Or different ways of sightseeing in the capital.
Vitaly Moshechkov, Director of the Minsk Information and Tourist Centre, noted that a traveller spends an average of two and a half days in Minsk. Tourists will need 60 hours to see all the sights in the Belarusian capital. However, those who wish to spend longer, and see more than the central streets of the city, actually need more time. Since Minsk is a geographical capital of Europe it has much to offer. With the help of an excursion guide it’s easy to choose unusual routes of travelling around Minsk, making the visit unforgettable.
Legends of three avenues. Every day, an excursion bus starts off at 2pm from the Railway Station. Anyone who wants can go for a ride through Minsk. This route, which I’m following jointly with other tourists, is dedicated to the events of the Great Patriotic War. The journey begins at the Railway Station and the first stop is at Pobediteley Avenue — a broad avenue with a range of high rise buildings, parks and sport maneges. Such street could be in any city. To make it more interesting, the street should have its own legend. Excursion guide Natalia Tishchenko began her narration here, and she didn’t seem to stop even for a minute after beginning. When we were driving along the contemporary highway, Ms. Tishchenko began to explain the many surprising facts of our surroundings.
We drove past the Minsk — Hero-City Monument, followed by Pobedy Park and Komsomolskoe Lake. The park was founded after 1945 while the lake was opened on June 22nd, 1941. As a result, it is a memorial to the Great Patriotic War events, created jointly by nature and by people. Then, the bus turns and drives along another street — Masherov Avenue. “Piotr Masherov was in authority over the republic from 1965 to 1980 and became the Hero of the Soviet Union back in 1944,” explained Ms. Tishchenko. On our way to the historical centre we drive along Kommunisticheskaya Street. The excursion guide explains the name of the street to us: the house which hosted the first session of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party — an ancestor of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union — stands here. Thus, the Soviet power that ruled the one sixth of the planet began in Minsk. Meanwhile, the guide adds, “The Soviet history ended also in Belarus. In 1991, an agreement on the dissolution of the USSR was signed in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha.” I should say these are fascinating facts.
Then the bus drives to the third street — Nezavisimosti Avenue. The guide directs our attention to the Instrument Making Plant, situated not far from Yakub Kolas Square. Trifon Lukyanovich worked at this plant. A monument to him has been erected in Berlin’s Treptower Park: a Russian (to be more precise a Belarusian) soldier with a girl, whom he saved in 1945 during the seizure of the German capital by the Soviet troops. The date on the facade of the building — 1940 — testifies to the long history of the factory.
Soon the excursion bus stops at another monumental construction, a large contemporary building — the National Library. “This is the tallest building in Belarus,” notes the guide. We notice that special constructions — reminding us of complex antennas — are installed on the roofs of the neighbouring residential housing. They were going to plant gardens there. There was a wonderful idea that residents of the houses can go upstairs and rest in the shadow of a ‘garden of Eden’. However, they failed, since the seeds didn’t come up because of lack of oxygen. Metal details of the construction remained.
Many buildings from early 20th century in modern and constructivist styles still remain in the contemporary Nezavisimosti Avenue. These include the House of Government and St. Simeon and Helen Roman Catholic Church, but there are many others. For example, the building that houses the Belarusian Interior Ministry was built before WWI. The nearby building belongs to the State Security Committee — the first building constructed in Minsk after WWII. Now, these buildings are historical and architectural monuments, symbolising the immortality of the capital. Despite the destruction, the city rose rejuvenated from the ashes, like the Phoenix, to live again. Minsk resembles a Rubik’s cube: wherever you happen to be, contemporary trends live in harmony with antique. That is why the city seems so full of contrasts. A thousand year old mound has been preserved in the Yugo-Zapad (south-western) district of the capital, at the junction of two contemporary streets. At first, it’s difficult to believe that Minsk, practically built completely in the 20th century, can also contain traces from the 10th century.
A key to enigma. The heart of Minsk is Svobody Square, surrounded by the Old Town with its churches and monasteries. The Town Hall is the pearl of the district. Standing on the pork of the Town Hall, Ms. Tishchenko told us that this building was described by Arthur Conan Doyle. One of the writer’s stories about the 1812 war tells how the French, withdrawing from Moscow, heard that large food stocks were being kept in Minsk’s magistracy. They came to the Town Hall and were captured by the Russians.
There are many similar legends in the city. Minsk Information and Tourist Centre and tourist agencies have documented many variants, and each person can choose their ‘own’ Minsk, which is close to them and more interesting. ‘Ancient and Contemporary Minsk’ travelling offers tourists a three hour excursion touring old districts and former suburbs with their palaces, the ancient Kalvariyskoe cemetery, a monumental development from the Pobedy Square to the National Academy of Sciences, and new districts of the capital. “Their Names Have Been Called’ is the title of the route covering the streets bearing the names of most famous Belarusians — Skorina, Kalinovsky, Kolas, Bogdanovich, Kupala and Pritytsky. In general, even Minskers don’t always know about the people whose names are specified in their official residential registrations. Such excursion will reveal many secrets to foreign guests. A number of routes give the opportunity to get acquainted with particular features of Minsk’s contemporary life: ‘University Minsk’ (a ‘cruise’ from the Belarusian State University to the National Academy of Sciences and the National Library); ‘Financial and Business Minsk’ (from the House of Government and the National Bank to the Minsk-City via BelExpo exhibition complex); and ‘Sporting Minsk’ (from Dynamo Stadium to the largest sites of physical culture and Olympic movement).
If at first sight Minsk seemed very simple to you, then after several journeys along the routes developed by the excursion bureaus, you’ll understand that the Belarusian capital is no less interesting than Moscow, Warsaw and even Prague. Each city has its own enigma; it’s necessary only to find a key to it.
By Viktar Korbut