City of unusual museums

<img class="imgl" alt="Pharmacy Museum revives the atmosphere of the days gone by." src="http://www.belarus-magazine.by/images/09/080911.jpg"/>Grodno is known as a city-museum with good reason; it has so many ancient buildings and churches adorning its historical centre and boasts numerous museums. The largest is the Regional Historical-Archaeological Museum, located in the Old and New castles. Several hours are needed to visit all its halls but they are worth making the effort for. Your trip to Grodno would be incomplete without a visit to its two unusual museums, both recently opened
Pharmacy Museum revives the atmosphere of the days gone by.Grodno is known as a city-museum with good reason; it has so many ancient buildings and churches adorning its historical centre and boasts numerous museums. The largest is the Regional Historical-Archaeological Museum, located in the Old and New castles. Several hours are needed to visit all its halls but they are worth making the effort for. Your trip to Grodno would be incomplete without a visit to its two unusual museums, both recently opened.

The Museum of Fire Service History is situated in Zamkovaya Street — in the ‘heart’ of the old city. The venue was chosen for the century-old brick watchtower situated nearby. To see Grodno’s centre from a bird’s-eye view, just climb the tower; it’s the tallest building in the area. In fact, it now houses the local fire service on the lower floors and has halls upstairs. “Rather than working chronologically, we’ve concentrated on original exhibits,” stresses museum custodian Irina Kachan. “However, there are not as many of them as we might wish. A year ago, we announced our desire to collect rarities relating to Grodno’s fire service and many donations of photos, postcards and unusual objects were forthcoming. Eventually, we managed to create a good collection around the history of our city’s fire service.”
A wooden barrel welcomes us at the entrance to the museum. Until the 1920s, firemen used a horse to transport it and, later, it was mounted on a truck. Another unusual wooden exhibit is situated nearby — a mallet-slacker commonly used by klikuns (voluntary fire patrolmen) to warn city residents of fire. The museum’s collection also includes a bell, lanterns, hooks, leather and wooden buckets and metal helmets.
One’s breath is taken away on approaching Grodno’s three-dimensional panorama. Created about 15 years ago, it was recently reconstructed. With sound and lighting, it portrays the city on the eve of its most destructive fire. On May 29th, 1885, Grodno was ablaze, with flames spreading rapidly. Most of the historical centre was destroyed. The scale of the fire is evident on the 15sq.m panorama. The tragedy was so terrible that a fire brigade with two pumps was sent to the city from Polish Białystok (situated 80km away). A similar unit — made 80 years ago in Warsaw — is also on show.
Ms. Kachan draws my attention to a portrait of writer Eliza Orzeszkowa, hanging on the wall. With the city on fire, she was the first to bring the plight of those rendered homeless to the authorities’ attention. Her letters to newspapers and magazines (copies are kept by the museum) did not go unnoticed. Russian writer Anton Chekhov even wrote a feuilleton — On the Moon — criticising Grodno’s authorities for their reticence in coming forward to help such victims. Eliza raised funds to rebuild burnt homes and many Grodno residents were eternally grateful.
Walking 300m along Zamkovaya Street, we approach Sovetskaya Square and famous Farny Catholic Church, which neighbours the oldest Belarusian pharmacy-museum. Citizens often come here to buy medicine while tourists are attracted by its unique artefacts.
This unique pharmacy-museum is located in a 300 year old house; on entering, you can’t help but notice its special atmosphere. Its massive walls, arched ceilings, artistic iron work and a fireplace close to the window set off the reproduction antiques beautifully. Wall frescoes, the marble floor and encrusted oak furniture (made by the best cabinet-makers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania) were lost in the fire of 1885, while remaining furniture and treasures were stolen in the early 1950s. Afterwards, the ancient medicine-smelling halls were used as storehouses and, later, these were used to accommodate a furniture shop.
Several attempts were made to restore the pharmacy but they all failed due to lack of money. Eventually, the Director of the Scientific-Production Enterprise Biotest, Nikolay Doroshkevich, got down to business. In 1996, he used his own money to mend the halls, which he rented. He then began gathering artefacts. Entrance is free but anyone wishing to donate money can place it in a box at the entrance.
The collection unites over a thousand objects, documents, books and illustrations. The most valuable include a 1716 pharmaceutical mortar and pestle, a mid-18th century china jar and a collection of scales. Most date back to the late 19th–early 20th century. Fragments of a century-old drug room and an herbal laboratory are open to the public.
“The exhibition showcases only a third of all our pharmaceutical treasures; the remainder are in storage,” explains guide Victoria Tkacheva. “Most often, we purchase exhibits from collectors — although museums sometimes donate items. People also bring us artefacts but we need to pay for them.”
A stuffed giant wood grouse stands in the pharmacy. In fact, ancient drug stores once exhibited stuffed birds, fish and other creatures — since they were used as medical ingredients. Wood grouse stomach linings are still used in medicine today. This stuffed example is unique, having belonged to Stanislav Zhivna, a collector known far beyond Grodno, eight decades ago.
The herbarium is another unusual exhibit — planted by Polish classical writer Eliza Orzeszkowa, who often visited the pharmacy and was fond of making herbal curatives. It evokes another age, when famous people gathered in front of fireplaces to drink tea. Among them would have been Jean Emmanuel Zhiliber — a French botanist, professor and founder of pharmaceutical science in Belarus and Lithuania. In the late 18th century, he worked at the local laboratory. Later, the pharmacy was owned by Jan Adamovich, who greatly contributed to the study of the Druskininkai mineral springs. In the late 19th century, restless revolutionary Mikhail Vilfred Voynich came from Kaunas to the house, to marry writer Ethel Lilian. Her Arthur character from The Gadfly was inspired by him.
Another unusual museum — of the history of religion — is soon to open in a reconstructed building in Zamkovaya Street. It will be the only one in Belarus and its rare exhibits will provide information on the confessions which exist in the country.

[i]By Iosif Popko[/i]
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