Into the Forest
A Note on the Architectural Heritage of the Russian North
The Russian North is part of a vast boreal forest, or taiga, and its traditional archi-
tecture reflects that elemental fact. We can assume that indigenous Finno- Ugric
peoples, as well as Russian explorers and settlers from the medieval commercial
center of Novgorod, possessed the skills for constructing durable log structures.
The northern climate and terrain made such skills essential.
The Russian presence in the North also brought the spiritual culture of the
Orthodox Church, which had rich traditions of building in both wood and stone.
Although log churches and chapels might have been built in the area as early as
the eleventh century, the earliest surviving masonry structures appeared only at
the end of the fifteenth century, as control of the region shifted from Novgorod
to Moscow. The most notable example is the small Cathedral of the Nativity of
the Mother of God at Ferapontov Monastery (discussed in chapter 2). Apart from
its historical significance, the temple contains stunning frescoes by the Moscow
painter Dionisy, among the great achievements of medieval Russian art.
Despite difficult conditions and the paucity of skilled masons, the sixteenth
century witnessed the creation of a number of impressive brick churches in the
North. Of special interest are cathedrals in Vologda and Solvychegodsk, as well as
the ensemble of the Solovetsky Transfiguration Monastery. These structures de-
rive from the church architecture of medieval Novgorod and Moscow, but with
distinctive local modifications noted in the following chapters. (The characteris-
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