Church of the Ascension, Gora Sekirnaya, Solovetsky Island, Russia.

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Gora Sekirnaya

Top choice in Northern European Russia

Literally translated as Hatchet Mountain, this infamous 71m-high hill was the site of tortures and summary executions described in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. The unassuming hilltop Ascension Church (1857–62) that doubles as a lighthouse was used for solitary confinement. A faint path leads to the clearing where prisoners were dumped in unmarked graves. Сrosses now mark some of these burial sites – the numbers on each indicate how many bodies were found at that spot.

Near the stairs leading up to the church, a larger 1992 cross commemorates all who died on Solovki. The site is about 10km from the village, 7km beyond the botanical garden towards Savvatyevsky minor monastery. Tours cost R480 and can be booked with the island's tourist office. You could also hike or cycle there.

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