
Solovetsky Monastery was the greatest citadel of Christianity in the Russian North before being turned into a special Soviet prison and labor camp , which served as a prototype for the GULag system. Situated on the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea, the monastery braved many changes of fortune...

 complex. It was founded in the second quarter of the 15th century by two monks from the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery
Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery
Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery , loosely translated in English as the St. Cyril-Belozersk Monastery, used to be the largest monastery of Northern Russia. The monastery was dedicated to the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, for which cause it was sometimes referred to as the Dormition Monastery...

. By the end of the 16th century, the abbey had emerged as one of the wealthiest landowners and most influential religious centres in Russia.

The existing stronghold and its major churches were erected in stone during the early reign of Ivan the Terrible at the behest of St. Philip of Moscow
Metropolitan Philip
Saint Philip II of Moscow was a Russian Orthodox monk, who became Metropolitan of Moscow during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. He was one of a few Metropolitans who dared openly to contradict royal authority, and it is widely believed that the Tsar had him murdered on that account...

. At the onset of the Schism of the Russian Church
Raskol |schism]]') was the event of splitting of the Russian Orthodox Church into an official church and the Old Believers movement in mid-17th century, triggered by the reforms of Patriarch Nikon in 1653, aiming to establish uniformity between the Greek and Russian church practices.-The Raskol:...

, the monks staunchly stuck to the faith of their fathers and expelled the tsar's representatives from the Solovki, precipitating the eight-year-long siege of the islands
Solovetsky Monastery Uprising
The Solovetsky Monastery Uprising was an uprising of Old Believer monks, known as the Raskol, of the northern Solovetsky Monastery against the Tsar's policies...

 by the forces of Tsar Alexis.
Throughout the imperial period of Russian history, the monastery was renowned as a strong fortress which repelled foreign attacks during the Livonian War
Livonian War
The Livonian War was fought for control of Old Livonia in the territory of present-day Estonia and Latvia when the Tsardom of Russia faced a varying coalition of Denmark–Norway, the Kingdom of Sweden, the Union of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland.During the period 1558–1578,...

 (16th century), Time of Troubles
Time of Troubles
The Time of Troubles was a period of Russian history comprising the years of interregnum between the death of the last Russian Tsar of the Rurik Dynasty, Feodor Ivanovich, in 1598, and the establishment of the Romanov Dynasty in 1613. In 1601-1603, Russia suffered a famine that killed one-third...

 (17th century), the Crimean War
Crimean War
The Crimean War was a conflict fought between the Russian Empire and an alliance of the French Empire, the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Sardinia. The war was part of a long-running contest between the major European powers for influence over territories of the declining...

 (19th century), and the Russian Civil War
Russian Civil War
The Russian Civil War was a multi-party war that occurred within the former Russian Empire after the Russian provisional government collapsed to the Soviets, under the domination of the Bolshevik party. Soviet forces first assumed power in Petrograd The Russian Civil War (1917–1923) was a...

 (20th century).

Labor camp

After the October Revolution
October Revolution
The October Revolution , also known as the Great October Socialist Revolution , Red October, the October Uprising or the Bolshevik Revolution, was a political revolution and a part of the Russian Revolution of 1917...

, the islands attained notoriety as the site of the first Soviet prison camp (gulag
The Gulag was the government agency that administered the main Soviet forced labor camp systems. While the camps housed a wide range of convicts, from petty criminals to political prisoners, large numbers were convicted by simplified procedures, such as NKVD troikas and other instruments of...

). The camp was inaugurated in 1921, while Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Lenin
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and communist politician who led the October Revolution of 1917. As leader of the Bolsheviks, he headed the Soviet state during its initial years , as it fought to establish control of Russia in the Russian Civil War and worked to create a...

 was still at the helm of Soviet Russia. It was closed in 1939, on the eve of the World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. By the beginning of the war, there was a naval cadet training camp for the Soviet Northern Fleet.

In 1974, the Solovetsky Islands were designated a historical and architectural museum
A museum is an institution that cares for a collection of artifacts and other objects of scientific, artistic, cultural, or historical importance and makes them available for public viewing through exhibits that may be permanent or temporary. Most large museums are located in major cities...

 and a natural reserve of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

. In 1992, they were inscribed on the World Heritage List "as an outstanding example of a monastic settlement in the inhospitable environment of northern Europe which admirably illustrates the faith, tenacity, and enterprise of later medieval religious communities". Today, the Solovki are seen as one of the major tourist magnets in the orbit of the Russian North.


There is regular air service to Arkhangelsk, as well as regular passenger sea connections (only in summer) to Arkhangelsk, Kem, and Belomorsk
Belomorsk is a town and the administrative center of Belomorsky District of the Republic of Karelia, Russia, located on the Onega Bay on the shore of the White Sea. Population:...


In fiction

Science fantasy trilogy 'Monday Begins on Saturday
Monday Begins on Saturday
Monday Begins on Saturday is a 1964 science fiction / science fantasy novel by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky. Set in a fictional town in northern Russia, where highly classified research in magic occurs, the novel is a satire of Soviet scientific research institutes, complete with an inept...

' (1964) by Strugatsky brothers is set somewhere around Solovetsky Islands, in the fictional small town of Solovets. It is the site of NIICHAVO, the Soviet Research Institute of Magic, where the hero of the series works along with famous magicians of the past.

Further reading

  • Brumfield, William. Solovki: Architectural Heritage in Photographs (Moscow: Tri Kvadrata, 2008) ISBN 9785946071025 OCLC 255613915 (in English and in Russian)

External links

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