Ancient Onion Domes Galore

Today, I’ll be taking you to Kizhi Island (pronounced KEE – ZHEE), a stop on my recent Russian river cruise. Kizhi Island, in Russia’s republic of Karelia, is located on Onega Lake, (one of Europe’s largest), near the Finnish border in the northwestern part of Russia and 250 miles northeast of St. Petersburg. Since the lake freezes in winter, most travelers only see this UNESCO World Heritage Site in warmer months, after icebreakers have cleared the way. Many examples of ancient wooden Russian structures are here and some date from the 14th century.

First glimpse of Kizhi

First glimpse of Kizhi

As our river ship approached the island, a breathtaking view of the Church of the Transformation greeted us. Twenty-two spectacular onion domes pierced the sky with scaly shingles shining silver in the sunlight. We were told it was built by Karelian carpenters in 1714, but most remarkably, not a single nail was used! How was that possible? The aspen dome pieces were notched together, as was the main structure of pine. Absolutely amazing!

Next to the Church of the Transfiguration stands the Church of the Intersession with ten onion domes, thought to have been built in 1764. The builders succeeded in blending both churches and later, the belfry, into a single complex.

Churches & Bell Tower

Churches & Bell Tower

"Silver" Onion Domes

“Silver” Onion Domes

After touring the church complex our group enjoyed strolling in the summer sun along a path that led us to other structures. One in particular stood out to me, because of its likeness to some homes I’ve seen in the mountains of Switzerland. This home housed the family, harvested crops and animals during the harsh Russian winter, the animals and crops below and family above, keeping all relatively warm. Here practicality and necessity worked together nicely. In the upper family living quarters, often there were enclosed sleeping areas situated adjacent to the central fireplace used for cooking.

Traditional Home

Traditional Home



It sounds toasty, but I have the feeling even with these features, it still must have been difficult to keep warm in the frigid winters. My poor little Florida body wouldn’t have fared well at all, me thinks. Although it was wonderful seeing and learning about how other peoples managed their lives in the harshest of circumstances, I’m glad I live in a warmer climate with all the amenities that are available to me. How do you think you would fare?

Did you know that scenes from the 2012 movie, Anna Karenina were shot at Kizhi, specifically, the home above and the church complex? If you have the chance, visit Russia and see for yourself the wonders of a spectacular and romantic country.


Filed under life, musings, Travel, writing

11 responses to “Ancient Onion Domes Galore

  1. “but most remarkably, not a single nail was used! How was that possible? The aspen dome pieces were notched together, as was the main structure of pine.” What do you mean, notched?

  2. Frances Bush

    WOW!! You write everything so beautiful, I enjoy your Blogs.

  3. Robert Warms

    History……….it’s amazing what was done so long ago, with so little materials, but high on innovation, practicality and good old ingenuity!!!
    Your blogs are very informative, well presented and written! Keep it up!!

  4. Thank you for sharing your journey. What an incredible place!

  5. Joan Trometter

    Loved the pictures, loved the architecture and the crosses on top of the onion domes. The log home kinda reminded me a little of my Lincoln Log home, (a little) !

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