Short stories Minsk

 

The history of Minsk is astonishing and full of paradoxes. The city is firstly mentioned in manuscripts in connection with the battle on the Nemiga river, which took place on March 3, 1067. So the first news about the existence of the city is connected with disastrous events in its life. As for its original name — Mensk (the current name “Minsk” was acquired only in the late 17th century as a result of transferring the lands under the power of Rzecz Pospolita), there are two versions of its origin. The first one originates it from the word “menyat” (to change), which allows to make a conclusion about intensive trade activities here since ancient times. The second variant takes us to the world of legends, in which the kind giant Menesk crushes and grinds huge boulders so that the noise should scare evil people off. In any case the first mentioning of Mensk in connection with the bloody events seems to have left an imprint on its further life, which became a row of fierce battles, destructions, raids and revivals from ruins and ash. In the year 1084 Minsk was plundered and burned down by the Prince of Kiev Vladimir Monomakh. Since 1104 — Minsk is the center of the Minsk Principality, since the 14th century — a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

The year 1241 — Minsk has hardly escaped the consequences of the Tatars’ raid, which were beaten in its environs. The year 1505 — attack on the city by the Crimean Khan Makhmet-Girey. In 1499 Minsk was granted the Magdeburg Rights. After the second partition of Rzecz Pospolita in 1793, Minsk was incorporated into the Russian Empire. The first Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party took place in Minsk on March 1–3, 1898. It declared the foundation of the party which assumed all the power in Russia in 1917, and was called later the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Situated on the cross-roads of the important trade routes, Minsk had wide commercial relations with the West and the East, During the war of 1654–1667 between Russia and Rzecz Pospolita, the North War of 1700–1721 the city was repeatedly destroyed. Early 17th century — the Northern war, early 18th century — invasion of Napoleon’s troops. In the history of Minsk it is difficult to find even 100 years, that were lived by the city peacefully and without shocks, the most horrible of which was WW II. When on July 3, 1944 the Soviet troops entered the liberated Minsk, the city was just a pile of smoking wreckage — 80 % of the buildings were ruined, only forty five thousand people out of 270,000 citizens of the capital survived. The view was really terrible, and for some time the government has been even considering restoration of the city inexpedient suggesting to transfer the capital to a new place. Fortunately, such extreme measures didn’t come true and, thanks to that, today you can get to know this city of hard and interesting fate.

 

 

On July 27, 1990 a Declaration of the State Sovereignty of the Republic of Belarus was adopted in Minsk. On December 8, 1991 the leaders of Belarus, Russia and the Ukraine signed an agreement on creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) with Minsk being the administrative centre.

Today Minsk is distinguished by its straight arrow-like wide avenues, freely-spread parks, comfortable labyrinths of streets and friendly people. The guests of the capital say that Minsk is one of the cleanest and most green cities of Europe, and that’s really true. Certainly, the destructive history has left its imprint on its face and other European cities can offer a traveller a considerably greater choice of ancient and architectural monuments. However, a curious mind will undoubtedly appreciate the bright originality of Minsk — perhaps, it’s the only city in the world with a one-thousand-year history, completely destroyed as a result of a war and restored due to the enthusiasm of architects and citizens within several decades. Quite unique is the planning of the city with its main road — Skorina avenue (more than 11 km long), which crosses four central squares (Oktyabrskaya, Victory, Kolas and Kalinin squares). The design of Skorina avenue is a marvellous example of the 20th century Soviet architecture, of the so-called “Stalinist” construction style.

The buildings decorated with arcs, columns and stucco moulding, look extremely solemn and remind the grandeur of the Ancient Rome, and the avenue width underlines the magnificent panorama. Modern planning of the city and its original architecture are the quintessence of the 20th century: from the modest house of the I Congress of the Russian social-democratic worker’s party — the leader of the great revolution, that had shaken the world, to the grandiose edifice of the Republic Palace, that has been under construction for 15 years and now surprises the guests with its gloomy colossal size. Not many real ancient monuments have remained in Minsk, that’s why even brighter shine these pearls embedded in the contemporary city scenery — architecturally various Orthodox and Catholic churches, the oldest one of which is a small St. Peter and Paul church dated by 1613; dwelling houses of the 18–19th centuries, representing various styles from classicism to eclectics and neo-baroque.

 

 

One of the most interesting quarters in Minsk is the so called “Upper town”, ascending from the banks of the river Svisloch to the Freedom Square. Two main churches of two main confessions in Belarus are situated here — the Orthodox Saint Spirit Cathedral and the Catholic Saint Virgin Mary Cathedral. Medieval spirit hovers in these small streets, which is promoted by the houses in baroque and eclectics styles, and the building of Masons’ House, which is surrounded with legends even nowadays.

The Rakov suburb is of not less interest: here there is the Minsk castle area — the oldest part of the city. Excavations here resulted in finding marks and signs dated back to the XI century — the remnants of several streets and buildings.

The Troitskoye suburb is, perhaps, the most well-known part of the city. Frankly if can not be called really historical — this is just a reconstruction of the 19th century buildings, but it is performed with such fantasy and love that no one can resist its fascination! Red tiled roofs, fairy-tale small houses, mysteriously tangled cobbled streets and comfortable yards — all this, mixed up with lots of pleasant cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops attract the citizens of Minsk and its guests to “Troyka”, as people use to call this place with sympathy. And still Minsk, as any other city, is just streets, bridges and buildings, no matter how old or modern they are. The fascination of Minsk is in its special aura, which is noticed by all people coming here. Tranquillity, tolerance and goodwill — these are the distinctive features of its people, transferred to their city. Guests, who come here for the first time, usually notice that they feel here as comfort- ably as at home. Walk slowly along wide streets, sit for a while in shady parks, plunge in the noisy fuss of markets and try to dream sitting at stone-framed Svisloch banks. Welcome to Minsk — the city, where no one feel alien!

 

 

Minsk has always been a place of contact and mutual penetration of different cultures, the crossroads where the Catholic West and the Orthodox Russia met. For hundreds of years Minsk had seen peaceful coexistence of Belarusians, Jews, Russians, Poles, Lithuanians, Tartars…

Minsk’s modern look was formed on the ruins after World War II. Minsk is considered one of the best cities of the former Soviet Union. The city is well planned and despite its spacious and wide streets and squares it looks quite compact. Two diameters lie in the core of the city’s layout — the most prestigious Skorina Avenue with the main squares (Independence, Oktyabrskaya, Victory and Yakub Kolas Squares) and perpendicularly to the Avenue a water-green diameter along

Masherov Avenue, making a cascade of water reservoirs, parks and public gardens.

The historical centre of the city is the recently restored Troitskoye Predmestie and the Upper Town (now the Liberty Square region). Take our advice and have a walk along Skorina Avenue from Independence Square with the House of Government (1933), Lenin Monument (1933) and the Red Sts. Simon and Alena Cathedral (1910) down to Victory Square with the Victory Monument (1954) and the house-museum of the first Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. There are many interesting museums in Minsk. And if you have a spare evening we highly recommend you see Belarusian ballet.