МИХАЙЛОВА Л. В. CULTURAL LANDSCAPE AND SEMIOTIC SPACE OF MONASTERIES OF THE RUSSIAN NORTH // Studia Humanitatis Borealis. 2023. № 2. С. 21–29. DOI: 10.15393/j12.art.2023.3964

Выпуск № 2 (2023)


pdf-версия статьи

УДК 910.1


Кандидат философских наук,
доцент кафедры философии и культурологии,
Петрозаводский государственный университет Институт истории, политических и социальных наук,
Петрозаводск, Российская Федерация, larisa.mihailova@gmail.com
Ключевые слова:
культурный ландшафт
семиотическое пространство
Русский Север
Аннотация: В статье исследованы теоретические концепции «культурного ландшафта», представлен анализ данного понятия и определения понятий «культурный ландшафт», «антропогенный ландшафт», «природно-культурный территориальный комплекс» и др. Актуальность исследования связана с возрастающим интересом к региону Русский Север, на территории которого вновь открылись русские православные монастыри, сохранившие память об историческом и духовном прошлом нашей страны. Целью данной статьи является изучение культурного ландшафта Русского Севера, имеющего многослойную структуру. Задачи исследования – определить объекты культурного ландшафта, выявить различные слои культурных ландшафтов островов Валаамского и Соловецкого архипелагов. Исследование основано на применении методов сбора информации, ее классификации и анализа, моделирования, изучении архивных и других источников. В результате исследования определены основные слои культурного ландшафта островов Валаамского и Соловецкого архипелагов, составлено их описание.

© Петрозаводский государственный университет



The article explores the theoretical concepts of cultural landscape, analyses this concept, and defines similar concepts: anthropogenic landscape, naturally cultural territorial complex, etc. The concept cultural landscape has many interpretations being studied by different disciplines: culturology, geography, landscape subjects, history, ecology, and others. Currently, scientists cannot give an unambiguous definition to the concept of “cultural landscape” because it is many-sided and defines territory with natural objects and population with its unique culture filling this locus.

The term landscape was introduced into scientific discourse by the German explorer-scientist Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) who used it in his collection of popular science articles Pictures of Nature, published at the beginning of his scientific career in 1808 [6: 21]. One of the followers of А. Gumboldt’s ideas about nature integrity was his contemporary, another outstanding German geographer, professor at the University of Berlin, Karl Ritter (1779–1859). In his book “Europe” (1864) K. Ritter came to the conclusion that the mental and moral development of each nation, its material well-being and historical fate depend on the physical conditions of the area. He characterized the European landscapes as a single natural formation with various forms that merge into each other [18: 68–71]. As PhD in geography, professor of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, V.N. Streletsky noted, before 20th century landscape was understood as a systemic whole, including both natural and cultural phenomena – this is how it was interpreted, in particular, in classical anthropogeography[16: 51]. In the Russian language, according to N.P. Soboleva, the closest synonym to the term “landscape” is the word “locality”, i.e. territory with a single appearance and image [13: 22]. Researchers of the cultural landscape often used similar concepts to record and study phenomena closely related and intersected with the subject area of the cultural landscape. Although, Oswald Arnold Gottfried Spengler (1880–1936), a German researcher, representative of the philosophy of life, author of the book “The Decline of the West” did not use the concept cultural landscape, he touched upon this problem linking the emergence of cultural organisms with the “mother landscape” [15: 151].

We can also highlight other authors who studied the issues of the cultural landscape. For example, a German geographer, professor of geography at the University of Gaul Otto Schlüter (1872–1959) is considered the founder of the cultural landscape doctrine, since he was first to call the landscape transformed by man, a cultural landscape, or Kulturlandschaft (German) [20]. Another author who contributed to the study of this issue is the American geographer, Ph.D. in philosophy, one of the founders of cultural geography and the American school of cultural landscape, Carl Ortwin Sauer (1889–1975). His work Landscape Morphology was published in 1925. According to C. Sauer, the division of forms into natural and cultural is a necessary condition for determining the territorial importance and nature of human activity [19:53]. The German geographer, Professor of the Berlin and Bonn Universities Karl Troll notes that the cultural landscape, in addition to natural components, includes not only objects of economic culture, settlements, and transport, but also reflects the spiritual state of their inhabitants, their traditions, language, nationality, social structures, sense of art, and religion [21: 164]. Among non-Russian researchers of the cultural landscape, we should also mention Professor of the Geography Department, the University of Texas, Ph.D. Terry J. Jordan, the author of books on cultural geography, in which he considers the cultural features of the landscape. According to him, cultural landscape is an artificial landscape that cultural groups create by populating and inhabiting the land [7]. Denis Cosgrove (1948−2008), an eminent British cultural geographer and professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, studied the influence of dominant and alternative cultures on the formation of a landscape and concluded that much of it is the product of the region’s dominant culture. Cosgrove has argued that landscape is a social and cultural product, a way of seeing projected on to land and having its own techniques and compositional forms; a restrictive way of seeing that diminishes alternative modes of experiencing our relations with nature [3: 269].

In Russia, it was geographers, geologists, and soil scientists who were primarily involved in the study of landscapes. Among them were the most famous Russian geologist and soil scientist, professor of mineralogy and crystallography at St. Petersburg University V. V. Dokuchaev and his students. Dokuchaev singled out natural and economic complexes in natural zones with a specific material and spiritual culture of the peoples inhabiting them [5: 161–228].

The term cultural landscape in Russian scientific literature appeared in the 1920s in the works of the Russian and Soviet zoologist and geographer, student and follower of V. V. Dokuchaev L. S. Berg, who believed that it was necessary to study both natural and cultural landscapes [1: 463−475]. Currently, there are a number of terms synonymous and close in meaning to the cultural landscape term, as well as partially intersecting with it: anthropogenic landscape, naturally cultural territorial complex, etc. Anthropogenic landscape is a natural landscape significantly modified or artificially created by human. The term is often used as a synonym to agricultural and cultural landscapes [4].

As already noted, one of the first researchers of the cultural landscape in Russia were geographers who replaced the term cultural landscape with the term anthropogenic landscape. Thus, according to the concept of the Soviet and Russian physical geographer, landscape specialist, PhD in geography, professor F. N. Milkov, in the structure of modern landscapes of the Earth, the main role is played by natural-anthropogenic and anthropogenic complexes [11: 4–13]. Soviet and Russian geographer, PhD in geography, professor Yu. A. Vedenin believes that in the Russian scientific and geographical vocabulary, the cultural landscape concept is partly correlated with the concept of the anthropogenic landscape and is synonymous with the historical landscape concept [17: 12].

Ethnocultural concept of the cultural landscape by V. N. Kalutskov, PhD in geography, is based on the results of the study of the Russian North, which, in his opinion, is distinguished by folk culture with stable traditions and a system of national cultural symbols. According to Kalutskov, the cultural landscape is a naturally socio-cultural territorial complex. It includes a community of people, natural environment, economic activity, settlement, language system, and spiritual culture [10: 5–6].

N. M. Byzova considers the cultural landscape as a result of the evolutionary interaction between nature and human, his socio-cultural and economic activities. The natural basis changes either consciously and purposefully, or unintentionally; in each case it largely determines the characteristics of the material culture of peoples [2: 61]. V. L. Kagansky believes that cultural landscape is an earthly space, the living environment of a sufficiently large (self-preserving) group of people, if this space is both integral and structured, contains natural and cultural components, developed in a utilitarian manner, semantically, and symbolically [8: 62–70]. G. N. Kalinina and S. V. Tikunov define the sphere of the cultural landscape both as socio-natural and sign-symbolic formation. In their research, they turn to the semiotic concept of culture, which allows exploring the landscape space precisely as a sign-symbolic system of culture [9: 105−109].


The purpose of this article was to study the cultural landscape of the Russian North with its multilayer structure. The relevance of the study is associated with the growing interest in the Russian North region, where reopened Russian Orthodox monasteries to save memory about the historical and spiritual past of Russia. The objectives the study were to determine the objects of the cultural landscape, to reveal the various layers of the cultural landscapes of the Valaam and Solovetsky archipelagos. The study resulted in determination of the main layers of the cultural landscape of the Valaam and Solovetsky archipelagos, compilation of their descriptions.

The analysis of various concepts and definitions of cultural landscape allowed concluding that formulating cultural landscape is a complex task. On the one hand, geographically it is defined as a territory, which comprises natural objects, on the other hand, from the socio-cultural standpoint, it is a territory, in which an ethnos lives and its language develops. Therefore, our study considers the ethnocultural concept by V. N. Kalutskov as a basic doctrine. This doctrine considers the cultural landscape as a naturally socio-cultural territorial complex according to the following basic provisions: 1. Ethnocultural concept by V. N. Kalutskov is based on the results of the study of the Russian North. 2. The structure of the cultural landscape, according to V. N. Kalutskov, includes people community, natural environment, economic activity, settlements, language system, and spiritual culture. 3. Ethnocultural concept of V. N. Kalutskov makes it possible to substantiate the ethnocultural boundaries of the Russian North. 4. To establish the stages of the geocultural history of the Russian North. 5. To determine the main spatial properties of the Northern Russian cultural landscapes.

Our research is based, according to the concept of K. Sauer, on the study of various cultural landscape layers of the islands of the Valaam and Solovetsky archipelagoes, which were created throughout the history of the islands both in a diachronous sequence and synchronously.

The formation of a cultural landscape is a long-term process. Cultural landscape is formed at the final stage of the development of a certain territory by human. Let us consider the stages of developing a cultural landscape using the models based on the author’s concept of transformation of a natural landscape into cultural one by an ethnos in the course of its development and with the use of its language and toponyms.

Stage 1. Development of the natural landscape. Natural landscape is a natural human environment with numerous natural elements such as forests, mountains, rivers, lakes, rocks, swamps, etc. Settling of human or a community in a natural landscape causes alienation, seizure of a site, and its appropriation. For this purpose, the human builds or designates a border consisting of natural objects (roads, rivers, rocks, mountains, trees, etc.) and names them. We can see such examples on the map of Valaam: Krasnaya (Red) (mountain), Skalistaya (Rocky) (bay), Leshchevo (Bream) (lake), Ugrevaya (Eel) (bay), Zmeinyy (Snake) (cape) [12. On the map of Bolshoy Solovetsky Island, these are Beluzhya (Huso) (bay), Volchya (Wolf) (mountain), Kulikovo (Sandpiper) (lake), Lesnoe (Forest) (lake), etc. [14]. This is how a border landscape and a border semiotic space are formed.

The next step in the anthropological development of the natural landscape is creating sacred landscapes around the objects chosen for religious rituals. These can be mountains, stones, rocks, islands, trees, groves, rivers, etc. The names of these objects also become sacred. In 1st century AD, the population of Karelia consisted of Finno-Ugric tribes: Karelians, Sami, Vepsians. These tribes also moved to other regions of the Russian North. For the Sami, stones were sacred objects. Thus, for example, on the islands of the Solovetsky archipelago preserved ancient labyrinths, sacral stone structures, free-standing sacral stones – seids (translated from the Sami language “sacrificial stone”) (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Ancient sacred landscape: labyrinths, sacral stones. Bolshoy Zayatsky Island. Solovetsky archipelago. Photo by the author

Other objects of the natural landscape (rivers, lakes, capes, bays, meadows, meadows, groves, etc.) are named gradually, as the human becomes familiar with them. Thus, at this stage of developing a natural landscape, the human only explores the surrounding nature without making any changes to it. The names of objects given by human at this stage constitute the first, most ancient, layer of the cultural landscape.

Stage 2. Creation of an anthropogenic landscape. Anthropogenic landscape is formed around the places of human habitation and activity. The human begins to actively explore the natural landscape, which gradually recedes, moves away from him (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Valaam. Anthropogenic landscape. Photo by the author

Residential complexes and man-made landscapes (fields, gardens, parks, etc.) are the sources of new names that make up the semiotic space of the anthropogenic landscape, for example, Nikonovskoe (field), Dubovaya (Oak) (alley), Petrovsky (cape) (Valaam archipelago) [12]; Seldyanoy (Herring) (cape), Skotnyy (Stockyard) (barn-yard), Goncharnyy (Potter) (factory) (Solovetsky archipelago) [14].

Stage 3. Improvement of the anthropogenic landscape. The cultural landscape. As we have already determined, the anthropogenic landscape is created within the natural landscape. The cultural landscape is formed within the anthropogenic landscape, but not every anthropogenic landscape is a cultural landscape. An anthropogenic landscape arises as a result of any human activity, both positive (construction of houses, roads, bridges, etc.) and negative (water pollution, forest clutter, etc.).

The cultural landscape is, in our opinion, the spiritual component of the anthropogenic landscape. This is a natural landscape already mastered by the human, that is, an anthropogenic landscape, which, while transforming, acquires a new meaning. For example, the islands of the Valaam and Solovetsky archipelagos were originally visited by local fishermen living on the shores of the Lake Ladoga and the White Sea. They hardly affected the natural landscape, as they arranged only temporary accommodation for the night. The fishermen were followed by other inhabitants who arranged there pagan rites. Thus, this land was sacred for them. Therefore, these places with preserved monuments of pagan culture can be called a cultural landscape. A pagan temple on the Divny Island (the Valaam archipelago) with a wooden cross on top erected by the Valaam monks is an example of such a cultural landscape. A cultural landscape is also found on the Bolshoy Zayatsky Island (the Solovki Archipelago) with numerous labyrinths and sacred seid stones. Cultural landscapes have been created on the Valaam and Solovetsky Islands throughout the history of monasteries. These are, first of all, the central monastic complexes (Fig. 3), as well as architectural and landscape ensembles of sketes.

Fig. 3. Bolshoy Solovetsky Island. Solovetsky Monastery. Cultural landscape. Photo by the author

Mastering the landscapes of the Russian North, Orthodox monks transformed the harsh northern nature, creating cultural landscapes around the monasteries with flowering gardens and trees rare for northern latitudes. Trees were planted first of all in the deserts, next to the cells of the monks. For example, apple trees were planted in memory of the original sin of Adam and Eve. The monastery gardens reminded of the Garden of Eden as a place of eternal bliss. Thus, the Valaam Monastery with a cathedral and cell buildings is surrounded by three apple orchards. Apple orchards were also planted on Skitsky Island, Svyatoy Island, and other islands of the Valaam archipelago, where the monks lived in sketes. Numerous artificial plantings of cedar, larch, and oak, found on Valaam and other islands of the archipelago, both in groves, alleys, as well as in single landings play the role of the border between the cultural and the natural landscapes. They are exemplified by a fir alley connecting the Resurrection and Gethsemane sketes, an oak alley leading to the skete in the name of All Saints, and other landings on the islands of the Valaam archipelago.

On the shores of the Lake Khutorskoye, three and a half kilometers from the monastery, the Solovetsky monks planted their own botanical garden with a unique cedar grove, which preserved until our times. Its giant trees are still fruiting. Initially, under Archimandrite Macarius, there was the Makarievskaya Hermitage – a place of spiritual retreat for the leaders of the monastery.

The semiotic space of the cultural landscape is formed only as a result of the transformation of the anthropogenic landscape and includes the following components: residential complexes, civil structures, territories, cultural heritage, memorial complexes, and natural monuments. Their elements include residential complexes, civil structures, territories, cultural heritage, memorial complexes, natural monuments, the elements of which are buildings, roads, bridges, palaces, piers, chapels, temples, monastic ensembles, parks, alleys, reserves, and much more (Fig. 4). They are named when being constructed. Thus, most often a name, i.e. toponym, is invented earlier than the object itself. The examples of such names are Aleksandr Svirsky (skete), Voskresensky (Resurrection) (skete), Sosna Shishkina (Shishkin’s Pine) (natural monument), Monastyrskaya (Monastery) (road) (Valaam monastery); Listvennichnaya (Larch) Alleya (alley), Golgofo-Raspyadsky (Golgotha-Crucifixion) (skete), Isakovskaya (Isaac) (road), Andreevsky (Andrew) (skete), Tsarskaya  (Tsar) (pier) (Solovetsky monastery).

Fig. 4. Cultural landscape model



Cultural landscapes, in our opinion, resulted from the spiritual activity of the human and are often created in places that are sacred to him.

The cultural landscape is part of a well-maintained, transformed anthropogenic landscape, which, in turn, is formed when developing a natural landscape. Naming of each element of the natural, anthropogenic, and cultural landscape results in the formation of a semiotic space. The main role in the naming is played by the ethnos, or rather, its language. Each ethnos, with the help of its own language, forms its own semiotic space. Arriving of a foreign speaking ethnos to a locus settled by another ethnos leads to the formation of a new semiotic space. The border, which emerges when the two ethnos’s share the common semiotic space, gradually blurs and completely disappears when one semiotic space penetrates into another. The mutual influence of two or more semiotic spaces of different cultures leads to changes in the newly emerged semiotic space.

Thus, natural landscape on Valaam and Solovki was transformed into anthropogenic landscape, including fields, vegetable gardens, sheds, houses, etc. Within this landscape was formed a cultural landscape, consisting of architectural and landscape ensembles of sketes and central monastic complexes of the Valaam and Solovetsky monasteries. With the opening of male Orthodox monasteries on the islands of the Valaam and Solovetsky archipelagos the formation of the cultural landscape continues, as it is a long and constant process associated with human activities.

Список литературы


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