City living through centuries

Ancient Novogrudok celebrates 500th anniversary of being granted Magdeburg Right

By Lidia Novikova

The Magdeburg Right regulated the activity of city authorities and courts, trade, property and crafts, as well as taxation and other issues across Europe from the 12th-13th century, enabling cities to self-govern. From the 14th century, those within the Grand Duchy of Lithuania became included in this pan-European economic and civil life. Residents of cities granted the Magdeburg Right were released from feudal duties, and were only legally answerable to their own city officials.

“Novogrudok received the Magdeburg Right in July 1511, during the Brest Sejm, as stipulated in its certificate, which now resides at the National History Museum of Lithuania in Vilnius,” notes Nikolay Gaiba, Director of the House-Museum of Adam Mickiewicz. “The city, which was considered to be one of the most significant in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, had been a voivode centre since 1507. According to its certificate, it established a structure of self-governance, introducing the posts of wojts (self-government leaders in a rural gmina), burgomasters, raitsy (regional administrators) and lavniks (jurors). Residents were released from Grand Ducal power and jurisdiction but had certain duties to pay: 50 gold coins annually into the city treasury, as well as silver for owning a tavern, shops or being involved in craftwork. Once a week, they had to supply meat to the castle too — if necessary, providing guards and carts for transporting goods.”

Crafts and trade were the basis of life in the ancient city in the 16th century and, from 1597, trade fairs were organised two times a year in Novogrudok, attended by merchants from Vilno, Vitebsk, Mogilev and elsewhere. Up to three dozen types of craft activities were represented.

In the second half of the 18th century, when many Belarusian cities lost the Magdeburg Right, Novogrudok retained this privilege. It was again confirmed in 1776 and operated until 1795, when it was completely abolished in Western Belarus.
The 500th jubilee celebrations in Novogrudok saw a memorial plaque erected to honour the date of receiving the Magdeburg Right, created by famous sculptor Gennady Buralkin; it depicts the coat of arms still used today — a clock and the keys of the city.

The district library hosted its People and Power scientific conference, gathering prominent Belarusian scientists and historians, museum staff and local historians, joined by scientists from Poland and Germany.

An exhibition of old photos, entitled Voivode Novogrudok, at the History and Local Lore Museum, revived the unique atmosphere of the ancient city. The National Academic Symphony and Pop Orchestra, conducted by Mikhail Finberg, was the honourable guest of the event. The beautiful city, with its rich and glorious history, heartily welcomed everyone for its holiday.

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