A kind of final chord in the activities of the Russian Geographical Society in the past year was the completion of the expedition "Lighthouses of Russia". The specialists of the Center for Contemporary History (CCH), with the support of the Hydrographic Service of the Russian Navy, investigated the state of five historical sites in various parts of the country.
A lighthouse is almost always an interesting architectural and engineering object with a romantic aura. It stands on the border of two worlds. For sailors, a lighthouse is a guiding star and a warm light reminding of their home. For those remaining on land, it is a call to travel and a promise of adventure. For both of them, the lighthouse remained the only connecting thread for a long time.
Despite the fact that the function of lighthouses is the same, and the principles of operation are very similar, each of them is individual. Even those that were built according to a standard design are now of interest, since these projects themselves have already become history, not to mention the amazing places where lighthouses become part of the landscape. No wonder they are loved by photographers and tourists.
During 2021, the specialists of the Center for Contemporary History found out the history and state of five lighthouses: Bely (on the island of the same name), Pillau (Baltiysk, Kaliningrad Oblast), Russkiy (Bolshoi Oleniy Island, Murmansk Oblast), Castricum (Urup Island, Kuril Islands) and Ai-Todor (village of Gaspra, Crimea). In addition, the members of the Russian Geographical Society’s expedition analyzed the tourist potential of the objects.
In July, the CCH team landed on the polar island Bely in the Kara Sea – this is the northernmost part of Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. There is a very interesting lighthouse here, which is a wooden tower 35 meters high.
The history of the lighthouse is connected with the creation on Bely of a hydrometeorological station. It was opened during the wintering of 1933 – 1934 in the northwestern part of the island. In 1936, a lighthouse was erected on a sandy promontory. Its tower is a four-sided wooden truncated pyramid on a concrete base. At the top was a ball, and under it was a rectangular shield made of iron plates, where the light itself was located. This form was standard for all lighthouses of the 1930s – 1940s.
However, according to the head of the expedition and director of the Center for Contemporary History Ivan Anokhin, the Bely Lighthouse is special. Its openwork design is unusual, somewhat reminiscent of the Parisian Eiffel Tower (although the image of the Shukhov Tower in Moscow will seem closer to someone).
The lighthouse is currently not operational. The members of the expedition took measurements of the lighthouse and prepared a detailed drawing based on archival materials and a construction and technical survey. This will allow to create a project for the restoration of the lighthouse. In the future, Ivan Anokhin is sure, the Bely Lighthouse can become an interesting tourist attraction, a kind of highlight of the Arctic tours.
“The Bely Lighthouse was the most difficult to access during the 2021 expedition,” says the leader of the expedition. “Nevertheless, tourists sometimes get here, which indicates a great interest in the Arctic and similar objects.”
Archival search became a separate area of work of the expedition. In particular, the diary of the first head of the station on the island Bely I.A. Sidorin, which describes in detail life and work on the island during the second wintering in 1934 –1935, was found. Based on this find, a scientific article was written, and the diary itself, published in the form of an album, will be handed over to the Russian Center for the Development of the Arctic and will become part of a commemorative exhibition at the station itself.
Spirits and walruses
Bely Island is interesting not only for the station and the lighthouse. For a long time, this place was considered sacred by local residents. Here the Nenets created sanctuaries named after the local gods: Tabelova-paga, Sidya-haen-sala, Salyalyokabtambad. Serngo Iriko, the main spirit of the Yamal northern peoples, is still considered the owner of Bely Island. Today, Atlantic walruses, which are listed in the Red Book, as well as white-billed loons, geese, brent geese, Steller’s eiders, tundra swans and a large number of different species of unique birds live near Bely Island.
One of the first lighthouses erected to ensure navigation along the Northern Sea Route is located on Bolshoy Oleniy Island in Kola District of Murmansk Oblast.
“At the end of the 19th century, steamers began to sail more and more often along the Murmansk coast, and it became necessary to create a navigation system,” says Ivan Anokhin. “In 1909, on the mainland, opposite Bolshoy Oleniy Island, a set of wooden signs was built. In 1915, the Main Hydrographic Office planned to install a light beacon on the island. However, due to the First World War, construction was postponed.”
Already under the Soviet rule, in 1921, the annual Kara trading expeditions were organized. By the end of the 1920s, a transport export-import corridor had been formed. A dozen ships regularly travelled from European ports to the Russian Arctic.
The need to equip the route with means of navigation has become a vital task.
“Among the first such objects was the Russkiy Lighthouse on Bolshoy Oleniy, erected in 1925 on the western tip of the island,” continues Ivan Anokhin. “The lighthouse marked the entrance to the strait and indicated the anchor point at the camp Zakhrebetnoye. Its tower looked like a tetrahedral pyramid, the sides of which were sheathed with boards, and with white and black horizontal stripes painted on it.”
In 1953, on the site of the old lighthouse, a monolithic yellow reinforced concrete tower with a height of 24 meters was built. At the end of the 90s, the lighthouse was transferred to the category of automatic ones. Now it provides an entrance to the Bolshoi Oleniy Strait and navigation in the sea area adjacent to the island.
“We determined the condition of the lighthouse as satisfactory,” says Ivan Anokhin. “I was surprised by the good quality of the building. Despite the fact that at the time of construction the country had just survived a war, the lighthouse was not only completely finished, but also decorated with architectural elements.”
Despite its name, Bolshoi Oleniy is rather a large bird's "hub". The paths of migratory birds run just above Kola Bay not far from the exit to the open sea, where it is convenient for them to stop for the night, feed or nest. Unique birds from the Red Book live here: eiders, terns, many subspecies of gulls, waders and many other species.
Actually, Castricum is a city in the north of the Netherlands. The ship on which the Dutch navigator Martin Gerritsen de Vries reached the Kuril Islands in 1643 was named in its honor. Among the places where he landed was Urup. More than a century later, the participants of the round-the-world expedition of the French navigator La Perouse named one of the capes after the Dutch ship. And the lighthouse, built in 1966, was named after Cape Castricum.
“The lighthouse provided navigation in the Urup Strait, which connects the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean,” notes Ivan Anokhin. “Even earlier, 120 kilometers from here, another lighthouse was erected, which got its name from the name of the peninsula – Van der Lind. Before these lighthouses, there had been no navigational objects on the island.”
The explored lighthouse was built according to a standard design of the 1960s. It is a round red cast-iron tower with the lantern room. Height – 24.3 meters. The range of visibility of the light is 19 nautical miles (approximately 35 km).
As noted by the members of the expedition, the Castricum Lighthouse is in an unsatisfactory condition and is practically not operational at present. The structure does not have any serious historical or military value. Nevertheless, as with other objects of the expedition, detailed measurements were taken and even a 3D model of the lighthouse was created. Who knows, maybe sometime in these harsh, but wildly picturesque places, where seven-point winds blow for a long time and earthquakes occur, tourists will appear. And if not, now in the archives of the Center for Contemporary History there is accurate information about the Castricum Lighthouse, which used to serve people faithfully once.
The expedition "Lighthouses of Russia" to Urup became a kind of addition to another, larger-scale expedition of the Russian Geographical Society "Eastern Bastion – the Kuril Ridge". The territory of the islands has great potential for the development of tourism. There are very picturesque landscapes, hot mineral springs and curative mud. And Urup, according to scientists, meets all the indicators for the creation of a specially protected natural area (SPNA): great biodiversity, the presence of seasonal concentrations of animals, uniqueness, scientific value, value for environmental education, aesthetic value, cultural and historical value, presence of rare species of fauna and flora.
The westernmost and one of the oldest lighthouses in Russia, Pillau, is located in Kaliningrad Oblast. Pillau was the name of the city of Baltiysk and the old German fortress (the construction of which had been started by the Swedes) until 1945. The lighthouse is in good condition, located in the center of the city, which is visited by tens of thousands of guests every year.
The Pillau Lighthouse was built in 1813 by the hydraulic engineer Schulz according to the design of Karl Schinkel, a famous German architect at that time.
“The object, like the fortress, has been rebuilt many times,” says Ivan Anokhin. “The last major pre-war reconstruction was carried out in 1902. By the beginning of World War II, the lighthouse was looking like a white round tower with a red top, 32 meters high, with a cone-shaped roof and two galleries at the bottom.”
In April 1945, fierce fighting took place in the Pillau area. Traces from bullets and debris can still be found on the unique Fresnel lens and frame of the Wright-Meyer optical apparatus. During the restoration of the lighthouse, they were left as a memorial sign.
Despite the fact that the Pillau Lighthouse is in good condition, sometimes it still needs touch ups, which were carried out for the Day of the Russian Navy. And most importantly, the members of the expedition carried out a detailed scan of the lighthouse using a geodetic laser scanner.
“The object may look good on the surface, but age and high humidity take their toll,” says Ivan Anokhin. “Due to insufficient ventilation and hidden defects, for example, moisture zones may appear, which subsequently threaten to become a problem. Based on the examination, we have prepared recommendations for the maintenance of the lighthouse.”
The 3D model makes it possible to develop any technical documentation at any time, as well as to see what the lighthouse looked like in 2021, down to the smallest detail with millimeter precision. In addition, thanks to laser scanning, material for a virtual tour of the lighthouse has appeared. It remains a secure facility, tourists are not yet allowed to enter here.
Citadel and dunes
Baltiysk is the westernmost city in Russia (and Kaliningrad Oblast), located about an hour's drive from Kaliningrad. It is located on the coast of Primorsk Bay of Kaliningrad Bay. The Gulf of Gdansk separates the city from the Baltic Sea. Half a kilometer from the lighthouse there is the main city attraction – the Pillau fortress. In 2021, an expedition from the Russian Geographical Society is exploring the interior of a unique fortification. The result of the work will be, in particular, the creation of 3D-plans of the premises, the search for hidden underground casemates not indicated in the drawings. In addition to the citadel, the ruins of the Western and Eastern forts have survived, which are cultural heritage sites of regional significance. Baltiysk includes a section of the picturesque Baltic Spit. In addition to historical monuments, the city is known for its long and wide sandy beaches.
The last of the lighthouses explored by the RGS expedition is located in Crimea, on Cape Ai-Todor, near the village of Gaspra.
The lighthouse was built in 1835 at the initiative of the commander-in-chief of the Black Sea Fleet Mikhail Lazarev. Together with Thaddeus Bellingshausen, he was responsible for the discovery of Antarctica. The site for the lighthouse was "prepared": here once stood an old Roman signal tower. The author of the project was the architect Charles Echroyd.
The lighthouse was rebuilt in 1876. A new octahedral stone tower with a glassed-in lantern room had appeared. The diamond-shaped English glass panels still remain here.
“The lighthouse survived three wars: the Crimean War of 1854-1855, the Russian-Turkish War of 1877 and the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1944,” notes Ivan Anokhin. “In 1947-1948, the tower, living quarters and lighthouse services were restored and repaired, and in the 1950s a modern lighting device EMV-930 was installed here, due to which the lighthouse signal is visible at a distance of 24 nautical miles. In 1984, a KRM-300 radio beacon with a range of 150 miles was installed in a technical building near the lighthouse. At the same time, a museum dedicated to the marine theme was opened at the lighthouse. By the way, we need to thank the caretaker Yuri Ivanovich Tyurin for this. He has been working here since 1977, a unique person!”
The Ai-Todor Lighthouse is an object of cultural heritage of the peoples of the Russian Federation of regional significance, but it does not cease to be operational. Its condition is good. It has the potential to be a great tourist attraction. Memorial plaques installed on the building remind that Lev Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov were here on excursions.
Like all other operating lighthouses explored by the RGS expedition, Ai-Todor remains a secure facility and is located in a closed area.
"Swallow's Nest" and one-thousand-year-old "Justinian"
Cape Ai-Todor separates the Yalta and Gaspra Bays. The most popular attraction of the village of Gaspra and the whole Crimea is the pseudo-Gothic castle "Swallow's Nest". However, in these places there are also more interesting archaeological sites – in the 2nd-3rd centuries AD there was a Roman urban-type settlement here, and later the monastery of St. Theodore of Amasea, who gave the name to the entire cape. And right next to the walls of the lighthouse there is a giant pistachio tree "Justinian". They say that it is about a thousand years old. The botanical natural monument is included in the Guinness Book of Records.
Summing up the expedition, Ivan Anokhin notes that the lighthouses have not lost their relevance for navigation.
“Ai-Todor, Pillau and Russkiy are in working order and are being operated. Of course, with modern methods of navigation, including with the help of satellite systems, their role is not as critical as before. But in the event of interference, lighthouses are ready to play their part. Moreover, not all vessels are equipped with navigation systems."
As for the tourist attraction, here a lot depends on logistics. It is clear that, for example, you cannot just get to Urup. However, sometimes there are tourists on Bely. Not to mention the Crimea or Kaliningrad Oblast.
“I think it would be advisable in the future to make the Ai-Todor Lighthouse open to the public,” Ivan Anokhin believes. “And in the first place of our five objects, in terms of tourist attraction, I would put the Pillau Lighthouse. It is located practically on the main square of the city; during the season, thousands of guests pass by it. If people had the opportunity to climb the lighthouse, I think there would be queues of those who wish to do so. In my opinion, such excursions are a great way, among other things, of patriotic education, because together with vivid impressions, people, and first of all the younger generation, could learn something new about the history of their country.”