Stories

Solovetsky Islands

by Wojciech Fedoruk - 3 years, 6 months ago

If you want to visit solovetsky Islands, you have at least two possibilities to do that. The simplest is taking a plane from Arkhangelsk (around 300 USD roundtrip, depending on the booking period). More difficult, but also more rewarding is by train from Sankt Petersburg (around 20 hours) or Murmansk (11 hours). Being in Murmansk I could not skip this place so I went there with my friend, taking a place in plackarta for around 40 USD one way. We left the train in Kem, a town in Karelia in the early morning, then taking a taxi to Rabotsheostrovsk (around 10 USD for 20-minutes trip, during the day there are shuttle buses for 3 USD). From Rabotsheostrovsk we tried to catch a ferry to Solovki, but the tickets were already sold. I recommend booking them in advance then. However, we took the ferry for pilgrims operated by the monastery, paying even slightly less (RUB 750 = USD 25) than for the civil ferry. After almost three hours we finally reached Solovki. Solovki are the place with extremely complicated history. From XVth century the place served as monastery and hermitage for the most devoted Orthodox monks, becoming during the ages one of the most important centre of Russian Orthodox church. The Bolsheviks, after taking over power in 1920s, wanted to kill to birds with one stone by closing the monastery, expelling the monks and using this place as a first GULAG (called SLON – Solovetsky Special Purpose Camp) in the empire. Solovetsky camp was one of the harshest in the Soviet Union (the conditions were widely described in Solzhenitzyn’s famous The Gulag Archipelago) and became the symbol of the Gulag system. From 1992 the monks came back to Solovki and from then the monastery reopened. Now undisputedly the most impressive place in the archipelago is Solovetsky Monastery, rounded by high walls made from huge stone blocks. The wall looks really amazing and I dare say that is more interesting than the monastery itself. Now, all buildings are subject to wide renovation but there is still lots of work to do. If you like the sumptuousness of the Russian Orthodox churches, Solovki is not a good place to visit. The walls are plain white and it is visible that the monastery was as a center of pure faith, solitude and atonement, rather than for flamboyant ceremonies. The must see place is also the museum of the Solovetsky Gulag, located a few hundred methers from the monastery, in the original camp building (actually, many of them, initially occupied by the camp administration, survived until now). I could not omit a small memorial valley with a stone devoted to the Polish prisoners of Solovki camp. After spending a couple of hours we took a ferry back to Kem and then train to Murmansk, but after three weeks we came back to Solovki on a yacht and spent a night there.


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