[b]New infrastructure countrywide while monuments of ancient architecture are restored[/b]The IIHF World Championship is being hosted in Minsk within the next year, inspiring a boom in construction; prestigious hotels are being built while entrepreneurs are launching hostels. Meanwhile, ancient buildings are being restored in the provinces and ecological routes are opening up wilderness areas. Summer is a time for holidays and Belarus has much to offer, hoping to attract visitors from near and far.
The IIHF World Championship is being hosted in Minsk within the next year, inspiring a boom in construction; prestigious hotels are being built while entrepreneurs are launching hostels. Meanwhile, ancient buildings are being restored in the provinces and ecological routes are opening up wilderness areas. Summer is a time for holidays and Belarus has much to offer, hoping to attract visitors from near and far.
To suit all pockets
Dozens of hotels are being constructed in Minsk; 37 contracts are underway to build new hotels, with half under construction and the remainder under design. All should be ready by 2016, doubling Minsk’s accommodation. By the end of 2013, 11 new hotels will be launched, including the second building of the Victoria Hotel, a hotel on Zamkovaya and Kirill streets and another on Mefodiy Street. Four budget-priced hotels will provide the city with inexpensive accommodation: on Narochanskaya, Koshevoy, Korzhenevsky and Kuprevich streets. Meanwhile, the Hotel Belarus is now being revamped. Minsk has eight hostels, able to sleep 400; all are the result of private initiative and their number could double over the next year or two.
The ‘Minsk City Tour’ double-decker tour bus is already taking sightseers around the historical centre. Passengers can ‘hop on and off’ as they like through the day, with buses appearing at regular intervals. Other routes will soon join the scheme, with the appearance of a second bus.
Brest prepares for its 1,000th anniversary
The city authorities are now preparing for the jubilee, planning an historical-cultural site at the Hero-Fortress and in the adjacent historical district, creating a connection between the memorial and the city. Experts from the UN, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Russia, Ukraine and Lithuania have been invited to consult, calculating that the fortress should be able to attract up to two million tourists annually (up from today’s 200,000).
Architects agree that the fortress requires little change or interference, although preserving bullet holes and 1941 inscriptions on the walls is important, to keep the atmosphere of the past. Its courageous soldiers fought German invaders during World War II. In fact, ancient Berestie is ready for a second birth, with residents being asked for their opinions on how to shape the city. Other aspects could come under focus besides its tragic WWII history.
Some archaeological, design and construction works have been conducted, while Pogranichny Island opened in February 2013 — the most important achievement so far. In the second half of the 20th century, it was a closed border zone, enabling the unique fortifications to be preserved almost in their original state: the remains of barracks and aircraft shelters from the early 20th century stand alongside powder depots, a brick sluice and a customs official’s booth from the late 19th century. In total, there are 38 sites of historical-cultural and tourist interest. The restoration of the Terespol Gates is next in line, alongside that of the bridges of Terespol and Brigit.
Families of Sapegi and Radziwill would have surely been pleased
Ruzhany Castle’s entrance gate in the form of a triumphal arc is now restored, with a two-storey annex on either side. Once the home of the influential Sapegi family (in the Pruzhany District), the settlement of Ruzhany is first mentioned in 1490 documents and passed into the hands of the noble Sapegi family in 1598. They began building the castle in Ruzhany in the 16th century but it was destroyed several times over the centuries, necessitating rebuilding. In the second half of the 18th century, it was restored as a baroque-style palace, boasting its own theatre, gallery, picturesque park and greenhouse. Sadly, the two world wars of the 20th century sent the magnificent complex into ruin. However, it is now being gradually brought to life, thanks to Brestrestavratsiya specialists.
Meanwhile, infrastructure is being improved at Nesvizh Castle, which opened fully to tourists last year. The Director of the Nesvizh National Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve, Sergey Klimov, tells us that they welcomed 440,000 visitors last year, as well as hosting several grand events: Nights of the Bolshoi Theatre at Radziwill Castle, an exhibition from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, Ursula Radziwill’s Theatre Forum, the Muses of Nesvizh Republican Festival of Chamber Music and a charity ball which gathered celebrities from all over Europe. Live music is performed every Sunday.
The palace and park estate is certainly recouping the restoration costs via ticket sales, showing that our historical-cultural heritage can be made to ‘pay for itself’ with sensible management. The castle now boasts a hotel, which can sleep 50, alongside a restaurant and a cafй. This year sees its famous underground tunnels open, with visitors able to rent an audio-guide rather than relying on a traditional tour guide. Mr. Klimov notes, “We want to turn Nesvizh into a cultural satellite of Minsk, welcoming at least 500,000 tourists annually from 2013.”
Ecological and green routes are a relatively new phenomenon for Belarus, with several regions organising routes through sites of natural beauty and historical significance, appealing to a wide variety of interests.
The village of Semezhevo (Kopyl District) now boasts a weaving museum, including master classes in embroidery for guests. The site is also known for its ‘Kolyady Tsars’ custom: registered on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Mikhail Vysotsky, a Hero of Belarus and Chief Designer of Minsk’s Automobile Works, was born in the village, with the oldest residents still recalling his running through the streets in childhood.
The first inter-regional green route appeared to the north of Minsk — stretching from the River Isloch to the River Viliya, starting in ancient Rakov, with its 18th century Church of the Transfiguration of the Saviour and its early 20th century Church of St. Dominic and the Holy Mother. It also boasts Felix Yanushkevich’s Rakovskaya Tsivilisatsiya Art Gallery and the Malpaland amusement park. After seeing how honey is collected, and tasting some samples, World of Bees museum visitors can cycle to Molodechno through Rakutevshchina, which still remembers Maxim Bogdanovich. In Vileika, you can tour the neo-Gothic Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, from the early 20th century, as well as Vilyanin Khutor’s estate, where a traditional Belarusian wedding is played out.
Two green routes are being developed in the Baranovichi District — along the Servech and Svorotva rivers, set against the Novogrudok hills and including ancient parks, as well as the triangular church in Velikaya Svorotva.
Six agro-estates offer beds for a night — or several days. Adam Mickiewicz’s homeland of Novogrudok is located nearby. The ruins of the ancient castle towers still remember Mindovg — the founder of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. A former water tower will soon house a museum of water, like the tower-museums of Polotsk, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, Hamburg, Lisbon and many Polish cities. The Director of Novogrudok’s History Museum, Tamara Vershitskaya, suggests placing a cafй in the tower, since eating well is part of the pleasure of any holiday.
Belarus now offers comfortable accommodation and its infrastructure is constantly being improved. State and private businesses are working hard to create new routes, attracting new visitors.
By Viktar Korbut