Kizhi Island, Russia, is part of the 40 islets of the Chardonian Archipelago in the center of Lake Onega and covers about 6 km.

Wooden architecture can be found throughout Russia, but Kizhi Island boasts some of the nation’s most famous and intricate examples. These structures date back several centuries (the oldest of the 14th century), and some of them have been transported to the island so that they can be preserved and accessible to the public.

On this wonderful island of Kizhi the original building complex, Our Savior’s Pogost, is, since 1990, on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

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Kizhi Island ©airpano.com

Greatest open-air museum

While many of the buildings on Kizhi Island have remained standing for centuries, it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that the Soviets decided to turn Kizhi Island into an open-air museum.
Kizhi State Open Air Museum of Wooden Architecture, begun in 1951, is a complex of churches, houses, wind and watermills, forges, stables, bell towers, and Russian saunas, inserted in a beautiful natural setting.

Centuries later the construction, the majority of the settlements went into decline, but a new chapter in the history of Kizhi began in 1966 when it was decided to restore two wooden churches and a belfry. Then wooden architectural monuments from other historical villages of Zaonezhie were moved here so now it has become one of the greatest open-air museums in Russia.

It is a stunning example of Old Russian architectural art and the ultimate mastery of craftsmanship. Kizhi presents itself with unique architectural monuments, artistic objects and for the home, which reproduces three centuries of wood art. 

In fact, the Russian, Karelian, and Veppsian villages present in various regions of Karelia, in the provinces of Olonets and Arkhangelsk until the late 19th century, the first restored ancient houses and then reproduced them following ancient schemes, techniques and materials, and the island is on display with several residential villages, where many houses are also monuments of wooden architecture.

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Kizhi Island – wooden architecture ©airpano.com
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Kizhi Pogost ©airpano.com

The Church of the Transfiguration

The Church of the Transfiguration is the most famous and most important construction of the complex. It was built during the Northern War (1700–1721), while Russia was confirming itself as a power on the shores of the Baltic. The church became an expression of the great talent of its people. The Church of the Transfiguration is the unsurpassed summit of popular Russian wooden architecture. 

In its composition, the best traditions of the Nordic wood carpenters have been fully realized, the idea of peasant beauty, born with constant work, in a perennial link with the field, the forest, the lake, and their home. In the architecture of the whole complex, you can feel paganism, Orthodox festoism, the severe asceticism of the ancient rituals, the Baroque, the breath of the culture of the indigenous people of these places: the Karelians and the Vepsy. 

The Church of the Transfiguration of Kizhi island was erected at the site of the old church, set on fire by lightning. Its height up to the cross of the central dome is 35 meters. With the cross, you get to 37 meters. The church is of the octagonal type on several levels. Pinewood, tremolo, and fir were used for the building material.

From a constructive point of view the church is built “dry”, that is, without a tow or moss seal, moreover the church has no double doors, windows, nor a heated floor or ceiling.

The central volume consists of three decreasing ranges of measurements. The 22 domes are covered with plows that fly in the sky on several levels, creating a truly unique and unmistakable silhouette. The size of the domes varies depending on the level: in the second level, they are a little smaller than in the first, in the third, they are larger than in the second, in the fourth, they are smaller. Above them, about three times larger, a huge central dome, which crowns the whole composition.

The refectory is covered with a three-level leaning roof, the entrance to the church is covered with a porch. The church was adorned with boards in the early 19th century, the domes are lined with watertight iron. The sheath was dismantled and the roof was rebuilt of shingles and plows during the restoration of 1950 under the direction of architect A.V. Opolovnikov.

During the construction of the Church of the Transfiguration, the architects thought not only of the beauty of the lines and architectural forms but also paid attention to the practical side to give eternity to this wonderful construction. Many parts and details of the church that are thought decorative, actually have a protective function. The domes, the barrel vault, the tunnels, the arcades are united not only in an elegant architectural composition but also in a single technical system, designed to the details of rainwater drainage and protection from atmospheric precipitation. 

Even if a drop of rain were to pass through the roof, the water would not damage the paintings since a second roof made of massive wooden beams, a layer of birch bark, and a birch net is inserted inside the octagon.  

The interior of the church is simple, but of great beauty: there are no particularly demanding frescoes or carvings. On the contrary, there are solid log walls, large wooden boards on the floor, and massive door jambs, only the benches, placed along the temple walls, are slightly carved.

The church has no foundation and is placed on a stone plinth, only under the aisle of the western church, in 1870, a base with lime mortar was prepared.

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Church of the Transfiguration ©airpano.com
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Church of the Transfiguration – top view ©airpano.com
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Church of the Transfiguration – roof ©airpano.com

The Church of Intercession

The Church of the Intercession of Kizhi was built next to that of the Transfiguration half a century later, in 1764, although, according to some documents, the date could be brought forward by a few years. Its height is 27 m. The architects-designers, who remained unknown, had to answer a question: what should the new temple look like, so as not to get lost near a miracle of 22 domes of the Church of the Transfiguration?

The solution was found as follows: the Church of Intercession integrates echoing that of the Transfiguration, responds to it as an echo to its exclusive architecture.

The eight crowns of the Church of the Intercession surround the central none. The church balances its composition, extending upwards with the top of the octagon and culminates with a balanced Poval.

The Church of intercession has been decorated with much thrift. The sculpted and serrated belt of the pediment gives the “monumental structure a note of warmth and pure love of the Russians to embroidered elegance” and is one of the few decorative elements of this temple. However, all elements are not only decorative but functional as protection from moisture. Each tooth of the pediment belt is grooved where rainwater is collected.

The wave of renewal of the second half of the 19th century also affected the Church of the Intercession: the wall was enlarged obliquely between the church buildings and the refectory, the walls were plastered.

Screening of the church has shown that it has been restored several times, probably three. Dendrochronological analysis of logs shows that they were prepared in the late 17th century, suggesting two hypotheses:

  • The church was built in 1764 with prepared and unconcealed material from the late 17th century; in 1764 the church was restored and then built at the end of the 17th century.
  • More likely is the second hypothesis that the church was built in several stages until it got its present appearance.

The small size and simplicity of the interior are characteristic of the churches of the north, although, however, the main thing is the external appearance.

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Church of Intercession ©flicker.com
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Church of Intercession – roof ©flicker.com

The Church of the Resurrection of Lazarus

The church is the oldest of the museum’s exhibitions and is one of the oldest preserved buildings on Russian territory. You could call it miniature architecture so small its size, but at the same time, it has harmonious and elegant shapes. Its height is 7.1 m, the length is 8.8 m, the total area is 4.9 m². It consists of three bodies of different sizes. The cult part is crowned by a small dome with the cross covered with plowshares.

In 1959 it was transported to Kizhi by Murom monastery and renovated. It occupies a special place in the museum exhibition because it helps to follow the path of evolution and development of the art of working wood: from a simple structure to the composition to multiple domes of the Kizhi Pogost. In the 1980s the church was fenced off by a wooden fence.

The temple, silvered over time, with a certain museum arrangement was put not far, almost at the foot, of the Church of the Transfiguration and the Church of the Intercession. There are no foundations (as with that of the Church of the Transfiguration), the building lays on huge stone boulders.

The oldest part consists of a cubic prayer room and a rectangular one that houses the altar. Both volumes end with three-circumference apses, crowned by steep hut roofs and an onion-shaped dome with the cross. Some violations of the geometric design, such as the walls of the altar not perpendicular, the asymmetry of the layout of the windows, especially those of the altar give further charm to the church. 

The deviation from the architectural canon of the church of Lazarus is not randomization, identical trends meet in many wooden churches in northern Russia. The specification of their architectural resolution is a legitimate result of the adaptation of the canon to the traditional peasant environment, probably under the influence of housing or commercial buildings.

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Church of the Resurrection of Lazarus ©airpano.com

Kizhi Pogost Pavilion Bell Tower

The bell tower was built in 1863 in place of the old one due to its dilapidated state. Its height is 30 m.  In 1872 I. Koposhev modified the renovation project “due to the impossibility of approving the planned refurbishment of the bell tower octagon”. It is hypothesized that in 1874 renovations were carried out on the upper part of the bell tower.

In plan, the square structure is divided by two longitudinal walls in three parts: the vestibule, the staircase, and the storage room. In height, the internal volume of the bell tower is divided into three levels connected by a staircase that leads to the bell cell. The bell cell with nine beams supporting the tent is placed above the octagon and is crowned by a dome of plows with a cross. The external doors are paneled.  The roofs are covered with two layers of two-channel cladding for the rainwater drain duct.

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Bell Tower ©airpano.com

The Chapel of St. Michael the Archangel

It is located in the center of the museum’s main exhibition. It is small and measures 11×3×12cm. It is positioned in an open place, among the grasses and country flowers, its silver plow shines at the sun’s rays, the shadows of the cropped fixtures play cheerfully, its bells announce and invite the whole area to the party. 

The chapel was transported to Kizhi from the village of Lelikozero in 1961, where it lay on a hill in open ground. Since the chapel had been deprived of the usual pine adornment, so typical of the northern chapels, the architect thought of decorating it in a more picturesque way. 

The building belongs to the Klet’ type chapel and consists of three parts. The construction is shaped like a rectangle, extending from east to west. The western part of the chapel on the north side has a rectangular extension of the vestibule. The chapel looks west from the double window.

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Chapel of St. Michael the Archangel ©flicker.com
Chapel of St. Michael the Archangel – back view ©flicker.com

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