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Seven reasons to see Russian wooden churches


Erected by one man with an axe, Kizhi’s churches and bell towers have survived centuries of harsh weather, and World War II

More than 180,000 people come every year to see these churches on a tiny island in the Republic of Karelia in northern Russia.

Here are seven reasons why you should, too:

  1. The wooden architecture on Kizhi Island is considered one of the wonders of the world and is included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
  2. Legend has it that the architectural ensemble on Kizhi Island (situated in Lake Onega, 764 kilometers north of Moscow) — two churches and a bell-tower built in 18th-19th centuries — was constructed by one man, a carpenter named Nestor. According to the legend, the only tool he used was his axe and he did not employ a single nail. When the construction was finished in 1714, Nestor threw his axe in the lake so that nobody could repeat his masterpiece. There are, in fact, nails in these wooden buildings, but they were used only to attach decorative wooden panels to the slopes and not in the original construction.
  3. In World War II, a Finnish pilot flying over the area was in such awe of the unusual architecture of the wooden churches that he refused to obey an order to bomb Kizhi Island.
  4. The Assumption Cathedral in the Karelian town of Kem’ (1,105 kilometers from Moscow) is built from logs so thick that no human being could ever wrap their arms around them.
  5. Kizhi’s Church of the Transfiguration is currently undergoing restoration. The church is being lifted by a special construction device and is literally hanging in the air.
  6. The skilled carpentry of the Russian North is a disappearing art.
  7. In contrast to European architecture, Russian wooden churches are built with boards that lie horizontally, not vertically. It is considered to be one of the main secrets of the churches in northern Russia.

Olga Cherednichenko
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