Ruskeala Mountain Park is a human creation, which is located not far from Sortavala, a once abandoned marble mine. It was opened in 2005, but just a few years ago it became a popular place for a one-day visit. Here is quite an interesting story about Ruskeala Park.
The story began on White Mountain. The Swedes were the first who noticed it in the XVII century. They were the first who started to mine marble there and this was continued for 200 more years. In 1768, the marble quarry was already a part of Russia. The Empress Catherine the Great declared an order to mine the marble on White Mountain for St. Petersburg buildings. She liked the rock samples that the stonemason Andrey Pilyugin showed her. According to her decree, the “White Nights” marble, as Catherine called it, was delivered to the banks of the river Neva. A lot of freelance workers from the Urals and Olonets came to Ruskeala to make some money. It`s amazing for that time, but the workers were actually paid a salary, no forced labor or exiles.
The mine worked non-stop for a full year. The workers drilled wells, filled them with gunpowder and blew them up. After that they broke the huge blocks manually with wedges into smaller pieces weighing from 2 to 12 tons. They placed these pieces onto sleds harnessed to a group of up to 130 horses, and carried the marble along the winter path near Sortavala. Those marble pieces, which were nicknamed “wild boars”, were stored at the port of the village of Khilyulya until spring. With the beginning of the sailing season, galliots came from St. Petersburg through Ladoga Lake and took the marble. In St. Petersburg the marble was cut into facades tiles.
St. Isaac's Church was the first to be decorated, it was designed by Antonio Rinaldi, and then during the reign of emperor Paul, it was dismantled. Later the tiles of Ruskeala marble were used to decorate St. Isaac's Cathedral, St. Michael's Castle, and Marble Palace, floors in Kazan Cathedral, window sills of the Winter Palace, Roman fountains in Petrodvorets (Petergof). For over a hundred years, the quarry worked only for the needs of St. Petersburg. When the city was completely “dressed” in marble, orders suddenly decreased, and for more than 40 years Ruskeala Mine was stagnant.
At the end of the 19th century, in 1895, the mine started to work in full swing again. This time the Finns ruled Ruskeala. But they were only interested in exclusively white sugar-like calcite marble, which they used to produce lime powder. By the beginning of the 20th century, lime powder served as the main bonding material for stone constructions; it was also needed for paper production. Finnish workers switched to underground mining of marble, they literally «gnawed away» inner layers of calcite from the depths of the White Mountain. So there they built vertical adits, grottoes and underground halls. Two of them, which are located in the horizontal tunnel (dry horizon) are still walkable nowadays, and sometimes concerts take place there. They say, classical music has the best acoustics there.
The Finns were turning solid rock into powder. So they built kilns in the Ruskeala area, where they «baked» calcite marble. The mining trolleys delivered marble directly from the shaft to the kilns, where the calcite was loosened. The company developed quite well, the last kiln was built right before World War II in 1938. The furnaces worked for a long time - exactly 100 years and survived through several countries during that time. So once built in The Grand Duchy of Finland, they completed their work on the territory of modern Russia - in 1995. Only 4 out the 9 furnaces survived, but in pretty bad condition.
But let's go back to the quarry. The length of a large quarry from south to north in is about 456 meters; its width from side to side is a bit more than 100 meters at its widest point. The depth of the quarry from the top to the bottom is 50 meters. We can’t see most of the stone hallow anymore, it is hidden by water. Depths range from 5-6 meters in the southern part till 40 meters in the northern part. Even before water was a pretty big problem for the workers: the deeper they dug the quarry, the more groundwater there was.
Until the 1950s, it was pumped out, but then the Ruskeala Marble plant, which operated there at that time, had to close. All extractions were stopped and the quarry gradually filled with clean and clear water. In good weather, you can easily see objects at a depth of 16 meters as if they are at your arm's length. The water in the quarry is cool all year round - only 3-4 ° C. Even in summer, divers have to use drysuits in order to inspect the flooded halls, where there are a lot of crucians and old equipment and trolleys at the bottom.
There are 11 large and small quarries on White Mountain, three of them are flooded. The three most interesting routes are in Ruskeala Park near the quarries: «Marble Canyon» is 1 km and 300 meters long; «The road of stonemasons» is 2 km 200 meters long, including a visit to the Italian quarry and the mountain sinkhole called «The Kingdom of the Snow Queen» ; and «Underground Ruskeala».
Three semi-flooded and beautifully backlighted tunnels have opened for visits recently. But, it is possible to visit just one of the halls; the most part of the giant underground mountain system, which spreads for many kilometers, is flooded. It’s pretty chilly underground, the temperature never rises above + 5 ° C, well it's reasonable when 15 meters of rock layer is right above. But don’t worry - you can get warm jackets and helmets at the entrance. The signs along the route will prevent you from getting lost in the shafts, just be attentive. Anyway, to go deeper is not possible - Ruskeala underground tours are supervised. Green water and stone columns are backlighted. In winter, when it is mostly dark in Karelia, the ice and huge icicles look magical in the artificial light.
At the end of the 20th century, to be precise in 1970, Leningrad suddenly remembered the beauty of Ruskeala marble. Facade tiles were needed to decorate metro stations. But this time It was decided not to blow up the quarry, but to cut it with wire saws. Italian equipment was brought to Ruskeala mine, and the quarry quickly got the nickname “Italian”. During the next 10 years, that marble was used to decorate the Ladoga and Primorsky stations in Leningrad, one of the pavilions of VDNH center and the hotel Ukraine in Moscow, all the elements of one of the monuments in Kiev… There are about 500 addresses in the Soviet Union where this marble was used.
There are just few people who read the «Kalevala National epic song» , but everybody has heard about this ancient book and knows the main characters. In a small park there are labyrinths and observation decks, on one of which you can see the statue of «The Old Woman Louhi» - The Lady of Pohyola, the Lady of the Foggy Northern Lands who hid the Sampo mill. You wouldn’t guess of course, that the Sampo mill, like the lamps of Aladdin or the Golden Fish, makes all fortunes come true for a person - like gold, grain and money. Visitors often try to read their fortune with the Kalevala book, asking questions and requesting a page and line number, and then they are read an answer from the book.
Rent a boat (600 rubles per hour), zip line over a quarry (1200 rubles), bungee jump (1500 rubles), scuba dive into a quarry (from 300 rubles), rent a snowmobile or ATV (from 2500 rubles).
The most impressive way to get to Ruskeala mountain park is the retro train Ruskeala Express. It is decorated in the style of the Tzar Nikolay Express, which departs from Sortavala. The steam engine runs on coal - it uses 20 tons of coal and a ton of water per one hour trip. The schedule is pretty convenient - the train departs at 10.40, arrives to the park at 11.40, departs from the park towards Sortavala at 17.30. A nice path through the forest leads from the train station to the park.
The Four Seasons of Russia project is supported by the Russian geographical society www.rgo.ru
The route to Ruskeala is recommended by the Russian geographical society.