The Kizhi Museum is one of the largest open air museums in Russia. It is located on one of the many islands in Lake Onega, in Karelia. Two 18th-century wooden churches, and an octagonal clock tower, also in wood and built in 1862, can be seen there. These unusual constructions, in which carpenters created a bold visionary architecture, perpetuate an ancient model of parish space and are in harmony with the surrounding landscape. This unique historical, cultural and natural complex is a particularly valuable object of cultural heritage of the peoples of Russia. The basis of the museum collection – the Kizhi Ensemble – is the UNESCO World cultural and natural heritage site.
Kizhi Pogost is an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble typical of medieval and post-medieval orthodox settlements in sparsely populated regions where evangelists had to cope with far-flung Christian communities and a harsh climate. The pogost (enclosure) and the buildings grouped together to form the site museum on the southern part of Kizhi are exceptional examples of the traditional wooden architecture of Karelia and more generally of that of northern Russia and the Finnish-Scandinavian region.
Kizhi is located in the heart of an unreal landscape where the sky, reflected in the limpid waters of Lake Onega, seems to hold suspended in the pristine air hundreds of small islands. In summer they seem to sparkle in the sun. Long used as a landmark by sailors navigating through the White Sea, it appears to visitors arriving nowadays via hydrofoil from Petrozavodsk, the capital of the Karelian Republic 68 km to the south, as a glistening three-faceted jewel.
The pogost is on a narrow strip of land on the southern tip of the large island of Kizhi. It includes two 18th-century wooden churches and an octagonal bell tower, also of wood, which was built in 1862. These amazing structures, in which the science of carpentry created a bold visionary architecture, perpetuate a very ancient model of parish space that developed when the Orthodox Church began to spread to the northernmost reaches of the Russian world where small villages were widely scattered over an immense area. It was therefore necessary that the church, the graveyard and the buildings needed for the far-flung communities' religious life be grouped together in one place. The Kizhi pogost dates from the Middle Ages. Chronicles from the 16th century are the first to explicitly mention the existence of two wooden churches there. Destroyed by lightning in 1693, they were rebuilt on the same site.
Within the wooden polygonal enclosure, standing on either side of the rudimentary bell tower built by the carpenter Sysoj Osipov, are the two churches, the larger of the two, the summer church, on the north and the winter church on the south. The Church of the Transfiguration was used during the summer, when the faithful journeyed from the outermost regions of the parish to attend services. A dendrochronogical study of the materials sets its construction date after 1713-14. The octagon which defines the composition of the cruciform church is extended by oblong bays facing the four cardinal points. The nave, flanked with side aisles, is preceded on the west by a projecting narthex reached via two staircases. The height of the Church of the Transfiguration, whose central cupola culminates at 37 m, is a masterpiece of a multi-storey, multi-cupola, single-block structure, such as had already appeared in the high Middle Ages at Saint Sophia of Novgorod. Here, over a central volume covered with three octagonal frames, the architect placed bochkas (roofs whose peak is shaped like a horizontal cylinder with the upper surface extended into a pointed ridge) topped with 22 bulbous cupolas. Inside, under the so-called 'heaven' - a superb vault shaped like a truncated pyramid - there is a gilded wood iconostasis holding 102 icons from the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Church of the Intercession (Winter Church) is a simpler structure. Built in 1764, it is of the 'octagonal prism on a cube' type. The crown of eight cupolas encircling the 27 m high central onion dome, and which covers the central parallelepiped space, gives it a more static appearance. To the east a five-sided small apse contains the altar. To the west is a long nave accessible by a single stairway.
"The pogost of Kizhi (i.e. the Kizhi enclosure) is located on one of the many islands in Lake Onega, in Karelia. Two 18th-century wooden churches, and an octagonal clock tower, also in wood and built in 1862, can be seen there. These unusual constructions, in which carpenters created a bold visionary architecture, perpetuate an ancient model of parish space and are in harmony with the surrounding landscape."