Magical Olkhon

The island of the frozen divinities

They call it Olkhon but also Ojchon or Oljòn. Mapped for the first time in the middle of the 17th century by intrepid Cosack explorer, Kurbat Ivanov, it is an enchanting island in the heart of Lake Bajkal. This part of Russia is home to the Buryat culture, whose religious and cultural practices are shamanic, their faith is populated by divinities that live in nature – in a cave, in the rock, in the desert. And in ice, the indispensable natural bridge that forms for two months each year and is capable of supporting both humans and heavy vehicles, therefore, an element that has always been seen as a source of unification rather than division. Seven villages are located along the island’s seventy-kilometre length; together they have a total population of just 1500, most of whom rely on fishing, rearing animals and farming for their livelihoods.

“Their solitude,” explains photographer Alessandro Scattolini, “is punctuated by a slow pace of life and an isolation that leads necessarily to simplicity: a warm and welcoming home, a reconstructed theatre, a swing for children, a leather item of clothing, a wooden fence. In fact, on the island, animals live in freedom and the humans demarcate a corner of the world for themselves by building fences that enable them to live in safety.”

( 2016 – 2017 )