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Lake Ladoga: The Largest Lake in Europe
Lake Ladoga Information and Facts
Lake Ladoga, located in the North-Western part of Russia, is the largest lake in Europe, the 15th largest freshwater lake by surface area in the world and the 14th largest by volume.
Lake Ladoga is located close to Saint Petersburg, between the Republic of Karelia and Leningrad Oblast, in a depression produced by glaciers. Its Northern shores are high and rocky, and are mostly broken up by deep, ice-covered inlets, which are similar to fjords. This area is called Ladoga Karelia, since it is part of the Republic of Karelia. Its Southern bank is somewhat different. It is mainly sandy, even marshy in select areas, overgrown with willows and alders. The Western shore is referred to as the Karelian Isthmus, and is part of the Leningrad Oblast.
There are a total of 660 islands on the lake, with a surface area of 435 km2, most of them situated in the North-Western part. The most important islands include the Valaam Archipelago, which attracts many tourists through its beauty and rich heritage, Kilpola, Konevets, Mantinsari, Riyekkalan-Sari and Tulolansari islands.
The lake was initially part of the Baltic Ice Lake, which was a historical freshwater stage of the Baltic Sea and which existed nearly 10,000 years ago. The lake was separated from the sea, but was still connected through a small strait. Ladoga separated entirely from the Baltic Sea during the middle ages.
Hydrology and Wildlife
The basin of Lake Ladoga includes 50,000 lakes and over 3,500 rivers which are longer than 10 kilometers.
It gets most of its waters from the many tributaries (85%), of which the Svir, Volkhov and Syas rivers are flowing in from the South, while Vuoksi River approaches the lake from the West. 13% of the lake’s waters come from precipitation, which might not seem like a lot, but the lake could not maintain its current level without this input. The remaining 2% flows in through underground rivers.
Ladoga’s main outflow is the Neva River (92%), which after it exits the basin, flows into the Gulf of Finland. The remaining 8% exits the lake through evaporation.
Scientists have encountered 48 different species of fish in the lake, of which the most popular ones are roaches, carp bream, zanders, European perches and smelt. Out of the 48 species, 25 are of commercial importance and 11 are in the category of mass commercial fish.
Commercial fishing was once a major industry, but was unfortunately hurt by overfishing and unbalanced fishing. Trawling was forbidden in the late ‘50s, and there were other restrictions set at the time to help the lake recover. The situation has been aided and nowadays recreational fishing and fish farms are under development, but have basic restrictions to avoid hurting the lake’s ecosystem once again.
The lake also serves as a key stopping point for migratory birds on the North-Atlantic flyway and they are the ones who usually mark the arrival of Spring.
Because the lake is located in the heavily glaciated Baltic shield area, its climate is moderately cold. The mean annual precipitation is 610 millimeters. The warmest months are June and July, and the coldest are December and January.
The lake usually freezes in the colder months, with an average ice thickness of 50-60 centimeters and is home to violent storms during this time. Lake Ladoga’s central part usually opens up in late March-early April, whilst the Northern area stays frozen until mid-May.
Origin of its Name
There are many theories about the origin of the lake’s name. Some proclaim that it is of Karelian origin, having a meaning of “wavy, open lake”. Others affirm the word’s primary hydronym comes from a Finnish word, which translates as “the lower river”. A third theory suggests a German etymology, and there are several other specialists stating the fact that “Ladoga” is of Old East Slavic and Old Norse origin.
Lake Ladoga is located in the intersection of many sea and river routes, so through time it was a place of contact and a meeting point for many cultures. In the Middle Ages it was a vital part of the trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks.
The Swedish-Novgorodian wars took place in the 12th and 13th century. During this time, the lake area was under dispute between the Novgorod Republic and Sweden. In the early 14th century, Korela and Oreshek fortresses were established on the lake’s shores.
During the Ingrian war, between 1610 and 1617, part of Ladoga’s shores (the Northern and Western parts) were occupied by Sweden. After the Treaty of Nystad in 1721, these places were restored to Russia.
Between 1812 and 1940 the lake and its surroundings were shared by Russia and Finland, but with the Moscow Peace Treaty it was once again single-handedly ruled by Russia (at that time the Soviet Union). During the Siege of Leningrad (1941-1944), the lake was the only access point through which the Soviets could reach the city and send provisions to its inhabitants.
The Lake Ladoga catchment area has an approximate population of 3.5 million people, including 2.7 million urban residents. 11% of the lake’s shoreline is occupied by agricultural areas. Because of the intensive and continuous economic development, there is a considerable human impact on the lake, which is the consequence of local industries, fish farming and agricultural activities performed in the region. The greatest hazard remains the direct waste flowing into the lake, which needs to be taken care of to avoid any serious damage of the lake’s ecosystem.
There are a large number of towns and cities surrounding Lake Ladoga, of which we can enumerate Priozersk, Sortavala, Syasstroy, Pitkyaranita, Novaya Ladoga and Lakhden Pokhya.
Tourist Attractions in the Area
The largest and probably the most famous monastery of the area, the Valaam monastery was founded on the island bearing the same name, sometimes before the 16th century. The orthodox edifice was abandoned in the 17th century, but was later restored in 1814. Because of the war, Valaam was evacuated to Finland in 1940, but since 1989 all monastic activities were restored and the monastery is one of the most popular tourist attractions of the area thanks to its complex history and imposing architecture.
Besides the renowned monastery, there are plenty of other religious edifices worth exploring, such as the Evangelical Lutheran church and the All Saints church of Priozersk and the Nicholo-Medvedsky Monasyery of Novaya Ladoga. The Ruskeala waterfall and its surroundings are worth a visit by any nature-lover, while the Korela Fortress and Museum in Priozersk offer an insightful tour for history-fans.