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18 April 2016, 17:47

Top 10 historical sites in Belarus

Sts Boris and Gleb Church (Kolozha Church), an architectural pearl of Grodno
Sts Boris and Gleb Church (Kolozha Church), an architectural pearl of Grodno

Belarus is a country with a great historical past. Located at the heart of Europe, Belarus invites tourists to visit its landmarks and get immersed into the history and culture of Belarusian people. To celebrate the International Day for Monuments and Sites marked on 18 April, BelTA presents Top 10 Belarusian historical sites that offer a glimpse into the country's past.

1. National Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve Nesvizh

Nesvizh is an ancient Belarusian town famous far beyond the country's borders. It is home to a magnificent palace and park complex placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the residence of the once powerful Radziwill family, and a number of other unique historical and architectural monuments. The Corpus Christi Church in Nesvizh is Eastern Europe's first Baroque temple where the family crypt of the Radziwills is located. In terms of numbers, the crypt is Europe's third after those of the Habsburgers and the Bourbons. The Nesvizh Town Hall is the oldest one in Belarus. It was built in 1596. The Slutsk Castle Gate that used to be part of the town defenses is the only gate still standing.

Nesvizh, Minsk Oblast

2. Mir Castle

Mir Castle, an outstanding 16th-17th century fortification and a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the most important tourist attractions in Belarus. The blend of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture makes it one of the most impressive castles in Europe. Apart from the inaccessible citadel which today houses a museum and a hotel, there are also an Italian Renaissance garden, an English park, the chapel and burial vault of the Svyatopolk-Mirsky family, and a pond nearby.

Mir, Korelichi District,

Grodno Oblast

3. Gomel Palace

Gomel Palace, perched on the bank of the river, once belonged to Count Pyotr Rumyantsev-Zadunaisky, one of the favorites of Catherine the Great. In the 19th century the estate was bought out by Ivan Paskevich, a famous military commander, who gathered a very rich collection of artworks and antiques there. The last owner of the residence was Duchess Irina Paskevich, the author of the first French translation of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. Today the palace museum has more than 150,000 unique exhibits. Among them is the Icon of Our Lady of Tenderness from the Paskevich family burial vault made by the renowned Faberge Firm in St. Petersburg and Vladimir Frolov mosaic workshop in 1887-1910.


4. St. Francis Xavier Cathedral

The magnificent Roman-Catholic Farny church is the calling card of the ancient city of Grodno. Attending the ceremony of its consecration in 1705 were King August II and Russian Tsar Peter the Great. The compound of buildings including the monastery and Belarus' first pharmacy (now the pharmacy-museum) occupied a quarter and was considered to be the most beautiful in the Rzeczpospolita. The main shrine of the cathedral is the wonder-working Icon of the Congregational Mother of God (Virgin Mary for students), a copy of the Icon of the Mother of God of the Snow from Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica in Rome, which was given to Grodno in 1664. The cathedral is famous for its magnificent wooden altar with carved figures of apostles and saints. The church is 50 meters high and is visible from any place in the city. The tower clock is the oldest one in Europe with a unique pendulus mechanism of the 12th-14th centuries.


5. St. Sophia Cathedral

St. Sophia (Hagia Sophia) Cathedral is one of the oldest Orthodox churches in Europe and the first one made of stone in Belarus. It has been nominated for the inclusion into the UNESCO World Heritage List. Erected in 1044-1066 on the orders of Prince Vseslav of Polotsk, the cathedral personified the independent and powerful Principality of Polotsk. St. Sophia in Polotsk was the third cathedral of this kind built in Ancient Rus and the fourth one in the world. St. Sophia Cathedral in Polotsk, like its “elder sisters” in Kiev and Novgorod, was built to the same design as the famous Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Constantinople. In the mid 18th century it underwent a major renovation in the ancient style of the Vilnya Baroque. Today visitors can see there ancient frescos and a copy of Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper, listen to masterpieces of Belarusian and foreign organ music, and visit the museum of the history of the architecture of the cathedral.

Polotsk, Vitebsk Oblast

6. Saint Nicholas Monastery

Saint Nicholas Monastery is one of the few buildings of the Belarusian baroque that survived to the present day. On its territory there are Saint Nicholas Cathedral (on the list of most valuable baroque buildings in Europe), the Cathedral of the Reverend Onuphrius the Great, a bell chamber, and living premises. The pride of Saint Nicholas Cathedral is the stunning four-layer icon-stand made by Mogilev carvers back in the 17th century, among whom was Shklov-born Klim Mikhailov, known for his work at the Kolomenskoye royal estate, the chambers of the Kremlin. A similar icon-stand can be found only at Smolensk Cathedral of the Novodevichy Convent in Moscow.

Saint Nicholas Monastery was regularly visited by Russian Emperor Nicholas II. False Dmitry II was among the monastery's novitiates.


7. Ruzhany Castle

The ancient residence of the powerful dynasty of the Sapiehas lures romantic guests. In the 1770s under the order of Duke Alexander Saxon architect Jan Samuel Becker transformed the unassailable fortress into an elegant ensemble with gardens, parks and greenhouses. Ruzhany Castle is famous for its richest library, a wonderful picture gallery, and one of Europe's best theaters. The castle survived a number of wars. Tourists may see here the restored central entrance gate and side wings, the Sapiehas Palace exposition featuring authentic items and interior elements from the rooms of the famous owners.

Ruzhany village, Pruzhany District, Brest Oblast

8. Palace of the Puslovskys in Kossovo

Thanks to its beauty and a special kind of exquisiteness, the Neo-Gothic castle in Kossovo has been known as “a knight's dream”. For centuries it belonged to influential dynasties: the Khreptovichs, the Sanguszkos, the Flemmings, the Czartoryskis and the Sapiehas. But the golden age of the estate was during the time of Count Wandalin Puslovsky, who was a major industrialist and the first one in Belarus to introduce a steam into a manufacturing process. Kossovo Palace was famed far and wide for its luxurious halls and a magnificent park where over 150 varieties of exotic plants could be found. The castle had over 100 rooms. The most surprising one was the Parade Hall where, they say, small fishes swam right under the glass floor.

Kossovo, Ivatsevichi District, Brest Oblast

9. Golshany Castle

The castle used to be described as a mysterious place famed in legends. Nowadays nothing but ruins still stand, while in the past it was a luxurious residence of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania's Deputy Chancellor Pawel Stefan Sapieha, a cousin of Lew Sapieha, the famous author of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Statute of 1588. Erected in about 1610, the stone building with its entrance gate and a chapel was encircled by bulwarks and bastions. They say a secret underground passage connected the castle with a monastery nearby. Legends tell the story of the Black Monk and the White Lady, whose ghosts still roam the land.

Golshany, Oshmyany District

10. Augustow Canal

A marvelous creation built by engineers in the 19th century, the canal represents an artificial waterway connecting the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. It is one of the world's top three canals on par with the Gota Canal in Sweden and the Caledonian Canal in the UK. Visitors can see unique hydraulic engineering installations there. They can use the canal to travel on a motor boat or a kayak to see picturesque and environmentally pristine places. The canal crosses the Augustow Forest, which is sometimes called the green lungs of Europe.

As a transboundary Belarusian-Polish installation, the Augustow Canal has been included into the tentative UNESCO World Heritage List.

Belarus-Poland transboundary zone, Grodno District

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