Searching for the loss
Let′s start our tour of Polotsk. It′s going to be exciting… Traditionally, we consider Turov our oldest town. Yet Polotsk is 100 years older. I have digged into many sources, including ancient annals devoted to my native town. Let′s dip into "the fairy legends".If only chronicles are to be believed, it appears that Polotsk is older than Kiev. Yet "the mother of Russian towns" celebrated its 1500th birthday in 1987. And what about us? Maybe we should follow Kiev example?
If only chronicles are to be believed, it appears that Polotsk is older than Kiev. Yet "the mother of Russian towns" celebrated its 1500th birthday in 1987. And what about us? Maybe we should follow Kiev example?
In the very beginning of the 10th century Polotsk troops joined the warfare against Constantinople. The capital of mighty Byzantium empire was repeatedly forced to pay tribute to Polotsk people. In second half of 10th century Polotsk was ruled by prince Rogvolod, independent both from Kiev and Novgorod. In other words, it was the starting point of Polotsk Duchy, first state formation of our ancestors. It achieved its greatest power and splendor under Vseslav Briachislavovich, undoubtedly an outstanding and mysterious person. It was not without cause that he was called the Sorcerer and was famed in tales and legends about him.
The majestic Sofia cathedral was erected on the bank of the Dvina in mid-11th century by order from prince Vseslav. This temple symbolized equality of Polotsk to Kiev and Novgorod as there were Sofia cathedrals, too; all these were built under the fashion of homonymous cathedral in Constantinople, center of the Eastern rite. Besides, there were over 10 stone churches in the 12th century in Polotsk. Only few towns in Eastern Europe could compare to this.
In the days of Vseslav (later praised in the famous "The Lay of Igor′s Warfare") the Duchy of Polotsk was nearly equal to its contemporary states like the Duchy of Bavaria or the Kingdom of Portugal. Polotsk controlled a prominent portion of ancient route "from the Varangians to the Greek". The power of the Rogvolodovichy princely house expanded as far as to all lower reaches of the Dvina and the access to the Baltic Sea. If the Duchy of Polotsk seems to be some "Backyards", the following example illustrates the opposite: Byzantine imperial house of the Comnenian intermarried the Polotsk prince house and Vseslav′s daughter married Emperor Alexej.
Thus, western chroniclers were reasonable when addressed princes of Polotsk as kings!
After its voluntary joining the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Polotsk managed to preserve its autonomy so free that is of no parallel to modern autonomies (like our eastern neighbors have). For several centuries more Polotsk followed its own laws. The city used to receive foreign ambassadors; major problems were solved at popular assemblies. A Polotsk native could undergo legal action in his hometown only. The Great Prince could appoint his governors only by permission of Polotsk residents. All Baltic princes who came to rule Polotsk, the ancient capital of the Krivichi tribe, were obliged to adopt Orthodoxy. One of them, Skirgailo, Jagailo′s brother, dared to break this rule and was expelled by anxious locals who tied him to an old mare.
Polotsk used to trade with the Hanseatic league, its residents enjoyed tax-free trade along the Dvina as well as throughout the state.
In 1498 Polotsk received a privilege from the Great Prince Alexander, which allowed the city to run the Magdeburg right like European cities. To protect their interests, Polotsk craftsmen and merchants united into crafts like their European colleagues. The city with its 9-tower castle, 12 monasteries and 18 churches reached its acme in the 16th century and outmatched Vilna in population.
Many strove to possess Polotsk. It used to turn the bone of discord for plenty of times; the most terrible was the Livonian war, when the city was scorched and sacked by the troops of Ivan the Terrible. Since then Polotsk ascended several times, yet it couldn′t return its former glory and eventually turned into a provincial town of the Russian empire. It was then in late 18th century, after the annexation of Belarusian territories, when the priceless Polotsk Chronicle disappeared; however, Russian historian Vasily Tatishchev managed to use it as a source in his work. The chronicle disappeared because it was an evidence of former grandeur and independence… Neighboring capitals were far more young and had no such history.
However, there was another ascend in Polotsk history, when the city became the capital of the Society of Jesus for several decades. Prohibited by the Pope in 1773 throughout the Catholic world, the Society survived under the patronage of Orthodox Russian empress Catherine the Great. At that time professors from Sorbonna, from Italian and German universities used to teach in Polotsk collegium. In 1812 the collegium was entitled academy and given university rights. Yet this story demands separate article. The University of Polotsk now inherits the best traditions of the academy; its humanity students study in classrooms of the former academy today.
There is no other town in our country, which would bring up so many outstanding personalities. Saint Euphrosinia, Frantsysk Skaryna, Simeon Plotsky… They have already returned to their hometown in bronze. Now Polotsk dwellers dream of a monument to their famous prince — Vseslav the Sorcerer.
Both locals and visitors to Polotsk will make certain that it is gradually restoring its lost significance and is turning into the most prominent tourism center of Belarus, a cultural and spiritual capital of the country.
...A ship with all sails on is floating the Dvina on ancient emblem of Polotsk. New centuries waiting…
postcards from author′s collection