Legacy of the past popular with investors and tourists
New phenomena of private-public partnership to protect historical and cultural legacy
The state treasury is financing the restoration of several ancient monuments, with help from patrons of arts. There is even a ‘division of labour’. Major projects are financed from the country’s budget: 38 ancient fortresses and their ruins are included on the 2012-2018 Castles of Belarus programme, approved by the Council of Ministers. Meanwhile, there are some enthusiastic individuals and institutions eager to restore former noble manors, helping Belarusian heritage rise from the ashes.
Renaissance 300 years on
The Castles of Belarus programme was inspired primarily by Novogrudok Castle, whose condition had long raised fears among enthusiasts. A list of sites countrywide needing attention has now been compiled, explains architect and restorer Sergey Drushchits, who is heading restoration at Novogrudok Castle. He has just finished working in Nesvizh, where he supervised the return of the Radziwill residence to its former glory.
Novogrudok Castle is already a hive of activity, with work starting on Kostelnaya Tower (which looks rather like a Catholic church). The semi-ruined walls, which sit on a steep slope with a drop of 24m, are in critical condition. Since Swedish troops destroyed Novogrudok Castle in 1706, nothing has been restored. Its second tower is Shchitovka, which is to be completely restored, with a museum exhibition being housed on all four floors. Half of the tower fell down in the early 20th century so photos are proving invaluable. Last year, digs began, with the remains of 13th century buildings discovered at a depth of 7m; a further two towers (previously ‘hidden’ under earth and turf) were also unearthed.
In 2013, specialists will begin to conserve ruined Krevo Castle, which is connected with three grand dukes of Lithuania: Kęstъtis, Jagiełło and Vytautas. According to Igor Chernyavsky, the Head of the Culture Ministry’s Department for Protection of Historical and Cultural Heritage, Knyazheskaya Tower may also be restored.
Ancient residences can’t yet cope with guests
In line with the Castles of Belarus programme, Golshany Castle and that in Bykhov are being restored. In 2013, Bykhov will be hosting the Day of Belarusian Written Language, so investors are already taking interest in its castle. Mir Castle was among the first to receive attention, alongside Nesvizh Palace; the latter’s park and wider estate are now being returned to their original beauty. Lida Castle is also undergoing reconstruction, with plans afoot to restore the castle in Grodno.
The popularity of tourist sites is ever rising. From January to August 2012, Mir Castle hosted 190,000 visitors, with more than ever coming from Poland, Lithuania, Russia, France, Holland, Spain, China and Brazil. According to Olga Popko, Director of Nesvizh Palace and Park Estate, foreigners account for 40 percent of all visitors. Moreover, museum employees have studied the popularity of each hall, with the Stolovaya Izba (a living room in the Renaissance-style palace) proving most popular. It was restored in line with documental sources and analogues from the late 16th-early 17th century. The Portrait Hall is the second most loved room, followed by the apartments of Duke Mikhail Svyatopolk-Mirsky — the last owner of the castle. Close behind are the castle’s library, study and dining room.
Nesvizh Castle is thinking of introducing a limit on its number of visitors, as the site is proving rather too busy for guides (and local accommodation) to cope with. Belarus’ Deputy Culture Minister, Tadeush Struzhetsky, tells us that, in 2010, 135,000 tourists visited the Radziwill’s former home; this rose to 170,000 in 2011 and, from January-September 2012, over 300,000 guests were recorded. He notes, “Such numbers are bringing organisational problems.” Clearly, Nesvizh is demonstrating unprecedented popularity, which is a good indicator for the success of other sites.