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Built without a single nail, Russia’s Kizhi Pogost is one of the world’s oldest and tallest wooden structures

David Goran

Russia’s Kizhi island is popular for many historical wooden buildings that were moved to the island from various parts of Karelia for preservation purposes during the 1950s. Today, the entire island and the nearby area form a national open-air museum with more than 80 historical wooden structures.

Church of the Transfiguration, the Bell Tower and the Church of the Intercession-Kizhi Pogost. Photo Credit

Church of the Transfiguration, the Bell Tower and the Church of the Intercession-Kizhi Pogost. Photo Credit

The most famous among them is the Kizhi Pogost. It is a gorgeous UNESCO World Heritage site that contains a trio of ornate 18th-century church buildings made entirely of wood.

In 1990, it was included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites and in 1993 listed as a Russian Cultural Heritage site. Photo Credit

In 1990, it was included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites and in 1993 listed as a Russian Cultural Heritage site. Photo Credit

 

Details of the domes (Transfiguration Church). Photo Credit

Details of the domes (Transfiguration Church). Photo Credit

These unusual constructions, the two wooden churches (the 22-dome Transfiguration Church and the 9-dome Intercession Church) and the octagonal clock tower, in which carpenters created a bold visionary architecture, perpetuate an ancient model of parish space and are in harmony with the surrounding landscape.

Both churches are made from a combination of pine, spruce and aspen wood. Photo Credit

Both churches are made from a combination of pine, spruce, and aspen wood. Photo Credit

 

Belfry and the Church of the Transfiguration. Photo Credit

Belfry and the Church of the Transfiguration. Photo Credit

The Church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord is the most famous and outstanding construction of the whole ensemble. It was built in 1714 on the site of the old one, which was burnt down by a lightning strike. It is the most ornate, featuring 22 domes and reaching 121 feet in the air. Many thousands of logs were brought for construction from the mainland, a complex logistical task in that time. It was built according to the best Russian carpentry traditions — without a single nail.

These domes are notable for their emphasis, sophisticated proportions. Photo Credit

These domes are notable for their emphasis, sophisticated proportions. Photo Credit

 

Thanks to regular repairs, the Church of the Transfiguration survived into the twentieth century, but ceased to function as a religious site in the 1930s. Photo Credit

Thanks to regular repairs, the Church of the Transfiguration survived into the twentieth century but ceased to function as a religious site in the 1930s. Photo Credit1 Photo Credit2

A legend tells that the main builder used one axe for the whole construction, which he threw into the lake upon completion, with the words, “there was not and will be not another one to match it”.

built entirely from wood without the use of nails. Photo Credit

Built entirely of wood without the use of nails. Photo Credit

 

The church was built using interlocking wooden joinery instead of nails. Photo Credit

The church was built using interlocking wooden joinery instead of nails. Photo Credit

 

Inside the Transfiguration Church. Photo Credit

Inside the Transfiguration Church. Photo Credit

The Church of the Intercession was built in 1764, providing an admirable visual complement to the ensemble. This impressive nine-domed church 105 feet tall and church sit comfortably as one of the taller wooden structures in the world.  Eight domes of the Church of the Intercession surround the ninth, central one.

Church of the Intercession of the Virgin. Most wood is pine with spruce planks on the flat roofs. Photo Credit

Church of the Intercession of the Virgin. Most wood is pine with spruce planks on the flat roofs. Photo Credit

 

Each dome is made up of hundreds of diamond-shaped wooden tiles layered together to form the bulbous shapes. Photo Credit

Each dome is made up of hundreds of diamond-shaped wooden tiles layered together to form the bulbous shapes. Photo Credit

 

The original bell-tower rapidly deteriorated and was re-built in 1862, and then further restored in 1874 and 1900. Starting in 1929, bell-ringing was prohibited throughout the Soviet Union, and the bells of the Bell Tower remained silent almost 60 years, until 1989. Nowadays, there are twelve active bells in the Bell Tower of the Kizhi Pogost: nine old and three modern.