Beginning in the 14th century, Kizhi Island was part of an exchange route between Novgorod and the White Sea. By the 16th century about a hundred settlements populated Kizhi including neighboring islands and the entire area became known as Spas-Kizhi Pogost. By then it had become an important source of iron ore. In the 18th century, because Tzar Peter I had begun industrial reforms, several ore mines and metallurgy plants were built on the Onega Lake (at the current sites of the modern cities Medvezhyegorsk and Petrozavodsk).
These plants demanded hard physical labor–cutting forests for wood, coal burning, ground works–all performed by local peasants. The labor was forced. If they disobeyed peasants were punished by public beating and fines that sparked local riots. The largest riot occurred in 1769–1771 and is known as Kizhi Uprising. Ignited by a governor’s order to send peasants during the harvest season to work at a metallurgical plant, the peasants disobeyed and boycotted the order. They were soon joined by up to 40,000 people from all over Karelia. The revolt was based in the Kizhi Pogost. The rebels sent petitioners to St. Petersburg, but those emissaries were arrested and punished. A military corps was dispatched to suppress the uprising and arrived to Kizhi by the end of June, 1771. After artillery fire the rebel peasants quickly surrendered. The leaders and 50–70 other peasants were publicly beaten and sent to exile in Siberia. Many others were conscripted into military service which was another form of punishment of the time. However, the recruitment of peasants for the construction of local plants and mine stopped.
Today Kizhi Island now is noted for its open-air architectural museum and reserve. The museum’s invaluable collection of wooden churches and chapels have been relocated from other parts of northern Russia. Today’s visit was apparently a more typical fall day. Instead of sunny Indian Summer weather it was a cloudy misty cool day. Of interest was the preponderance of Russian travelers fulfilling a lifelong dream to visit Kizhi and see examples of their historical rural heritage.