Friday, November 27, 2015

A Short Walking Tour of Sitka, AK

After our five hour excursion which included a sea otter and wildlife quest on a boat, a visit to the Alaska Raptor Center and a stop at the Fortress of the Bear, our tour bus returned us to the pier where the Westerdam's lifeboats were shuttling people back to the ship.  Since we had about 2 hours before the ship was scheduled to depart, we decided to take about an hour to walk around and see a few sights in Sitka.

Welcome to Sitka Sign

Totem Square

We walked a short distance to Lincoln Street where we found Sitka's Totem Square and Pioneer Home.  Native Alaskan totem poles tell a story and the creation of the Baranov Totem in Totem Square was proposed in 1940 by a local member of the Tlingits to tell the story of the history of the area up to the arrival of Alexander Baronov, the head of the Russian-American Company in North America and the first governor of Russian Alaska.  A sign next to the pole provides the information about the meaning of each of the symbols in the story.

Totem Square and the Pioneer Home - Sitka, AK
Like many monuments, the Baronov Totem Pole is not without controversy.   When the project was proposed, it was intended that it would be completed by local craftsman in the Sitka area to recognize them as well provide them income from wages.  In the Alaskan Native culture it is also customary for a tribe and clan to own their own symbols and stories told in a totem. The pole was designed by a local Tlingit, but by the time the project was approved, no local  carvers were immediately available.   In violation of this custom, instead of delaying the project until a local craftsman was available, the US Forest Service awarded the contract for the totem to be created in Wrangell and it was installed in Totem Square on March 8, 1942.  In 1973, the ownership of the pole was transferred from the US Government to the State of Alaska and maintained by the Pioneer Home.  With age, the pole deteriorated and a debate over whether to replace it or repair it continued for several years.  In 2010 the pole was removed due to safety concerns and it was decided to proceed with repairing the pole.  Tommy Joseph, a Tlingit master carver who lives in Sitka restored the pole and it was re-installed in 2011.

The top of the pole is a depiction of Alexander Baranov.

The bear is the symbol of Russia.

The third figure from the top represents Katlian, the military leader of the Tlingit Kiks.adi clan who fought against the Russians forcing Baronov to negotiate a peace treaty.

The Raven with the eagle crest under its beak is a symbol of the Raven branch of Tlingit tribes of which the Kiks.adi of the Sitka area belongs and the eagle represents the Kaagwaantaan, the Sitka area clan that is a part of the Eagle Branch of Tlingits. These crests are similar to heraldic crests or coats of arms used in Europe.

The double-headed eagle depicts the bronze eagle medallion presented by Barnov  to the leader of the Kiks.adi as a peace offering after they reached an agreement to end their conflict.

The brown bear represents the Kaagwaantaan clan and and the frog is a symbol of both the the Kiks.adi clan and the Kaagwaantaan clan.

The Pioneer Home

The Pioneer Home was built in 1934 at the site of a former army barracks by the State of Alaska as a home for elderly Alaskans.

Pioneer Home - Sitka, AK
Over the subsequent decades it has been upgraded and renovated. Currently it can provide housing for up to 75, some of whom live independently and others who require varying levels of assisted living or more intensive 24 hour care for Alzheimer's or other similar conditions.

Lincoln Street - Sitka, Alaska
Another sprinkle of rain started (and left drops on my camera lens) as we walked past the shops on Lincoln Street on our way to our next destination, St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral.

St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral

St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral - Sitka, AK
The 94 Russian Orthodox Churches that exist today in Alaska are a reminder that this land once belonged to Russia. St. Innocent Veniaminov, the first Russian Bishop in North America established St. Michael's Parish in 1844.  The cathedral was completed in 1848, making it the first Russian Orthodox Cathedral in North America.  The Russians initially named the town of Sitka, "New Archangel" in honor of St. Michael, the archangel. The cathedral was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1962. The original cathedral building was destroyed in a fire in 1966, but fortunately nearly all of the icons and other treasures were saved.  In 1976 a replica of the original cathedral was rebuilt using the original blueprints.

The Bishop's Cathedra Throne
Upon entering the cathedral, the first item on display is the "Bishop's Throne" which was hand-carved by St. Innocent Veniaminov.

Archangel Michael with the Ikonostasis at St. Michael's Cathedral
Further into the nave is the bishop's pulpit and beyond is the sanctuary.  Separating the two areas is the Ikonstasis decorated with icons saved from the fire that destroyed the original cathedral.  The beautiful chandeliers were also rescued from the fire.

Most of the icons were donated by wealthy patrons in Russia and some date back to the 1700s.

Vladimir Borovikovsky icons at St. Michael's Cathedral
On the left side of the cathedral are two icons created by Russian icon artist Vladimir Lukich Borovikovsky.  To the right of the door is the Christ Pantocrator icon and on the left is the famous, Our Lady of Sitka.

Our Lady of Sitka Icon
Our Lady of Sitka, also referred to as the "Sitka Madonna" was purchased with funds donated by workers of the Russian-American Company and is credited with healings.

Inside the dome of St. Michael's Cathedral - Sitka, AK

There were many more treasures on display, but our time ashore was nearly over. On the way out I stopped to take a photo of the inside of the cathedral domed ceiling  above the nave.

Side view of St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral

Walking around to the the south side of the building gives a view of  the cathedral and the exterior of the dome that is not visible from the front entrance. I would have liked to have visited the Bishop's House nearby, but ran out of time.

 Lincoln Street westbound - Sitka Alaska 
We did a little window shopping as we made our way back down Lincoln Street westbound toward Harbor Road.

Sitka Harbor 
We arrived at the harbor area and could see the Westerdam anchored in the bay.

Holland America Westerdam anchored at Sitka Alaska
Sitka does not have a cruise ship dock so it is what is called a "tendered" port of call.  The cruise ship remains anchored off shore and the ship's life boats ferry the passengers back and forth from the ship to shore.

Life Boat from the Westerdam
The life boats were queued in a line and as each was filled with passengers it departed and the next one pulled up to the boarding dock.  When it was our turn, we hopped aboard and made the short voyage back to the Westerdam.  Although I'm sure if the ship needed to be evacuated, a life boat is seaworthy and would be preferable to jumping into the water, but they certainly aren't built for comfort.

Inside a life boat from the Westerdam
We had a full day of adventure but I wish we'd had one more day to spend in Sitka since there were several other attractions I would have liked to have seen including the Bishop's House, Baronov Castle, Totem Park Historical Site and the Sheldon Jackson Museum.

On to our next destination:  Ketchikan.

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