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Geography of Lake Ladoga


Known in ancient times as Lake Nevo, Lake Ladoga received its modern name in the thirteenth century from the town of Ladoga (now called Staraia Ladoga, or Old Ladoga), which is on the Volkhov River, just upstream from the lake.

The Ladoga reservoir is the largest lake in Europe with a surface area of 17 700 km2. Its drainage area is a complex system that includes the watersheds of lakes Onega, Ilmen and Saimaa (in Finland). In Russia, it extends over parts of eight different administrative regions. The Neva is the only river that flows out of Lake Ladoga, while 32 rivers longer than 10 km flow into the lake. The largest of these are the Svir, flowing from Lake Onega, the Vuoksa, originating in Finland, the Volkhov, which comes out of Lake Ilmen, and the Sias. Some of them are navigable and connect the Baltic sea, via the Neva and Lake Ladoga, to the White, Black, Azov and Caspian Seas. The average depth of the lake is 51 m., though in the north, near the islands of Valaam, it reaches a depth of about 230 m. In stormy weather, which is especially common in the autumn months, waves on the lake can reach a height of 5-6 m.


The northern shore of Lake Ladoga is a wild terrain of skerries and fjords. It is a popular vacation site for Finns, who consider the area their ancient homeland. A national park is proposed for this region.

The region around Lake Ladoga (known in ancient times as Lake Nevo) was settled between 6000 and 5000 B.C.E. by tribes known as proto-Lapps. In addition to the lands of modern Finland and Karelia, they lived on the southern shore of Ladoga and along the Volkhov, Neva and Svir rivers. Archaeological finds from the 1870s include stone and bone instruments from the Neolithic era. During construction of the New Ladoga Canal, an ancient boat gouged from an oak was unearthed at a depth of 5m.

Around 3000 B.C.E. the precursors of the Volgo-Finnish peoples settled in the region, succeeded by a Finno-Ugric tribe known as the Izhora people. This tribe inhabited the lands southwest of Lake Ladoga and gave their name to the Izhora River that flows into the Neva from the south.


Slavic tribes established themselves in the area in the eighth century. Their first permanent settlement was Ladoga, on the Volkhov River, founded in the 750s. (That settlement, which later gave the lake its name, is now known as Staraia Ladoga, or Old Ladoga.)

In the ninth and tenth centuries Ladoga was an important political and economic center of ancient Russian culture, due to its location on the major trade route “from the Vikings to the Greeks.” Eventually, however, it lost in importance to Novgorod, a fortified town farther south on the Volkhov River that became one of the most important city-states in ancient Rus. The Novgorodian principality, which reached the height of its power in the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, encompassed the lands along the southern shore of lake Ladoga, the Neva, and the Gulf of Finland.


--St. George Cathedral, Staraia Ladoga (12th century)


Fortress remains at Priozersk

There are other forts than Oreshek along the western shore of the lake, testifying to its importance as an ancient trade routes. Remote islands in the lake housed ancient monasteries in the aescetic tradition of northern Orthodoxy.

Konevets Monastery, view from bell-tower

Further topics and interdisciplinary essays
Shlisselburg History Oreshek History
Ladoga Geography
Ladoga Ecology

References and links

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