This highly memorable monastery is the island’s heart and soul. It’s contained within a very impressive kremlin of massive boulder-chunk walls whose six sturdy fortress towers are topped with conical wood-shingle roofs.
This low-budget theme park for Russian kids is a hilarious festival of kitsch. It’s supposedly Father Frost’s forest-bound home, and costumed staff somehow manage to keep a remarkably straight face as they play along with the farcical premise.
Vologda’s modest but attractive kremlin is the city’s historical centrepiece, a 17th-century fortified enclosure built as a church administrative centre to accompany St Sofia’s next door. Several of the sub-buildings now house museums (10am-5pm Wed-Sun). Most compelling of these is the extensive Regional Studies Museum , in the 17th-century Gavriilovsky Korpus.
Powerful five-domed St Sofia’s Cathedral has a soaring interior smothered with beautiful 1680s frescoes. The astonishingly tall iconostasis is filled with darkly brooding saintly portraiture The cathedral is said to have been built on the direct orders of Ivan the Terrible.
Don’t miss this active 14th-century monastery built in a splendid cacophony of architectural styles. Painted in circus-tent stripes, its powerful fortress towers are photogenically reflected in the river, best viewed from the nearby railway bridge.
This large grassy square houses three fine churches and a sturdy 1778bell tower , whose sweeping views justify the somewhat claustrophobic climb The five-domed, 1562 Nativity Cathedral has intriguing timber-encased corner buttresses and contains a splendid, if poorly lit, iconostasis.
This unusual two-room museum chronicles a little-known blip in WWI history. In February 1918, with the Germans approaching Petrograd, Allied ambassadors were ordered to evacuate. US ambassador David Francis suggested simply relocating. Studying a map, he chose Vologda.
By far Murmansk’s most memorable sight is a gigantic concrete soldier nicknamed Alyosha. His sheer immensity and curiously placid half-smile are mesmerising. Commemorating the fighters against the devastation of the Great Patriotic War (WWII), Alyosha’s hilltop perch surveys a vast sweep of Kola Inlet and snow-speckled Arctic moors beyond.
Literally translated as Hatchet Mountain, this infamous 71m hill was the site of alleged tortures in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago . The unassuming hilltop Ascension Church (1857–62) was used for solitary confinement, and bodies of prisoners who died from cold and starvation were thrown down its steep stairs.
Dating back around 4000 years, concentric swirls of shrub-covered stones known as labyrinths occur widely in northern Scandinavia, the Kola Peninsula and the outer Solovetsky Islands. Little Zayatsky Island alone has 13. A much more accessible example is just five minutes’ walk south of the Solovki Hotel.
In the 1630s monks on Anzer Island broke from the jurisdiction of the main monastery. What now seem minor religious disagreements would have been forgotten long ago had not one of the monks, taking the name ‘Vanquisher’ (Nikon), later become Patriarch of Moscow. Nikon’s church ‘reforms’ of the 1660s plunged the Orthodox Church into its deepest ever crisis.