In this final examination of Kizhi Pogost, we return to the recollections of AN, who inspired this mini series, but first…
Fire and time
As we established last time, Kizhi’s compound does not contain the island’s original structures. Those medieval creations are now lost to history and referenced only in ancient texts.
Perhaps it’s best to think of the site in terms of a collective lineage, rather than monolithic structures, especially considering vulnerabilities inherent in the construction materials.
The current version of the compound was constructed during the 18th century, considerably more recent than we may have initially expected.
The larger, Church of the Transfiguration (for summer use) dates back to 1714 and was constructed after it’s immediate ancestor burnt to the ground following a lightning strike. Its companion, the (winter) Church of the Intercession was constructed in 1764. The current bell tower was constructed in 1862, and would experience two major reconstructions before the end of the 19th century!
Finally, a wooden fence was added in the 1950’s to delineate between holy and secular ground. The whole compound is in a state of slow flux, under time’s glacial pace, with ongoing repairs modifications and restorations undertaken both within and without.
“I’m sure that I have visited Kizhi at least four times” AN tells me. “The first time was in 1966/67. I was already aware of it because this is a very famous local memorial and also famous across the whole world.” I asked him how he perceived Kizhi at the time, being only 6 years old.
“I just knew that not far from my home is a very great, precious wooden memorial church. In our primary school, our teachers told us about our local land. Karelia, Petrozavodsk, and its surroundings.”
Being a local wonder, Kizhi was the local go-to destination for work-trips and celebrations of various kinds. It’s also the heart of a broader tourist industry, attracting visitors from across the world. AN continues:
“The 1st visit was with my parents. I lived in a military base – like a small village, where the fathers worked and families socialised. One person on the base organised family activities out of work – people not only worked together but also shared their free time. The organiser arranged a group trip to Kizhi for several families – approximately 20 people in total.”
AN tells me that the group was chaperoned and given a guided tour around the compound; an awe-inspiring experience for his young eyes. He reveals:
“I looked at the old wooden log walls and thought: ‘How could they build this?’. They were huge and made a great impression. It was normal to see hangars and barns that were 2-3 metres high and made of boards, but this was different!” The occasion held more surprises too; a different kind of ‘unusual’.
“When we arrived there were a lot of foreigners present. In that time, the mid 60s, European foreigners were very rare. They were very strange and interesting to me. Kizhi was (and still is) a place where they come to see part of Russian history.”
Times were vastly different then, compared to now: especially where foreigners were concerned.
“At that time Soviet people were not permitted to have contact with foreigners. Groups were kept separate. The authorities were very suspicious. Adult Russians wouldn’t talk to them as they feared being reported.”
The fact that AN’s group consisted of military-base personnel made such an endeavour especially risky. It’s preferable not to end a pleasant-day trip with hours of detention and interrogation, of course.
Kizhi still remains a remarkable, impressive and important historical/cultural location not only for Karelia but for Russia as a whole. In recent years it has become even more precious, with the addition of rescued wooden buildings, transported and reassembled on the island to form a living museum: The Kizhi Federal museum of culture and architecture.
Kizhi’s architectural wonders are an absolute must-see, especially now that external scaffolding, essential for several years of recent renovation, has been removed from around the Church of the Transfiguration (at the time of writing).
Due to the precious nature of the compound, a few basic rules are imposed upon those visiting the island, as Tripsavvy points out:
“Smoking is strictly prohibited on Kizhi Island except in certain areas. This is due to the delicate nature of the wooden structures – fires have wreaked havoc in the past. In addition, do not expect to stay on Kizhi Island overnight, as this, too, is forbidden.”