All routes lead to Polotsk
[b]Ancient capital announced Belarus’ cultural capital for 2010[/b]Polotsk has been chosen several times as a venue to celebrate the Day of Belarusian Written Language. Last year, the geographical centre of Europe was found to coincide with the ancient city’s major square. Polotsk is, no doubt, a centre of cultural life. For Belarusians, it is ‘their own Jerusalem’ — symbolising the nation’s spiritual life. It has been called ‘a glorious city’ in ancient chronicles, so the official announcement of its status as the country’s cultural capital for 2010 is no surprise. Planned events should impress both local residents and guests.
Polotsk has been chosen several times as a venue to celebrate the Day of Belarusian Written Language. Last year, the geographical centre of Europe was found to coincide with the ancient city’s major square. Polotsk is, no doubt, a centre of cultural life. For Belarusians, it is ‘their own Jerusalem’ — symbolising the nation’s spiritual life. It has been called ‘a glorious city’ in ancient chronicles, so the official announcement of its status as the country’s cultural capital for 2010 is no surprise. Planned events should impress both local residents and guests.
From Belarus’ centre to Europe’s centre. The Cultural Capital of Belarus event is the first of its kind in the republic. International experience has been taken as a model, since Europe has been proclaiming cultural capitals for many years. In 2009, neighbouring Vilnius, with which Belarus has long-term ties, was awarded this right.
“Belarus hopes that one of its cities will be named Europe’s cultural capital one day,” notes Tadeush Struzhetsky, Belarus’ Deputy Culture Minister. “At the same time, we’re accumulating our own experience in organising similar events. Many of our cities are ready to battle for the title of Belarus’ cultural capital, laying their claim to Polotsk’s place. However this year’s choice is undoubtedly wise. Polotsk has always ‘produced’ outstanding cultural figures — famous nationwide and worldwide. Additionally, the city was the capital of the first state of Belarusian ancestors; the Principality of Polotsk existed almost 1,000 years ago. These traditions still influence the life of society and people’s consciousness.”
“The status of the cultural capital should attract numerous tourists to Polotsk. This year, the city will host exhibitions by wonderful painters, concerts by leading artistic groups, performances by famous theatres, cinema premieres and presentations of books by contemporary writers. “These will distinguish Polotsk against the background of the country’s other cities, showing the diversity of its cultural life,” stressed Belarus’ Culture Minister, Pavel Latushko, during the opening ceremony on January 21st. The Slavonic Bazaar Festival will also move to Polotsk from neighbouring Vitebsk for a few days. Polotsk boasts many opportunities and wishes to organise more cultural events.
“The President has underlined on several occasions that the cultural and economic life of the country shouldn’t be concentrated solely in Minsk,” emphasises Nikolay Ilyushonok, the Deputy Chairman of the Polotsk City Executive Committee. “The Culture Ministry initiated the Cultural Capital of Belarus event with the aim of intensifying collaboration with local authorities and of further developing and enriching the cultural life of the regions. Public initiatives have been launched to support national culture, attracting wide public and tourist attention.
Studying proposals from the regions, the Culture Ministry decided to grant the honourable title to Polotsk — Belarus’ historical-cultural and spiritual centre. Polotsk plans to continue playing a major role as one of the country’s cultural centres. In particular, as part of the Cultural Capital of Belarus event, the Polotsk Angelet children’s art festival is to open, celebrating talented young artists. Of course, Belarus has produced many world celebrities. Marc Chagall, for example, was born near ancient Polotsk. In the early years of his life, he was closely connected with such towns as Liozno and Vitebsk. Polotsk possesses every chance of being not just Belarus’ first cultural capital but one of Europe’s cultural capitals.”
Great ship sails deep waters. Polotsk’s ancient coat of arms depicts a large ship, sailing along the broad Dvina River. This year, the city on the large river is to become a major regional centre, opening up new prospects. Europe’s geographical centre will offer tourists more attractions than ever before. The Culture Ministry has already announced major events, planned for Polotsk this year.
Ivan Khrutsky’s exhibition showcases him as the best still-life painter in Belarus and Russia — where he studied and lived for many years. This year, we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the master’s birth. His works are kept in Minsk and abroad; however, Polotsk residents will be the first to see canvases by their great countryman.
Originals of Frantsisk Skorina’s books are on loan from the National Library. At present, Polotsk has no original copy of Skorina’s first Belarusian Bible but this will be on display for several days.
Soloists from the National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre are to perform near the walls of ancient Sophia — an architectural masterpiece created during the Byzantine-Orthodox and Baroque ages, built from the 11th-18th century.
Under the arches of St. Saviour’s Church. When in Polotsk, it’s essential to visit the Convent of the Saviour and St. Yevfrosiniya, for three major reasons. Firstly, it was founded by Yevfrosiniya — the first woman in Eastern Europe to be canonised by the church. Secondly, it keeps a copy of St. Yevfrosiniya’s Cross — a 12th century jewelled masterpiece and our top national relic. Thirdly, St. Saviour’s Church is the only one in Belarus to have completely preserved its 12th century fresco paintings. Russian restorers are currently working on them. According to Mr. Ilyushonok, the paintings will be fully restored this year. It is delicate work. Each day, just 10sq.cm of painting is uncovered from Yevfrosiniya’s time. Of course, the top layer frescoes from the 16th and 19th centuries aren’t thrown away; they’re applied to a special film to preserve them for our descendants. Restorers have been working hard for three years, with the same time needed to restore the church to its former glory. This great deed will cost over $1m.
In 2010, a monument will be unveiled to honour architect Ioann, who built St. Saviour’s Church. On June 5th, Polotsk residents and the entire country will solemnly celebrate the 100th anniversary of the translation of the holy relics of St. Yevfrosiniya Polotskaya. Previously, the remains of the Saint were buried in Kiev, in the famous Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, where they were brought from Jerusalem back in the 12th century. Yevfrosiniya was the first among Belarusians to pilgrimage to the Holy Land; however, she didn’t return, dying in Jerusalem. The highest bishops of the Orthodox Church are expected to attend solemn celebrations.
In Napoleon’s footsteps. On the eve of 2010, a monument was restored, honouring the heroes of the 1812 Patriotic War. Funds were given by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Belarus-Russia Union State and work was included in the 2008-2012 Polotsk comprehensive development programme, signed by President Alexander Lukashenko.
The monument itself — a cast-iron column crowed by an Orthodox cross — was erected in 1850. Until 1932, it stood in front of St. Nicholas’ Cathedral in Paradnaya (now, Svobody) Square. It has now been restored to its former place, with architects and sculptors relying on archive materials and photos to ensure accuracy. They’ve studied and measured the 1812 monument to the heroes of Smolensk with the utmost care, since it’s similar to that of Polotsk and has been preserved in its original state.
The monument reminds us that, in passing via Belarus to conquer Russia, Emperor Napoleon’s army fought major battles on our soil. In October and August 1812, two historical battles between the Russian and French armies took place near Polotsk. The October battle was the largest, lasting three days, with great losses on each side. According to historians, Polotsk and its suburbs filled with the corpses of Russian and French soldiers.
By May, the monument will be complete, with two 1812 guns (seized from the French during Polotsk’s storming) installed either side on granite pedestals.
The 1,500sq.m column will be covered with decorative tiles and will be illuminated after dusk.
Gutenberg’s homeland and Jesuit capital. Polotsk’s place as a cultural capital inspires us to assess its past — full of curious facts. Polotsk historian Vladimir Lobach tells us some unusual stories about his native city.
Until the 16th century, Polotsk was considered to be Belarus’ largest city, paying the most taxes into the state treasury — proof of its cultural and economic power and magnificence. Archives state that, in 1506 and 1507, Polotsk contributed 1,519 kopas (ancient monetary unit) of Lithuanian money into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania’s treasury, while Brest, Grodno, Novogrudok and Minsk jointly sent just 900 kopas.
Frantsisk Skorina — who first translated and published the Bible in Belarusian back in the 16th century — was also born in Polotsk. Moreover, Skorina was the first in Eastern Europe to begin publishing books. Polotsk gave Belarus its own ‘Gutenberg’.
Belarus’ first higher educational establishment — Polotsk Jesuit Collegium — was also founded in Polotsk. In 1812, it acquired the status of an academy, equal to university status. Famous Belarusian-Polish figures studied there, such as artist Valenty Vankovich and writer Yan Barshchevsky. From 1773 to 1814, during the Pope’s ban on the Jesuit Order in Western Europe, Polotsk became a capital of
the Society of Jesus.
The most unusual monument in the country exists in Polotsk, honouring the Belarusian letter ‘ў’ — which distinguishes the Belarusian alphabet from other Slavonic languages. The ancient city has many surprises and there are plenty of reasons to visit Belarus’ cultural capital in 2010.
By Viktar Korbut