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Looking upon beauty and immersing oneself in history

Those keen on beautiful landscapes and architecture of various eras will enjoy a journey around the circle of towns
Those keen on beautiful landscapes and architecture of various eras will enjoy a journey around the circle of towns comprising Gomel-Vetka-Chechersk-Krasny Bereg-Turov-Mozyr-Yurovichi-Rechitsa-Loev-Gomel, or simply visiting the region and its surroundings

Checherskaya Lyutnya ensemble at the unveiling of the memorial sign in Chechersk

Visiting the capital of religious exiles

Vetka is one of the most unusual towns of Belarus, being founded in the 17th century by religious exiles who came to escape persecution in Russia. They were considered to be skilful craftsmen, and there is much to admire in the carved shutters and frames while walking through the quiet streets.

The history of the town and its way of life is presented in the Vetka Museum of Old Believer Faith and Belarusian Traditions, with a collection of icons being one of the most interesting exhibits.

Many families had a collection of precious books and some of these early printed examples were re-written by hand at the beginning of the previous century. Gomel’s branch of the museum keeps the rarest exhibit — a 16th century Gospel from the Kositskaya settlement.

There’s also a collection of samovars — from a tiny ‘hiking’ one to an enormous object in the shape of a vase. The tea house did not appear accidently, since the culture of family tea-drinking was especially prized in Vetka. Water was taken directly from the River Sozh, which was considered to be the purest river in Europe, before the Chernobyl disaster.

City’s symbolic place

Learning about the great battle at Dnieper

This area is known as the ‘Belarusian Switzerland’ — a true paradise for fishermen and hunters, since the neighbouring forests offer an abundance of birds while gigantic catfish can be caught in the rivers. From the city’s central square one can see the place where another powerful river, the Sozh, runs into the River Dnieper.

People also say that the town of Loev is a town of heroes: over 300 soldiers and officers were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for forcing a crossing of the River Dnieper in 1943, when fascists fortified the river bank with an ‘eastern embankment’ — viewed as unapproachable. One can learn about these events in the Battle for the Dnieper Museum. During these battles Loev was wiped off the map and those who survived had to live in dugouts for a long time.

In the local museum

Seeing where Pushkin entertained

The town of Chechersk has been known in chronicles since the 12th century. One of its major sights is the Zamkovaya Hill. During the reign of Yekaterina the Great this settlement belonged to Duke Chernyshev who built his palace on the site of the ancient castle. None of the grandiose structures has been preserved and today the citadel is a mass grave of soldiers and partisans who liberated these places in the years of the Great Patriotic War.

Belarus has preserved five town halls, with that of Chechersk being the most unusual. Its architecture is both classical and gothic, as well as having some eastern elements. Moreover, this town hall has not just one traditional tower but five, which now house a museum.

One should make sure to drop into the Holy Transfiguration Church — a rare type of rotunda church with a big round hall. The church was painted by Italian masters and in 1793 its consecration was attended by Yekaterina II.

The town was also visited by other royal personalities: emperors Alexander II and Nikolay I. Alexander Pushkin also stayed here twice, on the way to exile to the south and back.

Chechersk Town Hall 

Keeping silence in the ‘square of the Sun’

No one drives past the settlement of Krasny Bereg: there’s always a ringing silence at Zhlobin’s memorial honouring child victims of the war. There’s a ‘square of the Sun’ in the centre: a yellow circle with seven beam pathways, going into the apple orchard — a symbol of joy and happiness. Nearby is a representation of an empty class with 21 empty school desks; a sculpture of a teenage girl is standing before them with her hands hiding her face. She is hungry and thin, in a poor dress…

It’s difficult to express everything seen here. During the war years the settlement was a ‘collecting point’ where they took blood from children for German soldiers. The names of 2,000 tortured are still unknown. During the years of the war there were 16 such concentration camps in Belarus.

Gomel Region rich in talent

Take a rest in the Duke’s park

The Tsarina donated the Gomiy estate to Field-Marshal-General Piotr Rumyantsev for his brilliant victories in the war against Turkey. He built his palace on the site of the ancient castle of Czartoryski magnates. All roads in Gomel lead to it — this is the centre of the city.

The ancient park of the Rumyantsev Palace is one of the oldest in Europe, having trees from various counties, with Siberian firs, Manchurian walnuts and ash-leaved maples neighbours with birch trees and silver spruces. A special place is Lebyazhy pond, where dozens of pairs of black and white swans slide over the water and only squirrels distract your attention from the spectacular view; they are almost tame and won’t leave you unless you give them some nuts.

Aircraft designer Pavel Sukhoy lived, studied and even taught for several years in Gomel. Moreover, the world tennis star Maria Sharapova also has Gomel roots and locals will show you with pleasure the House of Culture where singer Seryoga started his rapper career with his song Cherny Bumer (Black Boomer).

Wonderful sand beaches are located not far from the city’s central square, with a quay with cosy cafes being located on the bank of the River Sozh. Southern Gomel has more sunny days than any other Belarusian city.

By Gennady Maskov

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