By Viktar Korbut
It has taken almost 30 years to reconstruct Mir Castle: the grandest architectural building in the country. The 16th century fortress joined UNESCO’s World Heritage List in the late 20th century, becoming a national and world treasure. Belarus is known around the globe for its ancient castle, which is our true business card and the most popular tourist site. At last, the castle has fully opened to tourists, having only had one tower available previously.
The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, was the first to enter the castle’s courtyard after restoration, noting that ‘the lost ties between times have been gradually revived, with centuries-old glory returning and the nation’s historical self-consciousness restored’. He added, “The castle complex at Mir is opening before us in its entire beauty and magnificence. Looking at it, you feel the living succession of so many generations in your heart.”
The Head of State exchanged Belarusian money for coins minted by blacksmiths at Mir Castle, using them to buy several souvenirs. He also cancelled a postal stamp, released on the eve of the holiday. The Belarusian President then chatted with several top ranking guests from Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Sweden and other states, who had arrived to attend the castle’s opening ceremony. Of course, Mir Castle is connected with so many events in European history.
The restoration of the architectural monument began in Soviet times and lasted for 27 years, witnessed by several generations of Belarusians. Without exaggeration, it has been the long held dream of the whole nation to see it restored from ruin. I visited on over a dozen occasions, each time noticing a little more how the original image of the duke’s residence was being revived. In 2000, the castle joined UNESCO’s World Heritage List, being a unique architectural monument. It boasts elements of gothic, renaissance, baroque and classicism in its construction and decorative interior, the details of which have been preserved during its reconstruction.
The fortress’ 39 halls are each different, requiring the skills of various craftsmen. Restorers were especially careful with the ceiling painting in the Radziwills’ dining ‘izba’. Dozens of specialists — artists and gilders — were involved in restoring the beautiful treasure, sometimes working seven days a week and in three shifts.
The Culture Ministry believes that the opening of Mir Castle will attract Belarusian and foreign tourists, with up to 200,000 visiting by the end of the year. “In 2011, our modest calculations are that around 400-450,000 people will visit. To attract increasing numbers of tourists, we’ll be organising concerts and thematic evenings at the castle,” promises Victor Kurash, Belarus’ Deputy Culture Minister.
Two excursion routes are currently available through Mir Castle: one explores its towers and rooms while the other leads guests to the chapel of the Svyatopolk-Mirsky dukes and through the park. Tickets cost $1 for adults and $0.50 for students and schoolchildren. A guide costs $5 for each group of at least ten people.
A hotel is available, with reproduction furniture created by Belarusian masters, as existed several centuries ago. The walls of the rooms are decorated with photos connected with the history of Mir Castle, enabling guests to embrace the medieval atmosphere.
A restaurant is located in the basement of the castle, seating several dozen and offering traditional Belarusian cuisine.
According to Belarus’ Culture Minister, Pavel Latushko, although Mir Castle itself has been restored, works are to continue until 2013, with the Italian and English-style parks being restored, alongside ponds and other parts of the estate. So far, around $30m has been spent on Mir Castle.
Romualdas Budrys, Director of the Lithuanian Art Museum:
I’ve visited this castle many times; I saw it in ruins in the 1970s and saw how its restoration began. This difficult work has finally finished. We now see that everything has been done well and this is a very great achievement for Belarusian restorers.
Stefan Eriksson, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Sweden to Belarus:
Each state preserves its history and culture. The restoration of Mir Castle is an example of how Belarusians take care of their heritage.
Witold Jurasz, Charge d’Affaires ad Interim of Poland to Belarus:
Mir Castle is a wonderful site, where the cultures of Poland, Belarus and Lithuania meet. I would love tourists to visit this attraction.