Tourist’s golden belt

Which places in Belarus can be the most interesting for foreign guests?
Which places in Belarus can be the most interesting for foreign guests?

The symbols of Belarus in the Soviet Union were the Brest fortress, the Memorial Complex “Khatyn” and the monument in honor of the Soviet Army on Victory Square in Minsk. Besides, our republic was known thanks to aurochs living in Belovezhskaya puscha because this animal hasn’t preserved anywhere else. Today a post-Soviet traveler (more often a Russian one) tries to get not only to the places connected with the Great Patriotic War but, for example, to Mirsky castle. The Gothic-Renaissance fortress reminds the Kremlin in Moscow but its architecture has more in common with the castles of Western Europe. This attracts Russians because there are no such constructions in the country. People are fascinated by things which seem to be unusual and uncharacteristic for the present life. Where do aurochs live apart from Belarus? Where else in the world are there such monumental book depositories as the National Library in Minsk? Due to its non-standard architectural form the building has been recently included into the list of masterpieces of the present architecture. Mirsky castle, which restoration started in the Soviet times, is included into the UNESCO’s List of World Heritage. Besides, its restoration is going to be finished this year. There are many unusual places in our country. They can attract travelers from different corners of the world. We worked out an original “golden belt” for foreign tourists choosing from the most interesting points on the map. Putting the accent on a traveler’s nationality.

Following the ways of the national heroes of Poland. Adam Mickiewicz was born near Novogrudok, Tadeusz Kosciuszko — near Brest, and a famous composer Stanisław Maniuszko was born in Minsk. Besides, each Pole knows these names because these people are national heroes of our neighboring country. Everything is closely intertwined in people’s destinies. Even the present President of Poland Lech Kachinsky has ancestors from Baranovichi area! That is why our close western neighbors are interested in Belarus as the country with which they have many historical and cultural bonds. Polish Roman Catholic churches with common sanctuaries such as icons, art pieces, graves of soldiers of the Polish Army, gentry mansions, survived here. The last Polish king Stanisław August Poniatowsky was buried in Volchin near Brest. This place is popular among participants of the so-called nostalgic tours.

Disna is the Troy of Vikings. Only three thousand people live here. If not for a rich past, Disna town in the north of Belarus would have remained a village. Once upon a time more people lived here. During the Second World War many Disna residents died. One would think that Disna doesn’t have perspectives. The local authorities try to change the situation. Disna residents also get help from historians. They prompted that one thousand year ago on the place of a local town there was one of the oldest colonies of Vikings in Belarus. Archeologists hope to find traces of the lost settlement, the local Troy, on the island where a castle was situated. Now there is wasteland there. The Swedes are extremely interested in this project because they consider Vikings their immediate ancestors.

At the home of Israel presidents. Some time ago Jews made more than a half of the citizens inhabiting Belarusians towns. It is no wonder that many leaders of the present Israel come from Belarus. Khaim Weizman comes from Pinsk area, Simon Peres — from near Minsk. The whole world knows the names of these presidents of Israel. That is why a journey of an Israeli to our country is return to the origins. Half a century ago in Mir and Volozhin peculiar Jewish “universities” still worked where Bible experts and scientists, famous in the world, were brought up. The Israeli people honor the memory of their nation. It is impossible to learn it without visiting Belarus. Perhaps, it will be a discovery for the citizens of Slonim and Bykhov that the walls of the oldest European synagogues built in the XVIIth century still stand in old qaurters.

Fate of the USSR was decided in Belovezhskaya puscha. Guides say proudly that the history of the USSR started in Minsk. There is a wooden castle on the bank of the Svisloch where in 1898 the members of Russian Socio-Democratic Working Party, the future Communist Party of the Soviet Union, gathered for their first congress. The agreement on extinction of the USSR was signed in 1991 in Belarus, in Belovezhskaya puscha.

Besides, many key persons of the Soviet history are natives of Belarus. The whole world knows Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of severe KGB. Does everybody know that he has Belarusian roots? Dzer­zhinsky belonged to a gentry clan from near Minsk. Not far from the capital there is their family nest, the Dzerzhinovo mansion, remained today. There is a museum there now with many interesting documents. To understand how Dzerzhinsky became the companion in arms of Lenin and the founder of Soviet special services, we have to visit his “small Motherland.”

Moreover, Russian tourists have to visit Mogilev. During the First World War the Emperor Nicholas II was in Mogilev. He ruled the actions of his army on the German front. Earlier, in the end of the XVIIIth century, the Russian empress Catherine II met the Austrian Kaiser Joseph II in Mogilev.
As in Paris. This year the 1000th anniversary of the first recollection of the name “Lithuania” in written sources is celebrated. This is a great festival in the neighboring country. The Lithuanians know that many historical monuments connected with the beginning of their statehood are situated in Belarus. The burial mound of Mindovg, the first king of Lithuania, survived in Novogrudok. The famous sovereign is believed to be buried there. Medieval chroniclers considered Novogrudok the first capital of Lithuania. However, this issue remains the greatest riddle of history.

The fact that the famous Belarusian magnates Radzivills came from Lithuania is absolutely true. These princes have become the pride of Belarus.

Journey to the capital of smugglers. Before the Second World War Rakov settlement belonged to Poland and was a capital of smugglers. There was a state border with the USSR nearby. A place played the role of an “offshore zone” for smart traders. People interested in the 30’s, the period of the world economic crisis and confrontation of communistic East and capitalistic West, must visit these places. To some extent, this topic is timely nowadays. Meanwhile, Rakov is a quiet village with modest houses against the background of elevated facades of the church and the cathedral…

Opposition of two worlds, economic and political systems of the past, can become clearer for the amateur of history owing to showpieces of the museum complex with defense fortifications on the former Soviet-Polish border not far from Zaslavl which was a “place of transfer” in the 30’s just as Rakov, but from the side of the USSR. A journey to the “Stalin’s line” is a unique chance to find oneself in the past.

In the center of Europe. Separating lines don’t cross Belarus today. The country doesn’t separate West and East. It unites them. It is more obvious in Polotsk. Alongside with Kiev and Novgorod it is the oldest city of the old Rus. Saint Evfrosinia comes from there as well as Francisco Skorina, the first Belarusian printer. Once it was a capital of the Jesuit order!

Geodesists have recently calculated that there is a geographical center of Europe in this historical city. On the bank of the Dvina there is Sophia Cathedral built in the image and likeness of the temple of Saint Sophia in Constantinople, the present Istanbul. Visit Belarusian core of the Old World and feel yourself a real European!

Viktor Korbut
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