Solovetsky Islands

Solovetsky Islands

Coordinates: 65°05′N 35°53′E / 65.083°N 35.883°E / 65.083; 35.883

Cultural and Historic Ensemble of the Solovetsky Islands *
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Solovetsky Monastery in 1915.
Country Flag of Russia.svg Russia
Type Cultural
Criteria iv
Reference 632
Region ** Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 1992 (16th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List
** Region as classified by UNESCO

The Solovetsky Islands (Russian: Солове́цкие острова́), or Solovki (Соловки́), are an archipelago located in the Onega Bay of the White Sea, Russia. The islands are served by the Solovki Airport. Area: 347 square kilometers (134 sq mi).

Administratively, the islands are incorporated as Solovetsky District (Russian: Соловецкий райо́н), one of the twenty-one administrative districts (raions) in Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia.[1] Municipally, they are incorporated as Solovetskoye Rural Settlement which belongs to Primorsky Municipal District. The administrative center of the district and of the rural settlement is the settlement of Solovetsky, located on Bolshoy Solovetsky Island. Almost all of the population of the islands lives in Solovetsky. District's population: 861 (2010 Census preliminary results);[2] 968 (2002 Census);[3] 1,317 (1989 Census).[4]



This archipelago consists of six islands known collectively as the Solovki:

  • Bolshoy Solovetsky Island – 246 km².
  • Anzersky Island (Anzer) – 47 km².
  • Bolshaya Muksalma – 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. The closest mainland is the Onega Peninsula.

The shores of the islands are very indented. They are formed of granites and gneiss. The relief of the islands is hilly (the highest point is 107 m). Most of the Solovetsky Islands are covered with Scots Pine and Norway Spruce forests, which are partially swampy. 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. Such labyrinths were typical for Northern Europe, 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 complex. It was founded in the second quarter of the 15th century by two monks from the Kirillo-Belozersky 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. At the onset of the Schism of the Russian Church, 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 by the forces of Tsar Alexis.

"Bombardment of the Solovetsky Monastery by the Royal Navy during the Crimean War". A lubok (popular print) from 1868.

Throughout the imperial period of Russian history, the monastery was renowned as a strong fortress which repelled foreign attacks during the Livonian War (16th century), Time of Troubles (17th century), the Crimean War (19th century), and the Russian Civil War (20th century).

Labor camp

After the October Revolution, the islands attained notoriety as the site of the first Soviet prison camp (gulag). The camp was inaugurated in 1921, while Vladimir Lenin was still at the helm of Soviet Russia. It was closed in 1939, on the eve of the World War II. 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 and a natural reserve of the Soviet Union. 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".[5] 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.

In fiction

Science fantasy trilogy 'Monday Begins on Saturday' (1964) by Strugatsky brothers is set somewhere around Solovetsky Islands[citation needed], 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.


  1. ^ Архангельское областное Собрание депутатов. Областной закон №65-5-ОЗ от 23 сентября 2009 г. «Об административно-территориальном устройстве Архангельской области», в ред. Областного закона №150-12-ОЗ от 4 мая 2010 г «О внесении изменений и дополнений в отдельные областные законы». Вступил в силу через десять дней со дня официального опубликования. Опубликован: "Волна", №43, 6 октября 2009 г. (Arkhangelsk Oblast Council of Deputies. Oblast Law #65-5-OZ of September 23, 2009 On the Administrative and Territorial Structure of Arkhangelsk Oblast, as amended by the Oblast Law #150-12-OZ of May 4, 2010 On Amending and Supplementing Certain Oblast Laws. Effective as of the day ten days after the official publication).
  2. ^ Федеральная служба государственной статистики (Federal State Statistics Service) (2011). "Предварительные итоги Всероссийской переписи населения 2010 года (Preliminary results of the 2010 All-Russian Population Census)" (in Russian). Всероссийская перепись населения 2010 года (All-Russia Population Census of 2010). Federal State Statistics Service. Retrieved 2011-04-25. 
  3. ^ Федеральная служба государственной статистики (Federal State Statistics Service) (2004-05-21). "Численность населения России, субъектов Российской Федерации в составе федеральных округов, районов, городских поселений, сельских населённых пунктов – районных центров и сельских населённых пунктов с населением 3 тысячи и более человек (Population of Russia, its federal districts, federal subjects, districts, urban localities, rural localities—administrative centers, and rural localities with population of over 3,000)" (in Russian). Всероссийская перепись населения 2002 года (All-Russia Population Census of 2002). Federal State Statistics Service. Retrieved 2010-03-23. 
  4. ^ "Всесоюзная перепись населения 1989 г. Численность наличного населения союзных и автономных республик, автономных областей и округов, краёв, областей, районов, городских поселений и сёл-райцентров. (All Union Population Census of 1989. Present population of union and autonomous republics, autonomous oblasts and okrugs, krais, oblasts, districts, urban settlements, and villages serving as district administrative centers.)" (in Russian). Всесоюзная перепись населения 1989 года (All-Union Population Census of 1989). Demoscope Weekly (website of the Institute of Demographics of the State University—Higher School of Economics. 1989. Retrieved 2010-03-23. 
  5. ^ "Cultural and Historic Ensemble of the Solovetsky Islands". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 10 August 2011. 

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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