Solovetsky Monastery was the greatest citadel of Christianity in the Russian North before being turned into a special Soviet prison and labor camp (1926–1939), which served as a prototype for the GULag system. Situated on the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea, the monastery braved many changes of fortune and military sieges. Its most important structures date from the 16th century, when Filip Kolychev was its hegumen.
Solovetsky Monastery was founded in 1436 by the monk Zosima, however, monks German (Herman) and Savvatiy (Sabbatius) from Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery lived on the island from 1429 to 1436, and are considered as founders of the monastery as well. Zosima also became the first hegumen of the monastery. After NovgorodianMarfa Boretskaya donated her lands at Kem and Summa to the monastery in 1450, the monastery quickly enlarged its estate, which was situated on the shores of the White Sea and the rivers falling into it. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Solovetsky Monastery extended its producing and commercial activity, becoming an economic and political center of the White Sea region. Its business activities includedsaltworks (in the 1660s, it owned 54 of them), seafood production, trapping, fishery,mica works, ironworks, pearl works etc., which engaged a large population in the area. Archmandrites of the monastery were appointed by the tsar himself and thepatriarch. Peter the Great visited the Solovetsky Island in 1694.
By the 17th century, Solovetsky Monastery had already had some 350 monks, 600-700 servants, artisans and peasants. In the 1650s and 1660s, the monastery was one of the strongholds of the Raskol. The Solovetsky Monastery Uprising of 1668–1676 was aimed at Nikon's ecclesiastic reform and took on an anti-feudal nature. In 1765, Solovetsky Monastery became stauropegic, i.e. it subordinated directly to the Synod.
Together with the Sumskoy and Kemsky stockades, Solovetsky Monastery represented an important frontier fortress with dozens of cannons and a strong garrison. In the 16th to 17th centuries, the monastery succeeded a number of times in repelling the attacks of the Livonian Order and the Swedes (in 1571, 1582 and 1611). During the Crimean War, Solovetsky Monastery was attacked by three British ships. Between the 16th and the early 20th centuries, the monastery was also a place of exile for the opponents of autocracy and official Orthodoxy and a center of Christianization in the north of Russia. The monastery also had a huge library of manuscripts and old books.
The pride of the monks was the monastery's garden which had many exotic flora, such as the Tibetan wild roses presented to the monks by Agvan Dorzhiev, a famous lama.
After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Soviet authorities closed down the monastery and incorporated many of the buildings into Solovki prison camp, one of the earliest forced-labor camps of the GULAG during the 1920s and 1930s. The camp was mainly used for cutting trees, and when the trees were gone, the camp was closed. Before the Second World War, a naval cadet school was opened on the island.
The territory of the Solovetsky Monastery is surrounded by massive walls (height 8 to 11 m, thickness 4 to 6 m) with 7 gates and 8 towers (built in 1584–1594 by an architect named Trifon), made mainly of huge boulders up to 5 m in length. There are also religious buildings on the monastery's grounds (the principal ones are interconnected with roofed and arched passages), surrounded by multiple household buildings and living quarters, including a refectory (a 500 m² chamber) with the Uspensky Cathedral (built in 1552-1557), Preobrazhensky Cathedral (1556–1564), Church of Annunciation (1596–1601), stone chambers (1615), watermill (early 17th century), bell tower (1777), and Church of Nicholas (1834).
Today, the Solovetsky Monastery is a historical and architectural museum. It was one of the first Russian sites to have been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. A small brotherhood of monks has appeared in the monastery again and it currently houses about ten monks. The monastery has recently been extensively repaired, but remains under reconstruction.References:
Sirmione castle was built near the end of the 12th century as part of a defensive network surrounding Verona. The castle was maintained and extended first as part of the Veronese protection against their rivals in Milan and later under the control of the Venetian inland empire. The massive fortress is totally surrounded by water and has an inner porch which houses a Roman and Medieval lapidary. From the drawbridge, a staircase leads to the walkways above the walls, providing a marvellous view of the harbour that once sheltered the Scaliger fleet. The doors were fitted with a variety of locking systems, including a drawbridge for horses, carriages and pedestrians, a metal grate and, more recently, double hinged doors. Venice conquered Sirmione in 1405, immediately adopting provisions to render the fortress even more secure, fortifying its outer walls and widening the harbour.
Thanks to its strategical geographical location as a border outpost, Sirmione became a crucial defence and control garrison for the ruling nobles, retaining this function until the 16th century, when its role was taken up by Peschiera del Garda.