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Located 25 miles north of St. Petersburg, Russia's Lake Ladoga is the largest freshwater body in Europe with a surface area of 4,481,238 acres. The amazing lake stretches for 136 miles across northwestern Russia and has an average width of 51 miles. There are 660 islands in the lake and over 32 rivers that drain into the lake; only one river, the Neva, flows out. Before 1940, Lake Ladoga was divided between Finland and the Soviet Union; it now lies entirely within Russia and serves as a main source of drinking water for the city of St. Petersburg and the republic of Karelia. The lake also provides recreation for residents and visitors.
Lake Ladoga, also known as Lake Laatokka, and Ladozhskoye Ozero, was formed by glaciers approximately 10,000 years ago. According to most geologists, the lake was originally part of the Baltic Sea that separated from the main body of water when the Yoldia Sea began to recede. Lake Ladoga and the Baltic Sea stayed connected by a small strait until the Neva River fully formed. Today a vast network of rivers and canals connects the lake with the Baltic Sea, the White Sea, and the Volga river system.
Lake Ladoga, due to its incredible size and location, has always played an important role in trade. In the Middle Ages, commercial traders used the lake to transfer goods from the Varangians (Vikings) to the Greeks. Because of the economic importance of the trade route, the area soon came under controversy as both the Novgorod Republic and Sweden claimed the waterway as their own. In order to defend against military advances, the fortresses of Korela and Oreshek were built along the shores of the lake. Religious societies also sought to claim the peaceful waters of Lake Ladoga. The first monastery on the lake, Valaam Monastery, was formed on the island of Valaam. Other significant monasteries in the region included the Konevets Monastery (on the Konevets Island) and the Alexander-Svirsky Monastery. Today the monasteries represent stunning examples of medieval Muscovite architecture.
During the Ingrian War, the shores of Lake Ladoga once again became hotly contested territory between the warring countries of Russia and Sweden. In 1617, by the Treaty of Stolbovo, the northern and western coast was given to Sweden by Russia. In 1721, after the Great Northern War, the land was returned to Russia by the Treaty of Nystad. From 1812 to 1940 the lake was shared between Finland and Russia. According to the conditions of the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty, militarization of the lake was severely restricted, but both Soviet Russia and Finland maintained flotillas in the lake. During World War II, Lake Ladoga became a scene of international naval powers. German and Italian navy vessels as well as Finnish and Soviet fleets occupied the waters. At one point during the war, Leningrad was placed under siege and the only way to reach the city was by the lake. For supplies to reach the city, trucks were driven over the frozen lake in the winter and boats transported goods in the summer. As a result of the war, Lake Ladoga was once again returned to Russian.
Today, water quality is the biggest concern of Lake Ladoga residents. Farm runoff and pollution from industries has become a threat to wildlife, fish and people. In 1984 the Council of Ministers of USSR adopted a resolution to protect the water of Lake Ladoga and its basin. Because of this resolution, a large pulp and paper plant in Priozersk was forced to close. Along with supplying drinking water, the lake is home to 48 species of fish to include roach, carp bream, zander (related to the walleye), European perch, ruffe, a variety of smelt, a number of Salmonidae (salmon), and the endangered Atlantic sturgeon. Commercial fishing was once a major industry, but has been hurt by overfishing. Trawling has been forbidden in Lake Ladoga since 1956.
With 976 miles of shoreline, the terrain and culture around Lake Ladoga varies greatly. The region has unique landscapes, which are a combination of coniferous and deciduous forests, granite rocks and caves, underground water springs, dunes, and sand beaches. The shoreline can change from rocky to sandy and the water can be calm or dangerously choppy. The lake caters to tourists, but with so much to see and do, visitors will need to plan which areas they'd like to visit. Number one on most lists are the lake's beautiful islands and ancient monasteries. Most of the islands, including the famous Valaam archipelago, Kilpola and Konevets, are located in the northwestern part of the lake.
For those who enjoy boating, the small town of Novaya Ladoga, located at the mouth of the river Volkhov, offers boat excursions along the New Ladoga Channel. The waters of Lake Ladoga can be rather dangerous on windy days, and the channels make for a more relaxing tour of neighboring towns. Sailboats, cruise boats and barges also take visitors around the lake. For the daring canoeist or kayaker, there is much to explore.
There are several small towns and village surrounding the Lake Lagoda which feature historic landmarks and attractions. The Oreshek Fortress in Shlisselburg, the Korela Fortress in Priozersk, and railroad stations in the towns of Sortavala and Lakhdenpokhya are popular with tourists. Travel can be accomplished by boat, train, horseback, car, bike or on foot. Parts of the lake are heavily wooded and unpopulated and open to hiking, camping, fishing and swimming.
On the outflow of Lake Ladoga, St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) is Russia's second largest city. Often referred to as the "Venice of the North", the city is located on the delta of the Neva River. Downtown St. Petersburg features beautiful palaces, impressive historical monuments, a 17-acre zoo, tree-lined avenues and beautiful parks and gardens. Many attractions, restaurants, and vacation rentals line the banks of the Neva River which makes its way through the center of town. Saint Isaac's Cathedral is a must-see with its statues of trumpeting angels and beautiful golden fountains. By climbing the stairs of the cathedral, tourists are afforded wonderful panoramic view of the city. Accommodations of all kinds can be found in the city.
Nature lovers will want to visit two large nature preserves on Lake Ladoga. The Vepssky Les Nature Park covers 470,000 acres in the Oyat River area and across the adjacent and beautiful Veps Hills. The Nature Park was established to preserve the valuable forests and original landscapes of the area. On the southeastern shore of the lake, the Nizhnesvirsky Zapovednik Preserve is a 102,795-acre habitat for many rare animal and plant species. Hiking trails throughout the park offer observation towers, planked footways, a visitor's center and other facilities. Guests of the reserve can watch many species of birds, beaver communities, and an encounter with a brown bear is not uncommon. Lake Ladoga has its own ringed seal subspecies known as the Ladoga seal which can be spotted along the shores of the lake. For bird lovers, the Southern Priladozhye Sanctuary is home to thousands of waterfowl. Osprey and white-tailed eagles can also be observed flying over the Lake Ladoga shoreline.
For avid bicyclers, a unique cycling path wraps around Lake Ladoga, passing through both the St. Petersburg Region and the Republic of Karelia. The path begins from a base camp at Orehovo and circles the lake on forest and paved paths, taking in all the majestic splendor of the lake's varied geological formations. Along the way, cyclists can visit many of Lake Ladoga's famous islands and monasteries.
The months from November to March turn the beautiful countryside around Lake Ladoga into a winter wonderland. During these months, visitors need to be prepared for below zero temperatures and, for a short period, the thermometer can dip as low as minus 30 Fahrenheit. Even with a maximum depth of 755 feet, the lake freezes over. Ice skating, ice fishing, snow shoeing, and skiing are popular pastimes for those who can brave the cold.
For a truly unique vacation, Lake Ladoga offers a wide range of indoor and outdoor activities. Take a day trip to an ancient monastery or extend your excursion by staying overnight in a charming Russian town located on the edge of the lake. Hike through some scenic hills and be sure to take a tour across Europe's largest freshwater lake. The scenic shores of Lake Ladoga offer something for everyone.
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