Valaamsky arhipelago nature park

The author of the text - A. A. Kuchko


Great Russian scientist Dmitry Mendeleev called Valaam a nature phenomenon. Having visited it in 1861 he was amazed with unusual nature of this Russian corner, and mentioned it a few times in his memories.

Other travelers, who visited Valaam, were also delighted with it. They described it with the following words: "wonder-island", "magic land". "Valaam is very pictorial" – wrote young I. Shishkin after his first visit to the island. The chief of the hydrographic expedition in 1858-1868 A. Andreev, who was the first to write a scientific monograph about Ladoga lake, couldn’t help writing about the island too: "However Valaam is a charming corner in the severe climate of this place. Its nature is a peculiarity, which can’t be seen anywhere in Europe". The following record about Valaam was made in one of the monastery books: "It is the opinion of a traveler, who made two circumnavigations, that a picturesque entry from Ladoga lake to Monastery bay is one of the most beautiful in the world. But what will this traveler say if he see Moscow channel and other places of Valaam, which are ven more beautiful that the bay".

There was a tradition of St. Petersburg Academy of Arts that the best seniors drew their classific works on Valaam. Many of these pictures are united under one name "View of Valaam". Nowadays the tradition is to be revived.

Speaking about the artists, who celebrated Valaam, we can’t miss N. Roerich. He visited the island a few times. Being under the impressions of the island he drew few pictures, including famous "Saint island". Soviet artists also devoted many of their pictures to the island – G. Stronk, A. Avdyshev, B. Smirnov-Rusetsky. In the postwar period a great American artist R. Kent visited Valaam. After the visit he said jokingly that he would consider it an honour to be a mayor of the island.

Name "Valaam" is ambiguous. It is mostly used to name an island, but it is also the name of a whole archipelago of 50 islands and the village, which is located here. Valaam island is situated in the north part of the largest in Europe Ladoga lake, 40 km away from its shores. The area of the island is 2845 hectares, the area of the archipelago is 3600 hectares. Skitskiy island is situated close to Valaam. It is not large with the area of 277 hectares. This is the second largest island in the archipelago. There are lots of small islands, some only a few  hectares large.

Valaam island along with Skitsky island compose an irregular triangle. Two longest axes are situated almost athwart one to another and are 10 and 8 km long, separate isthmus are no longer than 1-2 km. Small groups of islands are located around Valaam. In the west there are Nikonovskie islands, in the southeast – Emeljanovy (Oboronnye), in the east – Kamennye and in the west – Fedorovskie and Monastyrskie. From the northwest corner of Valaam, which is called Tchernyi Nos, groups of the most distant islands Baevsky and Krestovyi go to the east.

Many islands of the archipelago have two or more names. Thus, Svjatoi island is also called Vysoky, Staryi Valaam, Ugrjumyi and Jablonevyi. Sometimes islands are named differently on different maps. The most widespread are Finnish names, which translate the previous names of the islands.

The most likely meaning of the word "Valaam" is "high land". Indeed, the archipelago looks like a model of a hilly country with its own peaks, steeps and ravines. The relief of Valaam is partitioned, but true altitude here is not large. The highest island of the archipelago is Lembos island, the area of which is 1 square km. The altitude of the island is 58.2 meters. The altitude of Skitskiy island is 51.8 meters, Valaam’s altitude is no more than 42 meters. Some of the steeps are underwater for 200 meters.

There are ten internal lakes on Valaam. The largest is Sisjarvi lake, which is very picturesque. Its shores are indented with long and narrow bays, which look like fjords. The lake is connected with Ladoga by three short channels. The area of the lake is 80.5 hectares, the maximum depth is 10.5 meters. Other lakes are much smaller and shallower. Fish species of the lakes are not very various. But the lakes are inhabited with 4 fish species typical for the southern regions. These are tench, crucian, rudd and umber. The climate of Valaam is formed under the influence of Ladoga lake. Winter here is mild – average temperature in February is minus 8.6 C. Summer is quite warm, but according to the records of the monastery, "hot summers are very rare". Fogs are usual in spring and autumn. However, in summer the air is cooling very quickly too, so the nights are also moist. Winds blow almost all the time and are so strong that can uproot even the largest trees. Still the climate of Valaam is favorable for plants if compared to that of the mainland. So many rare species of plants and trees can be seen on the island.

Valaam is also famous for its historical and architectural monuments, which are closely connected to the history of male Monastery of Savior and Transfiguration. In the time of its prosperity (late 10th century) the monastery had a diversified agriculture, which included tillage, truck farming, gardening, cattle breeding and fish-farming. Different workshops were on the island: locksmith's workshop, smelting-house, forging shop, saw-mill, painting-house, etc. Hermitages have been built in the different parts of the island. By 1917 there had been 12 hermitages there. Good roads connected all of them. Many of the hermitages were wonderful architectural ensembles, which perfectly fit in the environment. Different trees, brought from other countries, were planted near the hermitages and the roads. Chapels, crosses and arcs filled up the view. Draw-wells with pure water, drainage systems and navigation canals astonished the visitors. But the most impressive thing on the island was a huge architectural ensemble, composed of 2- and 3-storied cell buildings and the Monastery of the Savior and Transfiguration. The height of its belfry is 72 meters. lots of pilgrims were attracted to the monastery because of its unique nature and architectural monuments. The number of pilgrims especially increased after a steamship line Saint-Petersburg – Valaam – Serdobol (Sortavala) was opened in 1842. The program of a trip to Valaam included visiting all the hermitages.

Nowadays Valaam is a great attraction too. Moreover, its popularity is increasing year after year. In the 1960-s 15-20 thousand tourists visited the island each summer, in 1972 this number increased up to 120 thousand. There appeared to be a real threat both for the monuments and the nature. It was decided to organize Valaam historical, architectural and nature museum in order to avoid unorganized mass tourism. In 1984 the smallest in Karelia Valaam forestry responsible for the safety and renewal of forests and gardens was organized here.

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