Kizhi Pogost: 300 Years Old Multi-Dome Church Built Without Nails

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Kizhi is a narrow strip of island on Lake Onega in the Republic of Karelia, Russia. The island is popular for dozens of 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. The most famous among them is the Kizhi Pogost.

The Kizhi Pogost enclosure holds two wooden churches and an octagonal bell tower built during the 18th-century. The jewel of its architecture is the 22-domed Transfiguration Church with a large iconostasis—a wooden screen covered with religious portraits. This massive church is about 37 meters tall and made entirely of wood making it one of the tallest log structures in the world.

The Church of the Transfiguration was laid in June, 1714, after the old one was burnt by lightning. Its major basic structural unit is a round log of Scots Pine about 30 cm in diameter and 3 to 5 meters long. Many thousands of logs were brought for construction from the mainland, a complex logistical task in that time. 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".

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According to the Russian carpentry traditions of that time, the Transfiguration Church was without using a single nail. All structures were made of scribe-fitted horizontal logs, with interlocking corners joinery. The basis of the structure is an octahedral frame with four two-stage side attachments called "prirub". The eastern prirub has a pentagonal shape and contains the altar. Two smaller octagons of similar shape are mounted on top of the main octagon. The structure is covered in 22 domes of different size and shape, which run from the top to the sides. The roofs were made of spruce planks and the domes are covered in aspen. The design of this elaborate superstructure also provided an efficient system of ventilation to preserve the structure from decay.

The Church of the Transfiguration was intended for use only during the summer as the church has no heating, and winter in Russia is terribly bitter. It was not uncommon in Russia to have paired churches, for summer and winter. At the Kizhi pogost, the adjoining winter Church of the Intercession was built in 1764, providing an admirable visual complement to the ensemble. Whereas the Transfiguration Church soars, the Intercession Church with 9 domes accentuates the horizontal, with an extended refectory.

In the 19th century, the churches was decorated with batten and some parts were covered with steel. Some of the original iconostasis was also replaced and lost. It was restored to its original design in the 1950s.

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Moskau - Karelien - St. Petersburg   13.-23. Juli 1991

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Kizhi Island church of the transfiguration

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Sources: 1, 2

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