Our Notes & References
Uncommon and fragile publication with attractive lithographed views of one of Russia’s most famous monasteries – unusually printed in Arkhangelsk, a major port on the White Sea.
The Solovetskii Archipelago consists of six large and many small islands in the Onego Gulf of the White Sea in northernmost Russia, close to the Arctic Circle. Historically the area was most famous for its monastery, founded in 1436, which emerged as one of the wealthiest landowners and most influential religious centres in Russia by the end of the sixteenth century. As shown on this rich pictorial record, it included a fortress and cathedral as well as many other buildings.
After the October Revolution, the monastery complex attained notoriety as the site of the first Soviet prison camp – or, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn called it, ‘the mother of the Gulag.’ The camp, whose geographical location made escape near-impossible, was inaugurated under Lenin in the early 1920s as a prison for political opponents of the new regime, and became a testing ground for ‘innovations in living conditions,’ work production norms and other forms of repression. ‘Solovki’ – the camp’s ironical diminuitive name – is frequently referenced in literature of this period.
The camp closed in 1939; with war imminent, it was deemed impractical to keep a base of ‘enemies of the people’ so close to the Finnish border. The buildings were transformed into a naval base.