archipelago in Russia

Valaam is an island and archipelago in Ladoga, Russian Karelia. It has a special nature and is famous for the monastery from the 14th century. It is part of the Silver Ring of cultural and historical centers of Northwestern Russia.


Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral of Valaam Monastery, frozen strait in the background

Valaam (Russian: Валаам or Валаамский архипелаг), Finnish and Swedish: Valamo) is an archipelago in the northern part of Europe's biggest lake, Ladoga. It consists of 50-some islands with a combined area of 36 km2 (14 sq mi). Valaam is also the name of the largest island. The name of the island is from the Finno-Ugric word valamo, which means the high, mountain, ground.

The archipelago is best known for the orthodox monastery, dating back to the 14th century.

The island is permanently inhabited by monks and families. There is a kindergarten, an arts and sports venue, a school, a small museum and a medical centre. The community on Valaam has no official administrative status.


In the 12th century, the archipelago was part of the Republic of Novgorod, later merged into Russia. In the 17th century, it was captured by Sweden, but reconquered a century later.

It is not known how old the monastery is. Tradition has it was founded by a 10th-century Greek monk, Sergius of Valaam, and his Karelian companion, Herman of Valaam. Nowadays historians tend to think it was founded in the 14th century. The first known documents that mention the cloister, including the "Tale of the Valaamo Monastery", are from the 16th century.

The Valaam monastery was the first Orthodox monastery in Karelia, a northern outpost of the Eastern Orthodox Church against pagans and soon a western outpost against the Catholic, and later Lutheran, Sweden. In 1578 the monastery was attacked and numerous monks and novices were killed by the Swedes. The monastery was desolate between 1611 and 1715 after another attack, the buildings being burnt to the ground and the Karelian border between Russia and Sweden being drawn through Lake Ladoga. In the 18th century, under Russian rule, the monastery was magnificently restored.

When the Grand Duchy of Finland was set up in the early 19th century as an autonomous part of the Russian Empire, Alexander I of Russia made Valaam part of the grand duchy and thus, in 1917, part of newly independent Finland. There were some schisms between the government, the orthodox church of Finland and the monastery, with many monks not Finnish citizens, the monastery not changing to the Gregorian calendar, and other issues. The monastery however became an important destination for pilgrimage and tourism, and a centre for spiritual meetings, at most with some 30,000 annual visitors.

The monastery was gradually evacuated during the Winter War. The monastery was repeatedly bombed, but the books in the library, built to withstand fire, and the main church were unhurt. When the area was annexed by the Soviet Union after the Winter War, the monastery was moved to Heinävesi in the Finnish Lakeland as the "New Valamo".

Some of the things left in the monastery were destroyed while it was in Soviet hands. It was in other use until the fall of the Soviet Union, when it was returned to the church and allowed to continue its work. Much of the damage from the war and the Soviet times has been repaired.

The islands have been visited by famous persons, including members of the Russian imperial family and the composer Tchaikovsky. Putin has a dacha on one of the islands.

Landscape, flora and faunaEdit

Rugged nature of Valaam

The landscape is mostly rugged, but there are also gardens tended by the monks. More than 480 species of plants grow on the island, many of which have been cultivated by them. The island is covered by coniferous woods, about 65% of which are pine. Ten species of mammals and more than 120 avian species call the archipelago home.


The climate is influenced by the vast surrounding Ladoga. Spring begins at the end of March and a typical summer on Valaam has 30–35 sunny days, which is more than on the mainland. The average temperature in July is 17 °C (63 °F). The winter and snow arrive in early December. The average temperature of February is −8 °C.

Get inEdit

Boat in narrow channel with the St. Nicholas Skete ahead

There is a ferry from Sortavala to Valaam. During the summer, there are also tour boats from Saint Petersburg, leaving at night and arriving the following morning, and from Moscow, as well as ferries from Lakhdenpokhya (Karelian: Lahdenpohju) and Pitkyaranta (Karelian: Pitkyrandu). It is even possible to come by helicopter from Petrozavodsk. In winter there is a 42-kilometre (26 mi) ice road from Sortavala to the islands.

The trip by boat from Sortavala costs 750 руб one way. The journey takes 40 minutes. A boat leaves at 09:00. You get an excursion for 1500 руб (the boat leaves at 09:30), which includes visits to other sketes. There is a marshrutka on Valaam, which charges 70 руб for the 6 km (3.7 mi) between the Monastirskaja landing and Nikolovskaja landing. Walks on Valaam, visiting the sketes and crossing the bridges to some islets are pleasant. There is a small fjord north of the Nikolovskaja landing.

Get aroundEdit


The Skete of All Saints







Go nextEdit

  • The New Valamo Monastery and the Lintula Holy Trinity Convent in Heinävesi
  • The Orthodox Church Museum in Kuopio, Finland
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