From Berestie to Brest
[b]Berestie, Brest-Litovsk, Brest over Bug: all names for modern Brest — the self-sufficient regional centre. [/b]The thousand-year-old city with a turbulent past is crossed by the River Mukhavets, which runs into the Western Bug near the Terespol Gate of Brest Fortress, dividing modern Brest into two. On the right bank is the old city: on the left, there is the young, growing, new part.
The thousand-year-old city with a turbulent past is crossed by the River Mukhavets, which runs into the Western Bug near the Terespol Gate of Brest Fortress, dividing modern Brest into two. On the right bank is the old city: on the left, there is the young, growing, new part.
More than 300,000 residents live in the regional centre and the population is rising, notes the Chairman of the Brest Regional Executive Committee, Konstantin Sumar. He tells us, “The trend has been growing over the past decade, as a result of improving conditions and standards of living.”
Brest is a comfortable city for living, protected by God: it is here that the Brest Bible was published. It is also known for the Union of Brest and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, as well as the Brest Fortress. Even now, the ancient city has much to surprise visitors.
Until the 19th century, the city stood where the River Mukhavets joined the River Bug. Residents were moved to allow the building of the magnificent fortress, known worldwide for its heroic defenders. Every Belarusian pupil has visited the citadel, yet we don`t know what the future holds for the fortress.
In December, Brest residents were introduced to the ambitious new concept for developing Brest Fortress: Brest 2019. An international historical and cultural tourist centre is planned, with the aim of attracting up to two million visitors annually. It may yet become a UNESCO World Heritage site: a title which would secure the economic success of the city and attract a great many tourists. The inventory of fortress objects is complete and the archives for future restoration remain.
It is suggested that the fortress be connected with the city via a visitor centre offering full information to tourists. Seven excursion routes are planned: across the ramparts and fortified areas, as well as memorial, ecological and bicycle routes. Those wishing to submerge themselves in the history of ancient Berestie can visit the Archaeological Park, while those seeking respite and tranquillity can enjoy the Silence Garden.
The Bernardine Monastery’s ruins (the oldest in thousand-year-old Brest) are to be restored and opened to the public. Meanwhile, a multimedia patriotic installation is to open in the central monument of Brest Fortress, hosting modern art and cultural activities. All these plans are to be achieved within the next few years, rather than decades. An aerostat will transport tourists 80m above the city, being among the first of the facilities to be constructed. The fortress’ ramparts will open to tourists over the next two years. The open-air museum may be completed by 2017. It’s an exciting thought.
Last spring, visitors to Brest had the opportunity to enter Pogranichny Island for the first time: the only territory of Belarus to the left of the Western Bug. Once on the island, you can almost imagine that the war ended only yesterday. You can see caponiers, fragments of powder warehouses, and shell cases cast over earthen mounds. The most important observation platform is installed on an embankment from which Terespol Bridge once joined the Island and Brest Fortress. It is planned to restore the bridge by 2015.
128 years down the ages and distances
If the fortress stands at the heart of Brest, the railway station is its eyes and ears. Having opened in 1886, the station was the gateway to the Russian empire, then to the USSR. The building resembled a huge medieval castle with numerous arches and merlons and has since endured three reconstructions — the first in 1929.
Today, the station is again being restored, with the Moscow part receiving attention first, followed by new platforms and a new entrance tunnel to the station’s main hall. Engineering networks, tracks and communications have been modernised, as have international ticket offices and the customs hall. The renovated waiting room opened in December. The full modernisation of Brest-Tsentralny Station is costing $36 million.
As Brest railway station is second only to Minsk in passenger numbers (over 11,000 daily) modernisation has been essential. All work should be completed by May, in time for Belarus’ hosting of the World Ice Hockey Championship. In fact, it will soon take just three hours to travel between Minsk and Brest by electric train, with the new timetable available within the next six months.
Temples of the soul
The soul of the city is found in its places of worship. Many Brest residents still remember when St. Nicholas Brotherly Church of Brest held archives. The garrison church in the fortress fell into ruin, while majestic Holy Resurrection Cathedral became a place for dog walking. Today, most city suburbs have their own Orthodox or Roman Catholic or Protestant church. Nearly twenty years ago, it would have been hard to believe.
In the 18th century, the old part of the city was home to over two-dozen places of worship: Orthodox and Catholic. Most were demolished in order to build Brest Fortress, including St. Nicholas Church, where the Church Union of Brest was signed. Of course, most have been revived today, with St. Nicholas Church inside Brest Fortress being one of the most beautiful. St. Nicholas Church is also impressive. Built by seamen of the Russian Imperial Pacific Fleet and natives of the Brest Region, it actually resembles a ship. In 2005, a monument to seamen was erected in the grounds, in the shape of an anchor.
Another beautiful Brest church listed among the nation’s historical and cultural treasures is St. Reverend Simeon Stolpnik’s Cathedral, founded in 1862. It is, perhaps, the only city church to have held divine services at all times.
After Belarus gained independence, not only small churches and majestic cathedrals, but also convents and monasteries appeared in Brest. Saint Athanasius of Brest-Litovsk Monastery stands in the suburban village of Arkadiya. Meanwhile, Gospitalny Island’s former military barracks is home to the Nativity of the Most Holy Mother of God Convent.
Every Brest resident will tell you that the border is one of the city’s main features: this year sees the 75th anniversary of the customs point. A street is being renamed Mytnaya (meaning customs), having existed on the map of Brest-Litovsk in 1824, where the memorial of Brest Fortress now stands.
Brest customs has already established a ‘monument’ for itself: the Museum of Rescued Art Treasures. It already boasts a thousand icons, pictures, pieces of furniture and other exhibits, saved from being illegally smuggled out of the country.
Almost every Brest family is connected with the customs service in some way: the Brest border’s operating zone protects the frontier with Ukraine and Poland.
Festival and university city
The Museum of Rescued Art Treasures is not the only such site of which Brest residents are proud. There’s the Berestie Archaeological Museum, Brest Regional Museum, the City Museum and the Museum of Railway Machinery.
Cultural traditions also deserve attention. In January, the city will host the 26th International Festival of Classical Music: January Musical Evenings. Musicians from Russia, Ukraine, Italy, Poland, the UK, the USA, Chile, Lithuania and Kazakhstan will appear on Brest stages. For many years, the festival has set standards in music, led by famous musician Sviatoslav Richter.
September sees the Belaya Vezha Drama Festival, attracting artistes from dozens of countries. It always enjoys great popularity among Brest residents, whose city boasts two theatres: one academic and one puppet. The latter, in the centre of Brest, is gaining a new building — currently under construction.
Meanwhile, there are plans to reconstruct the regional library (named in honour of Gorky). Of course, the Brest Bible is a symbol of the city. Its Old and New Testaments were published from the printing house once located in the old part of the city. Various confessions co-existed without conflict in Brest, making it a sensible location for the project.
Nikolai Kuzmich is known for having recreated the Cross of Saint Yevfrosiniya of Polotsk, a depository for the Cross and a reliquary for the hallows of Belarusian Saint Yevfrosiniya. He uses the lost art of cloisonnй in his beautiful works.
Brest has a wealth of talented musicians, performers, artists, writers and poets, businessmen, builders, engineers and doctors. Many graduated from Brest State Technical University or from Brest State University named after A.S. Pushkin.
Removing our pain
Health care deserves a mention, with the first liver transplant having been successfully performed at Brest Regional Hospital. Its Transplantation Department opened in May, 2011, and has conducted 96 surgeries for renal transplantation to date. Surgical master-classes have been held at the regional hospital for several years, attended by world experts in cardiac surgery.
Last year, Brest City Hospital #1 marked its 115th anniversary, opening a tomographic room, as well as departments of cardiology and gynaecology. The surgical departments are now to be reconstructed and re-equipped and a new oncological clinic is being built and equipped. Brachytherapy and radiotherapeutic complexes have appeared, as well as apparatus for close-focus roentgen therapy. Patients from the Brest Region and six districts of the Grodno Region are being served by this high technology. An MR-imaging unit and gamma camera are soon to be installed, and a new 220-bed ward opened.
Brest needs to expand; although a number of suburban villages have been annexed to the city already, satellite towns are necessary for development. Infrastructure is being built in Zhabinka, including new housing, to help the situation in crowded Brest. Malorita may also become a satellite town. Accommodation is key, as is employment. A chalk deposit is being developed in Malorita, as are processing enterprises. Zhabinka already has a sugar plant.
Of course, residents of these two settlements have long been working at Brest enterprises: processing fish and making fish products, and working at Brest FEZ, as well as at sports facilities, schools and for the border service. The traffic is excellent, despite Brest having the most vehicles on its roads of any city countrywide, besides Minsk.
By Valentina Kozlovich