From Petrozavodsk to Kalevala. Traveling around Karelia

According to Karelian mythology, the world was created by the goddess Itamar. Before that, she sailed for 700 years across the vast ocean. Once a duck flew into her and made a nest on her lap, in which she laid seven eggs. From these eggs appeared the earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars. Then Iltamar without the help of a man gave birth to a son Väinämöinen: “The wind blew the fruit to the girl, the sea gave her fullness,” the Karelian folk song says. Itamar was long pregnant and gave birth to a son immediately 30-year-old. Väinämöinen became the first man, hero, and clothing rune-singer and performed many miracles with the help of witchcraft.

All the mythical heroes of the Karelians lived in their own country – Kalevala. Despite the fact that the Karelians and Finns, who revered the same gods, stopped believing in Itamar and Väinämöinen, they celebrate Kalevala’s Epic Day every year on February 28. On the day of the holiday, costume parades and theatrical performances are held in the cities.

Karelia began to be populated already in the VII-VI millennium BC. The ancient inhabitants of Karelia left behind many traces, many of which have not yet been studied by scientists. Meanwhile, in 1936, scientists discovered a mass grave on the South Olney Island of Lake Onega, which dates back to the eighth millennium BC. Together with human remains, scientists found tools and arrowheads made of stone and jewelry from animal teeth.

On the islands of the Vyg River, you can see the Belomorsk Petroglyphs – rock paintings dating from the 4th-3rd millennia BC. Onega petroglyphs are scattered on the eastern shore of Lake Onega, which were supposedly created at the same time as the White Sea drawings.

On the same Lake Onega, there is a much younger and very popular Karelian monument among tourists. On the island of Kizhi, there is an ensemble of two wooden churches and a bell tower, built in the XVIII-XIX centuries. According to legend, the Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord was built by a carpenter Nestor with one ax without nails. After finishing work, he threw the ax into the lake so that no one could repeat his feat.

On the islands of the Valaam archipelago on Lake Ladoga, there is the Valaam Transfiguration Monastery, which is visited by about 100 thousand pilgrims every year. According to legend, the monastery was built on the site of a stone cross, which the apostle Andrew hoisted. According to another legend, in the 10th century, monks Sergius and German came to Valaam from certain eastern countries and founded a monastic brotherhood here. Now about 200 people live in the monastery. Hotels are open for pilgrims at the monastery, which can accommodate up to 200 tourists.

On the eastern shore of Lake Onega, there is another famous man’s monastery – the Murom Holy Assumption Monastery, founded, presumably, in the late XIV – early XV centuries. The monastery was founded by Lazarus of Murom, who in his spiritual testament called himself a native of Rome. On one of the islands of Vodlozero in Vodlozersky National Park, there is Ilyinsky Pogost – a man’s monastery, created in the 16th century by monks who went to Solovki. There is another version of the origin of the graveyard: the monastery supposedly appeared on the site of an ancient pagan sanctuary, where ancient tribes performed sacrifices.

Another interesting Karelian attraction is in the Olonets region. This is the village of Selga, the first mention of which dates from the beginning of the XVIII century. The village, famous for its old huts, has its own holiday and its own museum. In the same area is the city of Olonets, which was first mentioned in the 13th century and in which it is interesting to see the old churches and chapels, including the Lutheran Church of Ingria, founded in the 17th century by Finns. The Finns settled here the king of Sweden, then still owning this land.

The capital of Karelia is Petrozavodsk. Settlements on the site of Petrozavodsk arose in the seventh millennium BC, but the city was officially founded only in the XVIII century, after the opening of the Alexander Cannon Foundry. There are three state and republican museums in Petrozavodsk: the Kizhi Museum-Reserve, the Museum of Fine Arts, located in the building of the former Olonets Provincial Male Gymnasium, and the National Museum of Karelia. In addition to them, in Petrozavodsk you can still look at the private dollhouse art gallery, the Precambrian Museum of Geology at the Institute of Geology of the Karelian Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Museum of Industrial History of Petrozavodsk, the Maritime Museum and the Postal Museum.

Karelia is popular with outdoor enthusiasts. On the turbulent rivers of Suoyoki, Vama, Vodla, Okhta, and Uksa you can go kayaking. On boats and yachts, you can ride on Ladoga skerries, Lake Onega, Sandal, Segozero, Kuytto and Keret lakes. Travel companies organize short rafts for several hours and long trips for 3-7 days. In the republic, you can join jeep tours on soils and forest roads. Tour participants stop in ancient Karelian villages, inspect old churches, waterfalls, rocks, and lakes. It also organizes annual competitions in jeeps “Karelia Trophy”.

If you decide to actively relax in Karelia, then you need to register and receive a safety training in the Karelian Republican Rescue Service on the waters. You can also register at the district administrations and in search and rescue squads of the rescue service, which are in Kondopoga, Medvezhyegorsk, Kemi and Sortavala. It is advisable that during the movement the tourist group once a day contact the rescuers and report on their whereabouts.

Karelia is a great place for hunting and fishing. In the republic, you can hunt for a bear, elk, wild boar, beaver, marten, capercaillie and black grouse – but you need a license to hunt these animals. Hunting permits and licenses can be obtained in the regional divisions of the State Committee for Hunting of Karelia and in organizations with their own lands. Travel agencies also organize special tours with meals, accommodation in hunting houses and accompanied by a ranger. Fishermen go to Syamozero and Lake Onega for pike and perch, and salmon, grayling and whitefish are caught in rivers and rapids of the central and northern regions of the region.

Through the Karelia passes the international tourist route “Blue Road”, which connects Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. The length of the route is more than two thousand kilometers, for the most part, it passes along the banks of rivers and lakes. The path begins off the Atlantic coast of Norway in Mu-i-Ran and ends in the Karelian Pudozh. If you decide to go the Blue Road, it is most convenient to travel by car.

Petrozavodsk can be reached by train or by car along the Kola federal highway. An experienced driver can cross Karelia in 12-14 hours. Fans of outdoor activities often come to tourist camps, which are built in large numbers or put up tents. Prices for hotels and recreation centers range from 600 rubles per night at the Motel Nigizhma on the shores of Lake Onega to 32,500 rubles at Villa Vitale with its own pool on Lake Ladoga. And regardless of the choice of a berth, you will not come from Karelia without caskets or watches from Karelian birch, balls and shungite beads, tablecloths with Zaonezhsky embroidery and author’s dolls and paintings by Karelian craftsmen.

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