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Five Hundred Years of Belarusian Book Printing, or Tour of Unique Museum in Polotsk

Society 27.02.2017 | 17:23

In Belarus there is a museum that is a must-visit in 2017 when the country celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Belarusian book printing. This is the only museum of Belarusian book printing. It is located in Polotsk and makes part of the Polotsk National Historical and Cultural Museum Reserve. The museum will definitely be the heart of the celebrations as Polotsk has been chosen to host the Belarusian Literature Day in September. The museum is housed in the former building of the Epiphany Monastery, an architectural specimen of the 18th century. It displays items and artifacts related to writing and book printing, from ancient scripts to modern printed books. It introduces its visitors to the history of writing, writing tools and materials, book illustrations, and printing industry. The two-story museum has 15 halls. BelTA has visited the museum to find out what is has prepared for the visitors of the Belarusian Literature Day celebrations.

The museum opened its doors to visitors on 8 September 1990 during the celebrations of the 500th birthday of Francysk Skaryna, the first Belarusian and Eastern European book printer born in Polotsk. Today it is gearing up to mark the 500th anniversary of the Belarusian book printing. Tamara Dzhumantayeva, the director of the Polotsk National Historical and Cultural Museum Reserve, has unveiled some of the plans to BelTA. “We plan to put on display Malaya Padarozhnaya Knizhytsa (The Little Travel Book), a monument of the national book culture, that Francysk Skaryna printed in 1522. The book has recently become part of the corporate collection of Belgazprombank,” the director said.

An album with the tentative title Museum and Book will be published to mark the Belarusian Literature Day. “This magnificent album will be issued by the Belarus publishing house. We will present a retrospective look at the 500 years of Belarusian book printing, and will do this through the lens of our museum. We will show what we have and demonstrate the phenomenon of Belarusian book printing. The presentation of the album will be held in Polotsk in September,” Tamara Dzhumantayeva said.

She added that in the run-up to the Belarusian Literature Day, the museum will undergo some redesign and renovation. “The works have already been started. We will change the showcases, upgrade the lighting system, change the furniture and some of the exhibits. Books published in the recent years will be added to the exhibits on display. We plan to showcase the pendent seal of Saint Euphrosyne of Polotsk found during the excavations at the Saint Euphrosyne convent. The upgraded museum will open on the Belarusian Literature Day,” the director noted. She added that the museum has a cafe and a bookstore. Tamara Dzhumantayeva pointed out that another must-do in 2017 celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Belarusian book printing is to see Anatoly Klyshko's Bukvar (ABC book).

By the way, this legendary book is kept in the hall featuring the winners of different book contests. “Bukvar won the Grand Prix at the international book fair in Leipzig (Germany) in 1975. The Belarusian book was named the best book in the world. This is the only book among all national ABCs of the former USSR which was awarded the golden medal of international exhibition,” Olga Shulchenko, an employee of the museum, emphasized.

Meanwhile, Olga Shulchenko is conducting a tour for students of Francysk Skaryna Polotsk State Gymnasium No. 1.

“Here's a scriptorium where monks copied books using goose feathers.”

“Here is a room where typesetters worked using the printing press which was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century.”

The Book Printing Museum also houses the Library of Simeon of Polotsk which is a museum in itself. It is designed in the style of western European libraries of the 17th -18th centuries, two-level bookcases, a reading room and a globe (the biggest in Belarus) in the middle.

The exposition tells about different periods of the life of Simeon of Polotsk, in particular his literary and publishing activities. The library boasts his original books, copies of the original manuscripts, and also the works of modern scholars dedicated to the life and works of the famous Polotsk native. This is both a scientific library and museum of Simeon of Polotsk. On the second level there is the library of modern scientific literature which is used by employees of the Polotsk museums, senior students of the Polotsk State University,” the guide said.

She noted that the hall dedicated to Simeon of Polotsk preserves the atmosphere of old times. With the globe as the centerpiece attracting major attention, it is very popular with school students.


photos by Alexander KHITROV,


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