In Nesvizh like in Paris

The Radzivils’ castle, the “Belarusian Versal”, which is registered in the UNESCO World Heritage List, was opened for tourists today
The Radzivils’ castle, the “Belarusian Versal”, which is registered
in the UNESCO World Heritage List, was opened for tourists today.

Many years ago Nesvizh used to be the residence of the Dukes Radzivils, the richest aristocrats in Europe. People in Moscow and Warsaw envied their wealth. That is why, according to the scholars’ estimates, 90 per cent of the treasures which the barons kept in their castle in Nesvizh, (a city in an hour drive from Minsk) are beyond the western and eastern borders of Belarus. But the building of the Radzivils’ castle, which was built at the end of the 16th century by Italian architect Giovanni Maria Bernandoni, survived till our times. For the last 50 years there has been a sanatorium in the building of the princely palace. In 1997 the President of the Republic of Belarus signed the decree on the reconstruction of the castle. In 2005 the former Dukes Radzivils’ residence was included into the UNESCO World Heritage List. At the beginning of this autumn the first parts of the castle were opened for tourists. Time seems to turn around for hundreds of years.

For Belarusian people Nesvizh is the same as Versal for Frenchmen. That is why the events, that are happening here today, are the reflection of the renaissance of Belarus and its spirituality, as Vladimir Kovalenya, the Director of the Institute of the National Academy of Arts said.

Since the 16th century Nesvizh has been a cultural and sometimes political centre of the country. Polish Kings, Grand Dukes of Lithuania and Russia, west-european monarchs visited the Radzivils’ castle. A rich library, an archive, a collection of knight armor was kept here. Dozens of pictures, which adorned the room of the castle, make the basis of the ancient Belarusian painting of the National Art Museum in Minsk.

Some day these paintings might come back to Nesvizh. Some of them have been handed over from the capital to one of the rooms of the castle. The restorers have managed to renew five rooms altogether, including the former library and the archive, which were restored according to the old photos. The Belarusian scholars gathered unique information from the history of the building. The carvers made the furniture, which reduplicates the original closets and shelves. There is even a copy of the medieval globe in the interior of the library. There are stoves, adorned with ornamented tile. The stoves do not heat (there is a modern heating system in the walls), but they make the interior of the small white room above entrance absolutely inimitable.

Girandole and sconces with bulbs, styled as candles, create a miracolous atmosphere of the past. These details had to be reconstructed. It is a shame, that the biggest part of the interior of the castle was damaged or destroyed in the past. The restorers had to mach the old photographs, recollections, information from the archives and even remains of the crockery, which was found in the yard of the castle during the archeological work. The stoves are decorated with the tile, which fragments were found in the ground.

Nevertheless, not everything was lost irreparably. The tiled floor in some rooms remained intact. The carved table of the 19th century was among the movables, which were lost after 1941. It was found in the National Museum of History and Culture and is stored in the archive now. The shelves in the room, which tell us about the history of the building and the restoration of the castle, are made on the model of the shelves, which ornamented the interior of the Museum of Antiquity in Vilnius. Why just like this? Because the things, connected with the history of Belarus, Nesvizh, the Radzivils are kept there. Dukes Tishkeviches started to gather this collection in Logoisk, a town situated to the North from Minsk.

The most impressive is the dining-room, where tourists can taste the castle cuisine. The walls of the hall are enriched with valuable fabrics and wooden decks, the ceiling is decorated with wood carving, and the room is lighted with girandoles.

This is just the smallest part, which was opened for tourists today. The chief of the restoration Sergey Druschits said, that the rooms, where the Radzivils kept their treasures, hunter’s trophies, organized balls, hosted guests, including kings and barons, would be opened by 2010. There was a chapel in the castle, where the aristocrats could pray, “without leaving the house”. These buildings don’t look very tempting with scaffold both inside and outside.

Maybe, new rooms of the castle will be opened in the nearest future. For example, the historians know about the four underpasses, which are mentioned in the documents of the 17th century. S. Druschits said that nobody had explored the castle so carefully, as the contemporary Belarusian restorers had. There may be many sensations in the future.
There are also many problems. Unfortunately the restoration school is being formed only now. Our research workers and craftsmen hope, that their colleagues abroad will help to renew the original castle. Meanwhile, the eagle with a hunting horn (the Radzivils’ family emblem) on the towers of the castle shows the wind of change for the best in this architectonics memorial.

19 May, 2010 is assigned to be the stately date of the renaissance of the Radzivils’ castle. It is the national holiday — the Victory day. Maybe it’s not by chance. It is not because the building was opened for its founder for the first time on 7 May, 1583. There is one more reason. The Second World War was incredibly cruel for the country in the centre of Europe. It’s a miracle that Nesvizh was not ruined in those terrible years. The former Radzivils’ castle will become a palace where each Belarusian and guests from abroad can be convinced, that Belarus was a country with a highly developed civilization, not just an agricultural province of Europe, as some people think it was. The continuity between the past and the present is as strong there as nowhere else.

Viktor Korbut
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