Familiar places still have some new discoveries to offer
The summer tourist season was rich in discoveries, with even the remotest corners yielding unexpected surprises — from art galleries to ancient settlements. You might think that our castles had long since revealed their secrets but new finds continue to be discovered. Meanwhile, ambitious plans are afoot countrywide. Just imagine, how might a quiet museum in Zdravnevo, near Vitebsk, become a centre of attraction for thousands of visitors and journalists? Wonderful events are taking place, alluring travellers from near and far.
Nesvizh: Radziwiłł Palace unveils its secrets
Several restored halls at 16th-18th century Nesvizh Castle have now opened to the public, following many years of reconstruction. The Director of the Nesvizh National Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve, Sergey Klimov, gave me a tour of the Kamenitsa and Southern Gallery, where restoration works have now finished. “By the end of the year, we plan to have opened 27 more halls. Particular aspects of the Castle restoration requiring special attention — such as restoring frescoes and mantelpieces — will also continue after 2011.”
Mr. Klimov notes that even more exhibition venues may appear at Nesvizh Castle over the course of time — in the basements and underground tunnels. Authentic pieces have been located at foreign auctions and with private owners, with several now purchased: Slutsk sashes, coins and medals. Furniture has been acquired and is now being arranged inside the Radziwiłłs’ former residence.
Borisov: Russian retrospective
The Resurrection Cathedral in Borisov, not far from Minsk, is being restored in late 19th-early 20th century style. This year, its faзade reconstruction and restoration will be completed, as will that of its interior. Natalia Golosova, who is heading the restoration, notes that the church is to be crowned with crosses, inspired by those of the Orthodox church from the late 19th-early 20th century.
The first engineering investigations were conducted in 2005. Strengthening of its arches, vaults and walls is the major aspect of repair, taking several years to remove the building from its pre-emergency condition. The Resurrection Cathedral stands on oak piles which need moisture to retain their shape. When a contemporary building was constructed nearby, ground water disappeared, making the timber dry out and sink. As a result it began to lean, like the Tower of Pisa, with cracks evident in the plaster. Additional engineering investigations have been vital.
Borisov’s Resurrection Cathedral is built in the retrospective-Russian style, with Moscow church architecture styling. It was constructed in 1874 by an engineer from St. Petersburg — Piotr Merkulov. The 12m high red brick building actually stands on the site of an even more ancient version of the Resurrection Church, which burnt down in 1865.
Golshany and Krevo: legacy of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Golshany village, located on the border with Lithuania, retains the ruins of the Sapegi family’s castle, founded in the 17th century and described in Vladimir Korotkevich’s Black Castle of Olshany. A nearby fortified hill, located within a few kilometres, also remains: once home to the Golshansky Dukes, who founded the settlement. This summer, archaeologists unearthed the foundations of a tower from the Golshansky’s fortress.
Pavel Kenko, a research officer with the National Academy of Sciences’ History Institute, believes that the tower was built in the 12th century. “It seems that it was destroyed by fire, and we’ve found body parts (fingers and legs) alongside hundreds of arrowheads. The ancient fort, which is around 25m high, has been razed to the ground several times, with occupied layers evident from the 5th, late 10th, 11th and 12th centuries (unearthed to a depth of 2m). A silver buckle from the belt of a male warrior has been found — as only previously discovered in the ancient capital of Lithuania (in Kernavė — between Vilnius and Kaunas). However, our true treasure is a 5th century Hun arrowhead; they were a nomadic nation, which eventually destroyed Rome.” Golshany was clearly once an important historical site for Belarus and all Europe.
This summer, archaeologists have also been digging near Krevo citadel, nor far from Golshany. It was constructed by great Lithuanian dukes in the 14th century. In 1385, a political union on the alliance of Poland and Lithuania was signed there.
Drissa: greeting from last pagan
Minsk divers have joined Polotsk archaeologists in raising a pagan idol dating from pre-Christian times (before 988). It was found on the bed of the River Drissa (in Vitebsk Region’s Rossony District). According to specialists, the find is unique worldwide, being made from wood. Nothing similar has been located in Eastern Europe. Despite having spent around a thousand years lying 3-4m below the water, the 1.2m statue is in good condition. Denis Duk, who heads Polotsk State University History Chair, tells us that it weighs up to 150kg. “It’s made from a huge oak branch. River water preserves timber brilliantly, especially oak. The place where it was discovered was once a densely populated area, with many burial mounds nearby; the most ancient date back to the 6th century.”
At present, the idol is being kept at the National Academy of Sciences’ History Institute, where its exact age is being determined.
Grodno: Jesuit church altar takes centre stage
In August, Grodno hosted the solemn unveiling of Farny Roman Catholic Church’s restored altar. It was damaged by fire in 2006, which destroyed the relief columns, part of the balustrade, decorations and four sculptures.
The composition has been restored using photos, with Belarusian carvers joined by masters from Vilnius (who added the gold-leaf). Pawel Sadlej, Chief Restorer at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, was one of the scientific leaders of the restoration works.
Farny Church in Grodno was consecrated in 1705 and is one of Belarus’ oldest Roman Catholic churches. Its central altar includes over 20 figures, which were created by Kцnigsberg carver Schmidt in the 1730s.
A solemn church service and consecration of the new altar was performed by the Archbishop Metropolitan of Minsk and Mogilev, Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz. Jan Kuczynski, the church’s priest, tells us that work will continue in other parts of the interior.
Logoisk: a wooden phoenix
A knights’ settlement once stood in ancient Logoisk, in the Tyshkevichs’ picturesque park. After a joint meeting of the Ministry for Sports and Tourism and the Ministry for Culture, the idea appeared to construct a wooden knights’ castle on the site, alongside a town of craftsmen. Alexander Varykish, a famous tour guide and ‘pioneer’ of animation in Belarusian tourism, once planned such a ‘fake’ castle near Rakov, supported by local authorities; he’s now hopeful that a similar project will be implemented in Logoisk.
“It’s an ideal site, boasting rich history and being located near Minsk. It would attract numerous tourists in winter, expanding the tourist season and allowing it to operate all year round. The local authorities are keen to discuss ideas and assist in construction, offering labour and equipment. Designs are now being submitted, with reference to the Culture Ministry and the NAS’ History Institute. Initially, we’d need to conduct digs at the proposed site, since we may find the remains of some old foundations, upon which new buildings could be built. It may only take 18 months to implement the project.”
Zdravnevo: Repins’ return
Vitebsk and its suburbs were recently visited by French relatives of the Russian painter Ilya Repin. Four of his great-great-grandsons — Yvan, Serge, Nadine and Michel Diakonoff — were visiting for the first time. These fifth generation relatives are descended from Tatiana Repina-Yazeva — the granddaughter of the painter, who settled on her grandfather’s estate in Zdravnevo near Vitebsk after the October Revolution. She married Ivan Diakonoff, a son of local priest Dmitry Diakonoff, and had four children: Valentin, Kirill, Galina and Roman.
The Repin-Diakonoff visiting party first toured the village of Verkhovie (called Sloboda during their famous forefather’s time, then Repino). There, they visited a cemetery where Ilya Repin’s father — Yefim Repin — and priest Dmitry Diakonoff are buried. They sampled birch juice and admired a poplar aged over a hundred years, which grew back in the time of Ivan Diakonoff.
Later, they visited Zdravnevo Museum-Estate, which was created on the site of the former estate owned by Ilya Repin. He bought it in 1892 and, until 1902, enjoyed it as a summer retreat with his family. There, he created his famous pictures: The Belarusian, A Moonlit Night, The Duel and In the Sun. His watercolours, drawings, icons, original photos, letters and books are still kept there. The party also met the descendants of peasant Sidor Shavrov, on the former family estate, who inspired Repin’s Belarusian picture.
The oldest representative of the family was Lyon resident Yvan Diakonoff, 59 — an engineer with France Tйlйcom Corporation. He donated verse to the museum, which was written by his grandmother, Tatiana. The visit has drawn global attention to the artist’s legacy, as kept in Belarus, with many pictures currently on show at Vitebsk’s Regional Art Museum and at the National Art Museum in Minsk.
By Viktar Аndreev
Old paths towards new impressions
[b]Familiar places still have some new discoveries to offer[/b]The summer tourist season was rich in discoveries, with even the remotest corners yielding unexpected surprises — from art galleries to ancient settlements. You might think that our castles had long since revealed their secrets but new finds continue to be discovered. Meanwhile, ambitious plans are afoot countrywide.