Detour Kizhi Kmwm

One of the most stunning sights in European Russia, the island of Kizhi on Lake Onega was once a centre of paganism, but it was invaded by Christianity in the 12th century. Over the centuries churches have come and gone, but the collection of churches you can visit today date from the 14th to 18th centuries and make for a fascinating half-day trip from Petrozavodsk.

The entire island of Kizhi comprises an open-air museum of history, architecture and ethnography (§ in Petrozavodsk 8142-765 764; http://kizhi.karelia.ru; admission R500; S 8am-8pm). The centrepiece is the 1714 fairytale Transfiguration Cathedral (Preobrazhensky Sobor), with its chorus of 22 domes, gables and ingenious decorations to keep water off the walls. It is a gem of Russian wooden architecture and not a single nail was used in its construction. Next door is the nine-domed Church of the Intercession (Pokrovskaya Tserkov), built in 1764.

The other buildings in the collection were brought from the region around Lake Onega. The 19th-century peasant houses, some more ornate than others, are nicely restored inside. The little Church of the Resurrection of Lazarus, from the 14th century, may be the oldest wooden building in Russia. The Chapel of the Archangel Michael, with an interesting tent-roofed belfry, has an exhibition on Christianity in Karelia and music students from Petrozavodsk play its bells in summer. There are numerous other houses, barns, windmills and buildings open to exploration.

While Kizhi is open year-round, it is only practical to visit between June and August, when the lake is open to navigation. Hydrofoils (return R1000, VA hours) make the trip a few times a day from the Petrozavodsk ferry terminal, allowing plenty of time for visitors on the island, and returning in the afternoon. Call the ferry terminal (§ 8142-775 070) to confirm the schedule, which changes frequently.

In St Petersburg, you can also book two or three-day cruises that bypass Petrozavodsk, but stop at both Kizhi and Valaam. Contact Solnechniy Parus (§ 332 9686; www.solpar.ru in Russian; return from R6700).

collections of 15th- to 17th-century Karelian icons, folk art and other art inspired by the Kalevala, Finland's national epic.

While Petrozavodsk is a pleasant place to spend a few hours, most people come here to visit the magnificent collection of old wooden buildings and churches on Kizhi, an island 66km northeast of the city in Lake Onega. See the boxed text, above, for details.

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