The Unique Town of Olonets

If you travel to the Karelia district of Russia, you will find a number of interesting small towns and cities to visit. One of these is the small town of Olonets which is situated on the Olonka River, east of Lake Ladoga. This charming little town serves as the administrative center of the Olonetsky District. In the year 2002, the population of the town of Olonets was found to be over 10 000 people. If you wish to know if there are more or fewer people living there now, you’d simply have to visit and find out for yourself.

Since the oldest documents pertaining to the settlement can be found in Novgorodian sources dated back as far as 1137, Olonets in Russia is thought to be the oldest documented settlement in the Karelia region. However not much is known about this early history. It was only when a fortress was built here in 1649 to protect the Muscovy against the Swedes, that Olonets ceased being an obscure little settlement in Karelia. In that year, it was granted municipal rights and it soon became an important town in the region. It played an especially important role as a place where trade between Russia and Sweden could be conducted and much of its growth during this period had to do with this trade. Unfortunately this trade was halted somewhat by the Great Northern War. The area to the south of Olonets became a sort of religious area where a number of fortified abbeys can be found. The most important of these was the Alexander-Svirsky Monastery, but unfortunately not much remains of these once imposing buildings.

During the late 18th century, Olonets was able to regain economic momentum somewhat, by shifting their focus from trade to industry with a specific focus on ironworking. Its importance increased in 1773 when it was made the capital of Olonets guberniya. Unfortunately this capital was later moved to Petrozavodsk and Olonets went into a decline once again.

Today Olonets is known for three main things. The first is that it is one of Karelia’s most historical towns, having recently celebrated 350 years of history. The second is that the majority of the town’s population is Karelian which has resulted in the third thing: Olonets is one of the only places in Russia where Olonets Karelian is still spoken. This language was widely spoken in Russia and Finland prior to World War II, but it has since become a dying language. Today there are a few people who speak this language scattered across Finland and Russia, but the majority of them can be found in Olonets. So come and discover the history, culture and language of Olonets for yourself!


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