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The Fascinating History of Kizhi

The island of Kizhi lies in Lake Onega, located in Russia's Republic of Karelia. Human settlement of the island dates back to the 15th century, if not earlier, with the small population living a rural lifestyle in and around a few villages. In the 18th century, the government coerced the people of Kizhi to work in developing the ore mine and iron processing plants in the region, which led to an uprising in 1769-1771. By the mid-20th century, most of the villages had been abandoned, with only a small rural settlement remaining. The two 18th century wooden churches and bell tower, known as Kizhi Pogost, also remained standing on the island and are listed with UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. During the 1950s a number of historical wooden buildings were transported to the island of Kizhi from around the Republic of Karelia in order to preserve them. Today, the island and some of the surrounding area serve as an open-air museum with more than 80 historic wooden structures for visitors to view.

The Kizhi Uprising is an important event in the history of the administrative entity known as Spas-Kizhi Pogost, consisting of Kizhi and neighboring islands. The rural community was disrupted by the discovery of rich deposits of iron ore which led to the development of ore mines and processing plants on the shores of Lake Onega in the early-18th century. At the instruction of Tsar Peter I locals were forced into doing hard labor and were punished when refusing to cooperate. In 1769, when the farmers were ordered to work at the mine and processing plant during harvest season, they refused as they needed to work in their fields. The rebel farmers were soon joined by up to 40,000 supporters from all over the district. They sent petitioners to state their case to authorities in St Petersburg, but they were arrested and punished. Military forces were sent to Kizhi Pogost in 1771 to suppress the uprising and, up against armed forces, the farmers surrendered. Some were sent to Siberia, and others were forced into military service, but locals were no longer forced to work in the mines and processing plants as a result of the uprising.

Visitors to the open-air museum will have the opportunity to see traditional farming methods, as well as skilled crafters producing embroidery work, beaded jewelry, knitting, weaving, spinning, woodcarving, pottery and the manufacture of traditional wooden toys. Bearing in mind that all the buildings are constructed from wood, without the use of nails, and some are hundreds of years old, the architecture is amazing. Also, the timber used in constructing the buildings was brought from the mainland, which could not have been an easy task all those years ago. So, if you have the good fortune of traveling to Kizhi, you make want to take some time to consider the island's history and the skill of the artisans who constructed its buildings.


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