Journey with historical entourage

A few months ago, my friends and I took a weekend ‘city break’ by car, visiting three districts across the Grodno Region, aiming to enjoy the ancient estates for which Belarus is well-known
By Yuri Chernyakevich

Over just two days, we managed to drive over 100km and saw a dozen notable sites in the districts of Slonim and Zelva. However, we discovered that we most liked Volkovyssk, with its wonderful palace and estate. Situated in the village of Podorosk, its exquisite facade dates from the mid-19th century, designed by Roman Bokhvits, the son of famous philosopher Florian Bokhvits. Its majestic grandeur is simply elegant, making it stand out among Belarus’ many ancient estates. It housed a school until just one year ago, when the site was put up for auction and bought by a private investor. “The estate sold at auction for $120,000, to Russian businessman Pavel Beregovich,” explains the Head of Volkovyssk District Executive Committee’s Culture Department, Ivan Morzhalo. He tells us, ”We’re currently working on restoring the site, with the new owner planning to create an agro-eco tourism venue, as well as a museum of Belarusian gentry.”

We visited a similar agro-eco tourism site in the Volkovyssk District, in the village of Kraski, just 4km from Podorosk. Since December 2009, the former home of the Segen family has been owned by another Russian businessman and is now on regional and national tourist routes. It often hosts groups from the capital of Belarus, and from other regions countrywide, as Mr. Morzhalo tells us. From the very start, the new owner of the estate insisted that it be open to tourists. “Naturally, we discussed the issue with him in advance, so that we knew his position. There are no problems with excursions touring this historic building,” notes Mr. Morzhalo.

The estate is enjoying a ‘new life’, with much restoration work afoot. In autumn, when I visited the Volkovyssk District, I watched about a dozen people hard at work in the gardens: pruning bushes, painting the fence and clearing debris. Mr. Morzhalo assures me that all the necessary work has now been carried out and that the local authorities are making sure that the original appearance of the historic building remains fully preserved.

Mr. Morzhalo underlines, “From the very beginning, the owner expressed his desire to conduct restoration at the highest technical level, following archive sources. Mr. Vadim Selikh — the owner — is familiar with Belarusian legislation on protecting our historical and cultural heritage and is keen to adhere strictly to this.”

Mr. Morzhalo adds that, although the palace and estate no longer belong to the district executive committee, staff remain responsible for the protection of our heritage and national monuments, so call in regularly. The reincarnation of the estate in Kraski continues and sale to a private owner does not mean freedom from responsibility. The Ministry of Culture of Belarus confirms that renovation meets the required standards. The Head of the Department for Protection of Historical and Cultural Heritage, within the Ministry of Culture, Igor Chernyavsky, notes, “The estate in Kraski, in my opinion, is being restored well; Volkovyssk District authorities are liaising closely with the owners of these historic buildings. It would be great to see such co-operation adopted across all Belarus.”

Needless to say, opportunities for co-operation with the private sector in protecting our historical heritage are promising. Besides preserving ancient walls from destruction, investors are injecting money into the regions; restored estates, palaces and parks have a positive impact on Belarus’ image and become tourist attractions.

Having visited three areas of the Grodno Region in a single day, we decided to spend night in historic Volkovyssk. In 1517, Austrian diplomat Sigismund von Herberstein spent a night there during his travels across Europe, writing that he found the local hotel worthy of praise. Vinnitsa Hotel is still just as comfortable, suiting this cosy, clean and well-maintained city, through which we strolled happily in the evening. Even the most well-travelled of foreign guests would be sure to find delight in visiting.
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