34 highmarks of Belarus

As the spring comes, many of us feel a burst of energy and love for the country. For these people we have prepared a subjective guide titled “34 stars of Belarus”. This is a brief reference book on the places, which are obligatory for visit by not only Belarusians, but also by curious foreigners. To love and to know Belarus is absolutely affordable.

When composing this guide, we used the recommendations, observations and knowledge of Zmitser Navitski, journalist and traveler, Raman Voranau, editor of vitebsk4.me and historian, Tsimokh Akudovich, historian and guide. A big respect to them!

 

 

Brest region

 

1. Bielavezhskaya Pushcha, Kamianets district

What is it?

The largest and the oldest forest area in Europe. Today it is a biosphere reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The main thing – the forest has European bisons (wisents). They even can be hunted. But, fortunately, not all of them. Each year only a few badly sick or very old bisons get into the hunting list. The cost of a license is about € 20 000. Hardly affordable for you.

What to do?

If you admire hunting, you know what to do then. If you are more into feeding a bison from your hands – breathe with the relict air, visit the ancient Kamianets tower, and take one for the road in the legendary estate of Viskuli where the USSR collapsed. For a night you can stop at the Tyshkevich estate, where Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the author of the Social Contract theory, intended to stay for good. By the way, these places have the mildest winter in Belarus.

 

2. Brest Fortress, city of Brest

What is it?

A legendary stronghold and a huge open air museum of the Soviet heroic monumentalism. The fortress itself was constructed in the 19th century, though these islands had seen much even before. In 1596 this was the place of the Church Union, and during the WWI the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty was signed here. But what made the fortress globally famous is the desperate resistance of its defendants against the superior numbers of Nazi troops at the beginning of the WWII.

What to do?

The tour can be made in a chronological way. On Volyn hills there is a museum “Biarestse” – archeological excavation where you can see the remnants of 11-13th centuries’ settlement. Back to the future – museum of the Brest Fortress defense. The museum area is vast and will take a couple hours of walk. In the depth you will find the Fort V – a half-deserted fortification which makes you feel uncomfortable. When your head is fed up with history, go and feed your stomach on Savetskaya Street in the city centre.

 

3. Kosava Castle, city of Kosava, Ivatsevichy district

What is it?

A neo-Gothic castle of the Puslowski could be easily placed somewhere in Wales. At the times of classicism such a castle was a kind of defiance. Another special feature – the building was located in the way to watch the mansion of Kosciuszko, the birthplace of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a national hero of the USA, Poland and Belarus, and an honorary citizen of France. The palace was founded at the beginning of 19th century by Kazimir Puslouski, whose grandson has lost the mansion by gambling. Must have been a reckless person. The palace had 12 towers, each for a month of the year, and contained more than a hundred rooms. Thus it’s no surprise that having been put on fire by partisans in 1943, it was burning for almost 10 days. Kosciuszko mansion was burnt at the same time again.

What to do?

The Kosava Castle was constructed on a terrace looking onto water meadow – imagine the exterior of von Trier’s Melancholia in the local climate. But you have to rush – the reconstruction is underway. They are building a tourist complex. Besides, you have to visit the house-museum of Kosciuszko, listen to the guided tours about the professional revolutionary and traveler who gave the name to the highest mountain of Australia. On your way back, you can stop at Ruzhany, have a look on the remnants of Sapieha’s. The gates are impressive, but recently the merciless painters-restorers have started the renovation.

 

4. Polesia

What is it?

This largest swampy area in Europe takes almost 30% of Belarus’ map. Terra incognita with the territory of a small country with isolated villages and amazing local inhabitants, palyashuks, who have their own non-typical dialect.

What to do?

You should wait till you here “The Pripyat has overflown in Polesia” on the news and go to Pinsk right away. There you stop at a hotel and go for rambles in the countryside. Or you can rent a forester’s house and watch the ice breaking. Port wine and BG are optional, but you can see the Herodotus’ sea only in spring on the Pripyat. Also it’s good to take a boat and sail along the Belarusian Venice – Polesian villages in the water up to the neck. Or you can sail down the Pripyat from any village near Pinsk to Turau.

 

 

Vitsebsk region

 

5. Mokh Swamp, Miyory district

What is it?

A nature reserve which looks fantastic. This is tundra in Belarus, as experts say, judging by the extraordinary local scenery. The natural habitat of various species of animals and birds including rare black storks from the Red List. This is the only place in Belarus where cloudberries – “the North orange” which the Belarusian workers extract on the lands of Finland and Sweden.

What to do?

Put on the rubber boots and pick cloudberries. Many predators live here, but hunting is forbidden. However, fishing is legal – there are 4 lakes in the neighborhood. The closest community is Perabroddze village where you can see the Saint George’s catholic church, remnants of mansions and local inhabitants unscared by Russian tourists.

 

6. Braslau Lakes, Braslau district

What is it?

A huge national park which includes about 60 lakes, enormous swampy and forested areas, hundreds of rare species of flora and fauna.

What to do?

Wait for the summer and rush to the Braslau lakes. Enlist yourself for a boat tour around all the lakes – and feel like a hero from the National Geographic. Then take a bike and go around local churches with a compulsory stop in Slabodka village. For these two weeks turn off the mobile and never get online.

 

7. Mosar village, Hlybokae district

What is it?

Village of teetotallers. The only one in Belarus. This miracle came true thanks to the Lithuanian priest Yuzef Bulka. In his old age Bulka moved to a typical Belarusian village and started perfecting the local daily life. Took a shovel – and now the area by the local church looks like jungles of the central climate lane. At the same time Bulka launched a campaign against alcohol: he refused perform a funeral, baptize or marry if there was booze around. The new rules were in force even at the weddings. And voilà – in several years there appeared a generation which had seen vodka on TV only.

What to do?

Listen to organ in the church of Saint Ann of 18th century, admire the rural landscape design and pat by the ear an ostrich from the local catholic farm. Feel nostalgic in the antialcohol museum with the voluntarily surrendered distillers. In the end, strengthen your morale by watching the local Golgotha – here on the hill stands the highest cross in Belarus, 27 meters.

 

8. Pakrouskaya street, city of Vitsebsk

What is it?

Marc Chagall’s native place. Here you’ll find his house-museum, which rebuilt for a thousand times but the guides’ devotion sometimes makes up for the authenticity of the bricks. Son of a poor loader from a fish store, Chagall left Vitsebsk when he was 20 – but for 77 years more he drew these houses and roofs. Even on the lampshade of the Grand Opéra in Paris you will find a perspective of Pakrouskaya.

What to do?

Visit the museum in order to feel sad about the fact that there’s only one Chagall’s picture left in Belarus and go to have a snack in the Chinese restaurant “Golden Dragon” located next to the city hall. And as the locals say, if you haven’t made a picture of the Dormition Church from the Kirov bridge, then you haven’t checked in Vitebsk.

 

9. Saint John’s Church, Kamai village, Pastavy district

What is it?

The only church in Belarus that has never closed during 400 years of its existence. The building dates back to the 17th century and exemplifies the Belarusian defensive Gothic with massive walls and loopholes – the right place for both praying and shoot some lead from muskets. The inner paintings were made by Alfred Romer, artist and noble who made portraits of peasants and painted church walls.

What to do?

Admire the inner decorations, paintings, descend to the crypt. To saturate the cultural programme you can visit the neighboring villages and take the following route: Pliaban – Chyrvonae – Vileyka – Miadzel – Narach – Kamai – Lyntupy – Svir – Smarhon’.

 

10. Saint Sophia Cathedral, city of Polatsk

What is it?

The first stone church in Belarus constructed in the 11th century by the legendary prince Vseslav the Seer. In terms of the architectural majesty the church did not yield to its analogues in Novgorod and Kyiv. The present look is at least the third variant of the Polatsk Sophia. The church suffered much from fires and invaders until it was completely destroyed by Russian troops during the Great Northern War in the 18th century.

The building was renovated by architect Glaubitz https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Christoph_Glaubitz, while the interiors were decorated by the Swiss from a southern Italian-speaking canton. Their descendants still remember who was feeding the whole neighborhood three hundred years ago. Next to the cathedral you’ll see the Rogvolod’s Stone of the 11th century with the Christian cross. The locals still come here to pray. However, the Belarusian orthodoxy is still the Bealrusian orthodoxy: some people sacrifice sweets and buns to the stone. Next to a little spring lies a pagan sacrificial stone. In Belarus only.

What to do?

Listen to organ. Then go to museums, drink coffee, and by all means visit a private museum “The Lenin’s Epoch” with a collection of Lenin’s and Dzerzhinsky’s busts. At the entrance sits the owners - according to the legend, with a bat to defend from the nationalists.

 

11. Trinity Church, Belaya Tsarkva village, Chashniki district

What is it?

This is the only fragment of a building in the early baroque which has saved its original look. There is nothing left even in Italy, where this architectural style was born. The church was built by decision of the famous chancellor Leu Sapieha. The architect was Aristotile Fioravanti, the one to build the Dormition Cathedral in Moscow. The church was destroyed by the bellicose atheists in 1932. In the soviet times it was an alpinist training site. There’s still a sign left saying “Alpinism – a school of courage”. Today here you’ll face wind and cattle – the locals say if an animal graze near the church, the milk yield increases.

What to do?

Go there at the times of lilacs’ blossom, there’s lots of it. With a book of Czesław Miłosz’s prose – Chareya, the closest village, used to belong to his family. And one of the Belarusian Miłoszs, Oscar – the French poet and Polish diplomat – was the uncle and teacher of the future Nobel Literature Prize winner. It’s also worth coming here in summer as next to the hill there are three lakes, pick any!

 

12. Church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, city of Hlybokae

What is it?

Two in one – the church is located in front of the catholic Trinity Church of the 18th century. A typical situation for any Belarusian city. It only lacks a Lenin’s monument to complete the historic pattern. The politician’s bust was recently knocked down. Instead, now there are monuments to the famous fellow-townsmen: Vatslau Lastouski, ethnographer and public figure, Yazep Drazdovich, artist, Ihnat Buynitski, the founder of the Belarusian national theatre. And this is not a typical situation for any Belarusian city.

What to do?

Usually people come here to check out the Vilna baroque design and walk down the same paths that Napoleon did. But if you have a prior agreement with the people from the church you will be able to see the miracle-working icon brought from Mount Athos, go down to the huge underground areas, see the places where the remains of unknown people were found (maybe, of those killed in the 1930s), and go to the very top of the belfry with a wonderful view of the whole city.

 

 

Homel’ region

 

13. Homel’ Palace and Park Ensemble, city of Homel'

What is it?

This is the largest piece of the old times which remained as a whole, not losing its integrity. The story is as follows: the Russian empress Catherine II presented Homel’ to her favorite earl Rumiantsev “for fun”, and he built a house for himself. Soon the palace passed into the hands of general Paskevich, who built a complex of utility constructions: winter garden, hunter’s house and a couple of churches. In total, it’s almost a kilometer of private property on the Sozh bank.

What to do?

The palace was severely damaged during the counter-revolutionary uprising in 1919 and WWII – Germans took all the valuables and set the palace on fire at parting. The interior is renovated and nowadays it is a museum. A picturesque park in front of the palace – 24 hectares - is still in a good condition. Go there and check out the diversity of architectural forms the Tzar regime left. After all, buy some chocolate in the brand store of the “Spartak”.

 

14. Gerards’ estate, Dziam’ianki village, Dobrush district

What is it?

A wonderful mansion in the Russian Revival style, which is now in the state of a natural conservation – in the resettlement area. The red-bricked estate was built by means of the Russian statesman, general-governor of Finland Nikolay Gerard in the second half of the 19th century. It’s located on the hill slope crossed by a ravine – a four-arched bridge has great decorative function. There’s also a well-preserved park with rare species of trees. In the Soviet times the building housed a special school for orphans and waifs.

What to do?

First of all, to be proud of yourself to get here. It’s absolutely legal, but you will hardly meet any tourists. Classic entertainments include the ghost of Gerard’s daughter who fell in love with an officer, that left for the war, didn’t endure the tension and shot herself. Or you can simply enjoy the silence, which is incredible here.

 

 

Hrodna region

 

15. Upper and Lower Castles, city of Hrodna

What is it?

There are two castles on the Zamkavaya Street. The Lower (or the Old) Castle was built in the 14th century to replace its wooden predecessor. It was fierce and formidable, with 50-metre wide moat and three-meter thick walls. At the times of Stephen Bathory, the king of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, who chose Hrodna as his residence, the castle was rebuilt. However, during the Great Northern War it was burnt by Swedes. A new, Higher Castle was built. It was a classic palace. It hosted the sessions of Sejm including the last one, when the king Stanisław August Poniatowski abdicated. Under the Tzar regime the palace housed barracks, during the WWII it was on fire, today it’s a museum. Frankly speaking, the castles are only one issue on the list of what you should see in Hrodna.

What to do?

In terms of architecture, Hrodna is probably the most European city in Belarus. To feel the city spirit, you can rent a flat on Savetskay Street for a weekend, book tickets to the theatre and hunt for the local beauties. Spend the weekend on reading Kalinouski, walking in the parks, watching the synagogue and the Kalozha Church before it’s completely washed down into the river, and drink port wine on the bank of the Neman.

Besides, it’s worth watching the only Belarusian Lutheran church of the 19th century – it’s located in the building of the former inn, and it still has services. The city’s highmark is St. Francis Xavier Cathedral of the 17th-18th centuries. It was the richest catholic church and jesuitical abbey in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The interior is worth studying even today.

 

16. Hrodna fortified district, Dorhun’ village, Hrodna district

What is it?

A part of the Molotov Line - a fortifications system built in 1940-1941. Caponniers, pillboxes, embrasure units straggling over clear coniferous forests. On the constructions, partly covered by moss, you’ll see the marks of shells, inside – rusty armored doors and holes for the used cartridge cases. Thanks to historians’ efforts, this fortification complex is now on the national heritage list. Usually, such oversighted fortifications are turned into the dump by the locals.

What to do?

Many know about our victory in the WWII, but very few realize what it was like. Daily battles took place here – where the pillboxes with destroyed loopholes grew into the land, in the hidden forest caponniers and trenches. Even more scaring than riding a roller coaster is to feel that this silence is for you. There are thousands of such places remained in Belarus, you can read about some of them here.

 

17. Saint Trinity Church, Herviaty village, Astravets district

What is it?

The highest catholic church in Belarus – 61 meters, and the only one built according to all the neo-Gothic canons. It was constructed on the place of a wooden church of the 16th century by architect Alshalouski. For the sake of building, there was a brick factory opened in the village. Eggs, gathered from the entire neighborhood, were added into the lime mortar to strengthen it. The roofing slate was specially brought from Germany.

What to do?

Learn how the flying buttress looks like. It is an external semi-arch which apportions the load from the main wall to counterforts, separate piers. In Herviaty you will see the only example of their usage in Belarus. It’s also worth listening to the mess – the services are delivered in Lithuanian, Belarusian and Polish. At parting, explore the park – monuments of apostles, angels and trees are allocated in a geometric order.

 

18. Chalk pits outside Vaukavysk, Vaukavysk district

What is it?

The pits are known for their incredibly azure water. Outside Vaukavysk there’s a big deposit of chalk. The worked-out deposits turn into water reservoirs. There are over 100 pits, but only “fresh” lakes have the famous color. “Belarusian Maldives” attract even tourists from Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania.

What to do?

Swim. The chalk gives an unusual color to the water and prevents the existence of any living creatures. There are no organized beaches for tourists, that’s why you’ll have to dive into the water from the bank. This fact, along with the authorities’ intention to prohibit the stay here, will add an adventurous zest to your trip.

 

19. Forest Church, Dubok village, Smarhon district

What is it?

The most mysterious church in Belarus located in the woods. There’s almost no information about it. We only know that it was built in 1929. The service is held once a year accompanied with candles. People say that during the service it’s always raining. The road to the church is not easy and has natural barriers.

What to do?

Go to the service. You will hardly experience anything more sacral than a prayer in a half-abandoned church in the woods. On your way back stop at Zhodzishki and have a look at the unique watermill of the 18th century. It still performs its function and belongs to a descendant of those who used to own it before the Bolsheviks.

 

20. Mir Castle, town of Mir, Karelichy district

What is it?

The traditional pearl of Belarus. The castle was supposed to be the residence of Il’inich family, who started building in the 16th century. But soon the clan disappeared and the location passed to the Radzivill who gave the castle its classic look of a multi-layered cake. According to the legend, they also built a three-lined underpass to their another residence – the Niasvizh Castle. The last owner of the Mir Castle was Mikhail Sviatapolk-Mirski whose father mysteriously drowned in a pond that he had ordered to dig. In the soviet times it was a working artel, during the occupation – ghetto and labor camp for prisoners of war. In the last decade the castle has gone through a large-scale reconstruction and now contains a hotel and a business-centre.

What to do?

Occasionally the castle hosts concerts of a wide range: from classic music to the obscurant Belarusian pop. In the peace time we recommend to take a friend archeologist, for the experienced people say this lowbrow triviality could be a very interesting object, if you come here with a good architect or archeologist. Each detail can be told about for hours. For example, machicolation is a floor opening from where hot pitch could be poured onto Moskals or Swedes. Sometimes such balconies were used as restrooms, and then it was not pitch to pour.

 

21. Navahrudak Castle, city of Navahrudak, Navahrudak district

What is it?

This majestic third of a tower on a high hill is everything left from the castle, where Mindaugas, the first Grand Duke of Lithuania, was crowned. The castle was frequently damaged. It was destroyed completely by Swedes in the 18th century. However, there’s something magic left on these hills even today – when the sunbeams enter through the clouds, it feels like standing on the altar.

What to do?

Meditate on the hills, and then visit the Church of the Transfiguration of Christ. It has three sanctuaries oriented into different directions - reminiscence of paganism. Here Jogailo married Jadwiga, Adam Mickiewicz, the great Polish poet of Belarusian origin, was baptized. His house-museum is located not far away. In general, Navahrudak is a place of strength. These forests saw the partisan detachment of Tuvia Belski, played by Daniel Craig. It was also the working place of Barys Kit, one of the creators of the American “Apollo” space program.

 

22. Chatviartsinski Palace, Zhaludok village, Shchuchyn district

What is it?

An outstanding building of Modern and the best setting for movies about the noblemen’s estates. The patrimony was built by an Italian called Marconi in 1908. Soon the building passes to the Bolsheviks, then – to the army who turned into the cultural centre. There are still five-pointed stars and a cinema booth.

What to do?

Look at the well-preserved fireplace and stairs. In general, the palace still can be saved. And the best option is not plastering the façade. but selling for a private usage to a tycoon, the way it was with an estate in Kraski. Another example of the alienation of property from the heirs is the Palace of Rdultouski in Snou. One of the most outstanding and beautiful classicism palaces in Belarus is unavailable for visitors – there’s still a military hospital.

 

23. Synagogue, city of Slonim, Slonim district

What is it?

One of the oldest synagogues in Belarus. It was built in 1642 in the Baroque style. What is curious is that the half-destroyed building has reserved its abundant internal decorations. The synagogue was severely damaged during the war against Napoleon but was quickly renovated – the Slonim Jewish community was one of the most powerful in Belarus. At the end of the 19th century there were 21 synagogues, 70% of the population was Jewish. In the 2000s the building was returned to the believers, but no renovations has been done so far.

What to do?

Work your neck and watch the interior design, columns and mouldings. The central element – a majestic half-destroyed Torah ark, an analogue of the Jewish altar. In fact, this is a box where the bundles of Torah are put. As for the decorations, there remained exotic gold-blue lions. Afterwards, you can visit the local market to get some 100% natural products. Like 300 years ago, the market is located right behind the synagogue.

 

24. Oginski’s estate, Zalesse village, Smarhon’ district

What is it?

The Oginski’s estate was nicknamed “The Northern Athens” due to the quantity of musicians, artists and diplomats from all over Lithuanian and Poland who were hosted here. The estate’s owner, Michał Kleofas Ogiński, was an outstanding person. Diplomat, rebel, Talleyrand’s friend, he built this residence in 1802 after returning from exile and lived here for 20 years. Because of the disputes with Alexander I he had to emigrate and spend the rest of his life in Italy. Right before the exile, in Zalesse he wrote his poignant polonaise “A Farewell to the Homeland”.

What to do?

The complex was built in an unusual way for those times – two palaces, two greenhouses, two parks, and a zoo. Only the estate, a chapel and several utility buildings remained. The renovation is in a permanently dead condition, therefore, upload the classic version of the polonaise to the iPod, steal through the fence and walk along the paths.

 

25. Missile silo “Chusavaya”, outside Smarhon’, Smarhon’ district

What is it?

A well-preserved object of the Cold War. During the decades of tension between the USA and USSR, many nuclear sites were built in Belarus as in the most Western part of the empire. This is a missile silo of type R-14U, capable of reaching targets in up to 4500 km away, in other words – any place in Europe. Naturally, marauders have taken away everything valuable, but the complex of silos is still there.

What to do?

When visiting this site you should use special apparel, good torches and be very attentive especially underground. It’s worth going to feel the hysterical atmosphere of a militant state. There are lots of such objects but they are not for family holidays.

 

 

Minsk region

 

26. Khatyn’ village, Lahoysk district

What is it?

High-quality Soviet monumental architecture. Memorial complex created on the place of a village completely destroyed by the Nazis during the WWII. All the inhabitants were driven together into a barn and set on fire. The same was done in 628 Belarusian villages. A story by Raman Voranau will be the best reply to all the skeptics: “Once I was driving with a famous Russian designer who had hangover. He saw the sign “Khatyn” and said: “Let’s go there! No one makes monuments of such a level today”.

What to do?

Watch “Come and See” by Elem Klimau, go and compare your feelings with those you had from the schooltime tour.

 

27. The Strochytsy Museum of the Folk Architecture and Mode of Life, town of Aziartso, Minsk district

What is it?

Peasant Belarus in miniature. An open air museum with the samples of typical old buildings of three Belarus’ regions: the Central Part, the Lake region and the Dnieper region. The ethnological research here can be made on the base of a church, parish school, mill, baths and peasant houses of different types. All these constructions are scattered over the picturesque fields, missed so much by a European soul from the densely populated West.

What to do?

It’s worth visiting if a foreigner has little time for exploring the country. First of all – make a shot of khrenavukha in the inn at the entrance, take a tour and listen about the daily life of our ancestors. During the traditional holidays like Koliada or Maslenitsa they organize massive festivities and drinking, and every year at the beginning of autumn – ethno music festival.

 

28. Naliboki Pushcha, Valozhyn district

What is it?

The largest forest area in Belarus. Takes three territories of Andorra. There are many different animals, 35 species from the Red List, including 29 rare species of birds. The rest can be hunted if you are cruel enough.

What to do?

Take your girlfriend and make a quick march to the very depths of the Naliboki Pushcha. With a stop at the lake Kroman’ and finish at the Nyoman water meadows. During the travel, impress the girl with quotes of Sergiusz Piasecki, who walked this forest back and forth, and do not forget about Władysław Syrokomla and “A journey of a familiar man through his familiar land”. During the quick march you can also visit the ruins of Tyshkevich’s estate in Vialae village, where aristocrats used to celebrate successful hunting and swim naked in the Islach river.

 

29. Niasvizh Palace, city of Niasvizh, Niasvizh district

What is it?

The patrimony of the incredibly rich family of Radzivill – for some time their annual income was twice as much as the income of the Polish king. The residence was built in the 16th century to the project of the Dutch engineers. It used to have 12 gala halls, cabinet of curiosities, library of 20 thousand books, portrait gallery, theatre, several parks and even a Japanese garden. The balls gathered novelty from all over Lithuania; legitimacy children outnumbered the population of a typical village. Unfortunately, the palace was frequently and severely robbed, mainly by the Russian troops and Soviet regime. A part of the Radzivill treasure is now kept in the Hermitage Museum, another part is scattered over the territory of the former USSR. In Soviet times this was a KGB sanatorium. Recently the palace has gone through renovation, but the main part is well-reserved.

What to do?

Turn on imagination and not pay attention to the modern renovated parts. Have a look at swans, get lost in the park, meet Polish tourists and eat draniki with them. A legend says that in the premises there are still Radzivill treasures, hidden during Napoleon’s retreat. Let this fact inspire your inner Indiana Jones. At the entrance to the complex you’ll find the Corpus Christi Church, the first Baroque church in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and the second the world. There’s also Radzivill’s burial vault - the only necropolis of this type in Eastern Europe, alike Habsburgs’ crypt. It really looks like the Habsburgs’ crypt. And a surprise for the night – ghost of Barbara Radzivill, one of the most educated and dissolute women of her time, who was poisoned by her mother-in-law for that. Please, kiss the queen’s hand when you meet her.

 

30. Stalinist architecture, city of Minsk

What is it?

Minsk is a witness and a victim of the Soviet imperial ambitions. You can feel it while walking down the Praspekt Niezalezhnastsi (the former Avenue of Francysk Skaryna - a straight asphalt arrow stretching for 15 km and cutting the city into two pieces. For this we should thank the evil genius of Minsk – architect Iosif Langbard. He is also the father of the House of Government, the House of Officers, Academy of Science, the Theatre of Opera and Ballet – almost all these monumental buildings could be easily reached from the Independence Square if you just go down the Independence Avenue (Praspekt Niezalezhnastsi).

Artist Artur Klinov called this part of Minsk “Horad SONtsa” (Minsk the City of Sun) in order to illustrate the Avenue as the main road of the Big Communist Dream.

What to do?

What to do in Minsk – see our guide.

 

 

Mahiliou region

 

31. Babruisk fortress, city of Babruisk

What is it?

This big fortress was constructed during the preparations for the war with Napoleon. To build the fortress, the existing city was practically destroyed. The fortress stood the long French siege, and after the war was turned into prison. The fortress is said to have a cell in the form of an egg, where the prisoners went mad after several weeks. Even Herzen wrote that even Siberian prisons are less terrible than “the one on the Berazina bank”.

Today the fortress is a huge area of 2-3 km with scattered caponiers, ravelins and other fortifications. In the very centre landed a giant aliens’ spaceship – Babruisk ice arena for 7000 viewers, which could be compared with the then size of the garrison. Not far away there is an abandoned guardroom rebuilt from the Jesuitical church.

What to do?

Loaf about the city – Babruisk used to have a large Jewish community; therefore there are many nice and extraordinary buildings. Once the city deeply impressed the Russian designer and LJ-user Artemiy Lebedev – in his blog he wrote about “the catholic churches hidden behind inexpressive facades of the 30s”.

 

32. Leninskaya street, city of Mahiliou

What is it?

A province city with a nice past and a dubious present. The pedestrian Leninskaya street, the former Vialikaya Sadovaya, has two city palaces of the 17th-18th centuries, a posh theatre and a massive Saint Stanislav’s church – the main catholic cathedral of the Russian Empire in the 18th century. A bit further – school of Otto Schmidt, the famous mathematician and researcher of the North, and Nikolai Sudzilovsky, the first president of Hawaii. And the renovated city hall for a dessert.

What to do?

Take the best coat, rent and stick the Komsomol badge – and go to Aleksadriya village (Lukashenka’s bithplace) to have a look at the Belarusian Switzerland. On the way back stay for a bit longer in Mahiliou. Sit on the “Running from the Lavsan” (the popular name of a Soviet sculpture of a woman who seems to be running from the local enterprise “Lavsan”), take a walk in the centre and get a punch from gopniks in the “Metro” night club.

 

33. “Blue Spring”, city of Slauharad, Slauharad district

What is it?

The largest spring in Belarus and Eastern Europe. It’s worth going for ice cold emerald water. Medicinal, of course. According to the legend, the Radimichs tribe was baptized in these waters.

What to do?

The water is terribly cold at any time – not all are able to do three attempts of three dives as the tradition requires. On the way you’ll find several exotic signs about the radiation danger – Mahiliou region got its share. Any tourist needs to have picture with it.

 

34. Bulhak Palace, Zhylichy village, Kirausk district

What is it?

The only place in the world where the Empire style co-exist with the socialist realism. Bulhak Palace is the largest noble court in Belarus. It takes about 4000 square meters. The mansion has gone through all the wars and is surprisingly well-preserved, even the gala rooms remained. This classicist monument was constructed in the first part of the 19th century on the bank of the Dobsna by a wealthy nobleman Ihnat Bulhak. The complex included a catholic church and a sugar factory, a big mill and even a greenhouse made to order in Warsaw. Cypress, palms, oranges were grown there and transplanted to the park in summer.

What to do?

Today there are no orange trees, so you can only walk through the rooms – there are a hundred of them and each has a different design. The extravagant internal decorations were made by Mr. Klabouski, student of the Petersburg Academy of Arts. However, today you should look upwards – only ceilings and bás-relief of several rooms were saved. The decoration elements are gold-filled, the colors are pretty gypsy-style – a blue-green ceiling speaks for itself. In the Soviet times there was a agricultural technical school and the accountant office – images of angels mix with mosaics of Lenin. Aesthetic orgasm guaranteed.

 

Translation by Egor Klimovich

 


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