Magic of ancient walls

[b]Ancient architectural sites in small Belarusian towns attract tourists[/b]After the Great Patriotic War, few historical buildings remained in Dubrovno — a district centre in the Vitebsk region. Entering the town from Orsha, you can’t help but notice a deserted redbrick two-storey building on the hill, belonging to the Bernardine Monastery in the 19th century. Today, it boasts new windows and a repaired roof.
Ancient architectural sites in small Belarusian towns attract tourists

After the Great Patriotic War, few historical buildings remained in Dubrovno — a district centre in the Vitebsk region. Entering the town from Orsha, you can’t help but notice a deserted redbrick two-storey building on the hill, belonging to the Bernardine Monastery in the 19th century. Today, it boasts new windows and a repaired roof.
Belarus is working hard to restore its ancient palaces and estates, breathing new life into architectural treasures. The former Bernardine Monastery in Dubrovno is no exception and a local history museum is to open here after restoration. Plenty of exhibits have been gathered in readiness, while the many mysterious and romantic stories connected with the monastery are sure to attract the attention of tourists.
The Bernardine monks appeared in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (including the territory of Belarus) in the early 17th century. Wearing brown tunics tied with woollen belts in three knots, they were known for their severity and austerity. They taught local boys theology, philosophy and the sciences while conducting church services. The construction of their wooden monastery in Dubrovno began back in 1624, when the town was owned by Yuri Glebovich.
By the late 18th century, ownership had transferred to Duke Ksawery Lubomirski, who welcomed the cream of society to his home. However, he was a tyrannical ruler; only his love for his beautiful daughter Klementina softened his heart. During one of his trips to St. Petersburg, Klementina decided to organise a ball, at which she met tall and handsome landowner Piotr Kroer. She fell in love, unaware that he had long planned her seduction. They danced all evening and were married the next day by the Bernardine monk. The pair then took all the cash in the palace and escaped to neighbouring Mogilev. The rage of the duke was terrible. Several days later, fishermen found the bodies of two monks in the River Dnieper — one had been responsible for performing the marriage ceremony. At dawn the next day, the monastery was ablaze, soon razed to the ground. It was years later before it was re-built…
At various times, the building housed a school, municipal services and military and sport organisations. Restoration works have recently begun, with the aim of opening a local history museum inside. “In the mid-1990s, archaeologists from the Academy of Sciences of Belarus conducted digs here,” recollects Yekaterina Labuko, the Head of Dubrovno’s District Cultural Department. “They found tiles, ancient containers and decorations, proving that Dubrovno is an ancient town with an interesting history.”
A working group was founded, aiming to create the museum. Over 13,000 exhibits have been collected so far; the third floor of the district house of culture can hardly accommodate them. “In one of the rooms, we have a temporary exhibition for schoolchildren while the remaining rooms are full of exhibits,” explains the Director of the working group, Tatiana Maracheva. “This mammoth bone was found in a nearby pit, while this harmonica was donated to us by Vladimir Prusov, who helped liberate the Dubrovno district during the Great Patriotic War. He was carrying it when he entered Berlin.”
Exhibits include bones of pre-historic animals, medieval metal bracelets, arrowheads, a unique collection of homespun rushniks and picturesque paintings by amateur artists. If there were more room, the number of exhibits might be even greater.
“The ‘Varangians to the Greeks’ route passed along the River Dnieper and we know that Napoleon travelled through our town — along the Yekaterinensky Tract in 1812,” notes Svetlana Ryzhanskaya, the Deputy Chair of the Dubrovno District Executive Committee. “A wonderful trans-border route — from Orsha to Dubrovno and Smolensk — could be developed. Meanwhile, participants of the Dnieper Voices International Song and Music Festival — an annual event in our town — will be glad to visit the museum. In addition, relatives of Red Army soldiers buried at Rylenki memorial are sure to come, alongside veterans, who traditionally gather in Dubrovno on Victory Day.”
Funds have already been allocated to pay for the reconstruction of the Bernardine Monastery, as part of an investment programme in the Vitebsk region. By late 2011, it should be complete; in 2-3 years, tourists keen to learn more about Belarus will be able to visit the museum in Dubrovno, gaining closer acquaintance with the history of the ancient town. They’ll be able to wander the corridors of the former monastery, musing on its intriguing, sad yet romantic history…

By Sergey Golesnik
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