Valaam, also known historically by the Finnish name Valamo, is an archipelago in the northern portion of Lake Ladoga, lying within the Republic of Karelia, Russian Federation. The total area of its more than 50 islands is 36 km². The largest island is also called Valaam. It is best known as the site of the 14th century Valaam Monastery and for its natural beauty. In the 12th century, the islands were a part of the Novgorod Republic. In the 17th century, they were captured by Sweden during the Time of Troubles, but Russia reconquered them less than a century later. When the Grand Duchy of Finland was set up in the early 19th century as an autonomous part of the Russian Empire, Alexander I of Russia made Valaam a part of Finland. In 1917, Valaam became a part of newly independent Finland, but it was acquired by the USSR after the Winter War and Continuation War.
The name of the island is from the Finno-Ugric word valamo, which means the high, mountain, ground. The climate and natural history of the island are unique because of its position on Lake Ladoga. Spring begins at the end of March and a typical summer on Valaam consists of 30-35 sunny days, which is more than on the mainland. The average temperature in July is 17 °C. The winter and snow arrive in early December. In the middle of February the ice road to the nearest city of Sortavala (42 km) is traversable. The average temperature of February is minus 8 °C.
More than 480 species of the plants grow on the island, many of which have been cultivated by monks. The island is covered by coniferous woods, about 65% of which are pine. The island was visited repeatedly by emperors Alexander I, Alexander II, and other members of the imperial family. Other famous visitors include Tchaikovsky and Mendeleyev.
The island is permanently inhabited by monks and families. In 1999, there were about 600 residents on the main island; including army service personnel, restoration workers, guides and monks. There is a kindergarten, an arts and sports venue, a school and a medical center. The community on Valaam at the moment has no official administrative status. The lay inhabitants, (Валаамцы — Valaamtsy), want their settlement to receive the official status of a rural settlement that will enable them to participate in municipal elections. However the leaders of the monastery are opposed to this.
During the summer, the main island can be reached by tour boats which leave St. Petersburg at night and arrive at the island the following morning.