Monday, 21 May 2012



Minsk is the capital and largest city in Belarus, situated on the Svislach and Niamiha rivers. Minsk is also a headquarters of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). As the national capital, Minsk has a special administrative status in Belarus and is also the administrative centre of Minsk Region (voblast) and Minsk raion (district).

The area of today's Minsk was settled by the Early East Slavs by the 9th century. The Svislach River valley was the settlement boundary between two Early East Slav tribes – the Krivichs and Dregovichs. By 980, the area was incorporated into the early mediaeval Principality of Polatsk, one of the earliest East Slav states. Minsk was first mentioned in the name form Měneskъ  in the Primary Chronicle for the year 1067 in association with the Battle on the river Nemiga. City authorities consider the date of 2 September 1067, to be the exact founding date of the city, though the town (by then fortified by wooden walls) had certainly existed for some time by then. The origin of the name is unknown but there are several theories.

In the early 12th century, the Principality of Polatsk disintegrated into smaller fiefs. The Principality of Minsk was established by one of the Polatsk dynasty princes. In 1129, the Principality of Minsk was annexed by Kiev, the dominant principality of Kievan Rus; however in 1146 the Polatsk dynasty regained control of the principality. By 1150, Minsk rivalled Polatsk as the major city in the former Principality of Polatsk. The princes of Minsk and Polatsk were engaged in years of struggle trying to unite all lands previously under the rule of Polatsk.

In 1242, Minsk became a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and it received its town privileges in 1499. From 1569, it was a capital of the Minsk Voivodship in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Minsk was annexed by Russia in 1793 as a consequence of the Second Partition of Poland. In 1796, it became the centre of the Minsk Governorate. All of the initial street names were replaced by Russian names, though the spelling of the city's name remained unchanged.

Throughout the 19th century, the city continued to grow and significantly improve. In the 1830s, major streets and squares of Minsk were cobbled and paved. A first public library was opened in 1836, and a fire brigade was put into operation in 1837. In 1838, the first local newspaper, Minskiye gubernskiye vedomosti (“Minsk province news”) went into circulation. The first theatre was established in 1844. By 1860, Minsk was an important trading city with a population of 27,000. There was a construction boom that led to the building of 2 and 3-story brick and stone houses in Upper Town.

Before World War II, Minsk had had a population of 300,000 people. After Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, as part of Operation Barbarossa, Minsk immediately came under attack. The city was bombed on the first day of the invasion and came under Wehrmacht control four days later. However, some factories, museums and tens of thousands of civilians had been evacuated to the east. The Germans designated Minsk the administrative centre of Reichskomissariat Ostland. Communists and sympathisers were killed or imprisoned; both locally and after being transported to Germany. Homes were requisitioned to house invading German forces. Thousands starved as food was seized by the German Army and paid work was scarce. Some anti-soviet residents of Minsk, who hoped that Belarus could regain independence, did support the Germans, especially at the beginning of the occupation, but by 1942, Minsk had become a major centre of the Soviet partisan resistance movement against the invasion, in what is known as the German-Soviet War. For this role, Minsk was awarded the title Hero City in 1974.

Minsk was recaptured by Soviet troops on 3 July 1944, during Operation Bagration. The city was the centre of German resistance to the Soviet advance and saw heavy fighting during the first half of 1944. Factories, municipal buildings, power stations, bridges, most roads and 80% of the houses were reduced to rubble. In 1944, Minsk's population was reduced to a mere 50,000. After World War II, Minsk was rebuilt, but not reconstructed. The historical centre was replaced in the 1940s and 1950s by Stalinist architecture, which favoured grand buildings, broad avenues and wide squares. Subsequently, the city grew rapidly as a result of massive industrialisation.

City Hall
Despite claiming a few outstanding historical sights representing the city’s rich and illustrious past, Minsk is best known as a living monument to the grandiose aspirations of Soviet architecture and urban planning. Famously destroyed during the Great Patriotic War, the Belarusian capital grew out of the ashes of conflict to become a Socialist Realist masterpiece complete with spacious avenues, lush green parks and a battalion of buildings dating from the 1940s and 1950s that simply have to be seen to be believed. Minsk really is a city like no other. Yet beneath its clean and regimented exterior lies an underbelly of exuberance in the guise of exceptional restaurants, world-class bars, clubs to rival those in any major city around the world and a cultural life offering everything from theatre to opera to experimental dance. 

There are essentially two types of Belarusian restaurant in Belarus. The first and most obvious variety features pigtailed waitresses in national dress serving plates of potatoes and beetroot soup in an atmosphere reminiscent of an old barn. The second is less easy to pin down, and is perhaps best described as a restaurant or café serving predominantly but not exclusively Belarusian favourites in an atmosphere you won’t find anywhere other than in Belarus. Eating out in Minsk continues to improve on an almost daily basis. There’s still a handful of places that fail to impress with either food or service, but these are thankfully few and far between. The diversity of cuisine in Minsk is far from all-encompasing, with what international food there is thankfully getting better all the time. Be aware that many restaurants list garnishes such as French fries, vegetables, rice and, butter and tomato ketchup as separate items.

Contrary to popular opinion, Belarus has plenty of fantastic indigenous products that serve well as both gifts and souvenirs. Classic folk-related things include nesting matryoshka dolls, hand-painted wooden spoons, plus a wealth of bits and pieces fashioned from straw and flax, among them dolls in national costumes plus straw horses and chickens popular with children. If you look around you can also pick up some nice inlaid wooden boxes which make great little jewellery boxes. Linen is a favourite, and is represented predominantly as tablecloths and napkins, usually for a very good price. Or why not some chocolate? Two well established brands making a range of chocolates of exceptional quality are Kommunarka and Spartak. Locally-produced glass and ceramics are both good value and can be really very nice indeed, and, last but not least, Milavitsa has been making quality ladies underwear since Soviet times. As well as the Gifts & Souvenirs section on p. 45, keep an eye out for other shops and the markets listed in this guide, several of which provide perfect gift and souvenir solutions.

Nightlife options in Minsk are diverse, friendly and at times refreshingly odd, making the city an excellent option for all manner of adventures after dark. Borders blur a bit, with bars being a bit like clubs and cafés turning into cabaret venues and live music striking up in the most unlikely places. The streets are safe and the taxis are cheap. There’s really no excuse for not having a good night out.

St Elizabeth's Monastery

                                                        Minsk’s Top 5:
  1. Cathedral of Saint Virgin Mary is a Roman Catholic baroque cathedral in Minsk.
    The cathedral was built in 1710 as a church of the Jesuit monastery. In 1793, after Russia's taking over Belarus, the Jesuit order was banned and the church got a local status. Soon, after creation of the Minsk diocese, the church became the local cathedral. The Cathedral was heavily damaged in a fire in 1797, but was later fully renewed. In 1869, the Minsk diocese was liquidated and the church got a parafial status. In November 1917, the diocese was restored; Zygmunt Lazinski was appointed as a bishop. In 1920, Lazinski was arrested by Soviet authorities, the cathedral was closed down in 1934. During the Second World War, the Germans allowed the cathedral to function again, but after the war it was again closed down by the Soviets. In 1951, the cathedral's bell towers were intentionally destroyed by Soviet artillery and the building itself was given to the Spartak sports society. In the beginning of the 1990s, religious services started again. In 1993, the building was given back to the Roman Catholics; by 1997 it was renewed.
  2. Minsk City Hall. was built in 1600 in High Market, located in the central part of the City. In times of Grand Duchy of Lithuania and The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth the building performed primarily administrative functions - local authorities such as city council, the council and the court sat there. It’s notable that large clock was installed on the tower, which in those days was a miracle of engineering. In 1851 was decided to demolish City Hall, as its existence reminded residents about the customs of the past. It’s noteworthy that the inhabitants of the city did not want to participate in the destruction of the building and City hall was dismantled by local jail inmates. In the period from 2002 to 2003 City Hall has been restored and renovated by "Stary Mensk." experts. Specialists were able to restore the main elements of the building, using old survived drawings and paintings. Every hour chimes beats the 19 second chorus of Igor Luchenok creation "Song of Minsk". Today the restored building of City Hall is used for honored guests’ reception and the organization of important meetings, cultural evenings and presentations.
  3. Church of Sts. Simon & Helena. Known in the local vernacular as the Red Church, the city’s best-known Catholic building was constructed between 1908 and 1910 on the orders of a rich Belarusian family upon the premature death of their two children after whom the church is dedicated. The two smaller towers are named after the offspring, while the larger one represents the grief of the parents. Under the Soviets the church was turned into a cinema then a film studio. Now once again used for its original purpose, the building adds a nice splash of history to an otherwise modern square. The bronze statue in front of the church represents Archangel Michael slaying the Devil, represented as a dragon.
  4. Great Patriotic War Museum. Opened barely three months after Minsk was liberated by the Red Army, the city’s must-see Great Patriotic War Museum has come a long way over the last six decades and is currently based inside a building where it’s been since 1966. Presenting the full horrors of World War II from the perspective of the Soviet Union, you won’t find much mention of the Allied efforts, but you will get insight into the suffering of the Belarusians and the immense sacrifices made by the Red Army to liberate their territory from the ‘facist-German’ occupiers. After passing a magnificent statue of Lenin, you can visit some original tanks and planes in the back yard of the museum. All texts are in Russian, and it’s highly recommended to telephone or drop by in advance to arrange a guided tour in English to get the full benefit of the experience.
  5. The Trinity Hill or Trayetskaye Pradmestsye, is the oldest surviving district of Minsk, although it's not part of the downtown, rather a suburb, hence another name,Trinity Banlieu (Trojeckaje Pradmiescie). The historic neighbourhood sprawls along the left bank of the Svislach River in the southeastern part of the modern city. The Belarusian 5-ruble bill features an image of Trayetskaye Pradmestsye. The district takes its name from the Trinity Convent, of which little remains. The first Roman Catholic church in Minsk, the Ascension Monastery, the church of Sts. Boris and Gleb, and a synagogue have also disappeared. This is an area of 19th-century housing, mostly restored after the ravages of World War II. Modern buildings include the national opera and ballet theatre and the Island of Tears memorial.

    Trinity Hill

1 comment:

  1. Stunning and quiet area. It's condusive and happy place to stay. So informative post, now I just found out some information Regarding Cathedral of the Virgin Mary.

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