The Solovetsky Kremlin and the Bolshoi Zayatsky Island may be considered the two most interesting places on the Solovki. And if at the Kremlin you feel the monumentality of the Solovki, then at the Bolshoi Zayatsky Island you became strongly aware that you are in the subpolar zone of the Russian North.
The excursion boats depart for the Bolshoi Zayatsky Island from the monastery landing at 9 in the morning and return by 14 in the afternoon. It would be better to go on this excursion on the last day, when you are going to depart from the Solovki in the evening. But you should take care of the weather that the excursion is strongly dependent on since only small boats run on the route, and if the wind is strong, the trip is generally canceled. So, on the first day of your visit you should think about a trip to the Bolshoi Zayatsky Island with a glance to the weather forecast.
The boats come to the bay in the south of the Bolshoi Zayatsky Island. The bay had always been a transit point for those coming from the Onezhskaya Guba (Onega Gulf) to the Solovki and proceeding towards the north to the Kola Peninsula. It was there that several thousand years ago the people from the ancient tribes of the White Sea Region came and built their stone mazes and sanctuaries.
The nature of the Bolshoi Zayatsky Island is very different from that of the Solovki, where one can see a common northern forest, or the Botanic Garden of the Makarievskaya Hermitage, where the monks even cultivated water-melons. And on the Bolshoi Zayatsky Island one can admire the beauties of the true subpolar landscape. The ground is covered with boulders overgrown with northern mosses. Here and there one can see dwarf trees, and the ground is covered with a continuous thick carpet of berry bush and grasses. The Bolshoi Zayatsky Island was declared a reserve zone.
The unique attractions of the Bolshoi Zayatsky Island are the stone mazes and sanctuaries of the ancient tribes of the White Sea Region. In the northern regions of Europe there survived many stone mazes dating back to 1-2 millenniums Before Christ, but the biggest of them are on Bolshoi Zayatsky Island. During the excursion you can see 4 mazes, including the largest in Europe stone maze of 30 meters in diameter.
Scientists still disagree as to the purpose of these mazes. According to some versions, they were intended for cultic dances and khorovods (round dance). Maybe, they were used for ritual purposes – a pyre was made in the center of the maze, so that the soul of the dead could not leave the other world. Apart from the mazes, on the island one can see the ancient burial mounds (about half a meter of height) made of boulders.
Several thousand years later the monks came to the Bolshoi Zayatsky Island and founded there the Skit of St. Andrew, but they left intact the ancient pagan sanctuaries, and so they survived to our time.
The wooden Church of St. Andrew the First-called was built 1702, at the time when the tsar Peter I departed for the Solovki but because of bad weather was forced to land on the Bolshoi Zayatsky Island and stay there for several days waiting for an opportunity to proceed to the Solovki. According to the chronicles, Peter the Great in person took part in the construction of the church, that is, he himself cut the trees with an axe.
Eventually, there was founded a large skit and built over 20 dwellings and outhouses on the island. They did not survive to our time and now you can see only the Church of St. Andrew, a barn and a lednik (ice cellar for foodstuffs). Earlier the skit was engaged in fishing supplying the other skits: Ascension skit on the Sekirnaya mountain, Savvatievo skit and St. Isaac skit, as well as the monastery properly, - with fish.