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16 July 2020, 20:00

With Pride in Heart: Churches, museums and ancient frescoes of Polotsk

Belarus' oldest town, the capital of the first state on our lands, the cradle of enlighteners, one of the most powerful towns of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania - this is all about Polotsk. It was first mentioned in the Tale of Bygone Years in 862. For many centuries Polotsk nurtured and attracted talented people who made a name for themselves all over the world. BelTA journalists went to the hometown of Euphrosyne of Polotsk, Francysk Skaryna and Simeon of Polotsk to learn how the town preserves and promotes its glorious traditions .

Brands of Polotsk

Saint Sophia Cathedral is among the most popular tourist attractions of Polotsk. The spiritual symbol of Belarusians stands on the Upper Castle near the Western Dvina River. The construction of the cathedral in the 11th century is a testimony to the economic and political strength of the Principality of Polotsk.

Throughout its history the cathedral was burnt and rebuilt several times. The cathedral acquired its present look in the 18th century. Today, it houses an exposition of the Museum of the History of Architecture of Saint Sophia Cathedral and a concert hall with an organ.

It is a popular place to arrange tours, concerts and festivals. One of them - the International Festival of Organ Music Zvany Safii - debuted in 1996 at the initiative of Honored Artist of Belarus Ksenia Pogorelaya. More than 30 years ago a native of the Russian city of Krasnodar came to Polotsk and became part of its cultural life.

Next to Saint Sophia Cathedral there is another iconic place - the building of the former Jesuit college. Today about 1,000 students of Polotsk State University study here. In the early 2000s these buildings were in a very poor shape.

“In 2003, a decision was made to repurpose historical places of Polotsk into education facilities. We were given the building of the college,” Deputy Rector of Polotsk State University Yuri Golubev said.

In 2016-2017, the building of the former college underwent a large-scale renovation. Many students have come to love “The Mechanical Head”, the famous creation of scientist Gabriel Gruber, who worked in the college at the end of the 18th century.

In the building there are exhibition spaces. A gallery of rectors featuring more than 40 names has been opened recently.

The main outdoor attractions include the restored 18th century well, a gallery of art reproductions and a musical clock with an academic procession.

There is a place of strength in Polotsk. Holy Transfiguration Church of the Savior and St Euphrosyne Convent is rightly considered a jewel of not only East Slavic but also international architecture. The church was built in the 12th century and features the unique frescoes and archaeological items. Excavations have been ongoing near the church in recent years.

“This year we found out that the church was much larger, and much of what was built in the 12th century was destroyed,” the expert said.

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The history of restoration works showed that much was unknown about the church. This religious monument is an amazing specimen of architecture. It has preserved 90% of the frescoes from the 12th century.

It took more than two decades for Belarusians and Russians to restore the frescoes. According to experts, the idea of painting the temple belongs to Euphrosyne of Polotsk. That was her message to the descendants, some kind of a code, which has yet to be deciphered.

During the archaeological excavations many important artifacts were discovered, including the seal of Euphrosyne of Polotsk, fragments of a plinth with the image of a street musician and part of the drawing of the burial vault.

Museums

One will need several days to visit all Polotsk museums. Polotsk is home to 11 state museums united into the Polotsk National Historical and Cultural Museum Reserve. One of the most important of them is the Museum of Belarusian Book Printing.

The museum features many Belarusian, Russian and Western European books of different centuries. Its 13 halls house materials showing the development of Belarusian (and East Slavonic) books and printed word: from manuscripts to mass printing.

Polotsk plans to finish the restoration of the Savior Transfiguration Church in 2024. In 2025, Christians will celebrate the 900th anniversary of the founding of the Savior and St Euphrosyne Convent.

Andrei Shcherbitsky

Photos by Aleksandr Khitrov

BelTA

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