By Viktar Korbut
The historical and archaeological reserve and tourist centre are to be unrivalled in Europe, stresses Sergey Baglasov, who is leading the project to restore Minsk’s historical centre and reconstruct Minsk’s citadel. Like all European cities, Minsk has its ‘starting point’ which is located between contemporary Pobediteley Avenue, Nemiga Street and the River Svisloch. In the first years after WWII, the area was surrounded by high embankments, which once housed the wooden walls of Minsk’s castle. Now, the site is abandoned.
In the 1950-1960s, the ancient constructions were demolished to enable reconstruction, with archaeologists discovering the remains of ancient houses and a 12th century stone church. Later, when the tunnels for Nemiga metro station were being dug, the remains of the original gates to the city of Menesk (Minsk) were unearthed. In fact, Menesk is said to have been named after a legendary bogatyr (a heroic warrior boasting incredible power), thought to have founded the city. He would sail along the River Svisloch, grinding flour for people while gathering together the bravest young men to become his bodyguard.
Later, Minsk was ruled by Duke Gleb, who made it the capital of the independent state in the 12th century. Sadly, Minsk Principality didn’t exist long on the European map. However, the finds date from those times and are to be protected for future generations by a pavilion dome, allowing public viewing. Nearby, buildings are to be reconstructed to full scale size by scientists from the National Academy of Sciences.
Parking in Pobediteley Avenue, visitors will be able to step back in time, into ancient Menesk from modern Minsk, strolling reconstructed 12th century streets whose appearance has been hidden for centuries. The National Historical and Archaeological Centre is to appear on the site, exhibiting weaponry, household items and other treasures found by researchers.
Minsk Castle was the political, military and cultural centre of Belarus and the whole of Eastern Europe for a long time. In the 14th-16th century, it was owned by the Great Duke of Lithuania, the Polish King. It was of strategic military importance, surviving a seige by Khan Mukhammed-Girei of Crimea in 1505. Unfortunately, the fire of 1547 damaged the fortress and it began to lose its previous importance. Nevertheless, people continued to live there until the 1950s.
Today, there is a monument to the old citadel on the bank of the River Svisloch, close to where a 12th century church once stood, alongside Nemiga metro station and the street of the same name. In 1067, a battle took place nearby, when the Duke of Belarusian Polotsk fought the Duke of Ukrainian Kiev for ownership of Menesk: it was the first event to be documented mentioning the city’s name.
Reconstruction of the citadel is to begin in late 2011, to be completed by 2013. The church is being restored, alongside craftsmen’s workshops and the huge entrance gates leading to the castle: situated opposite Nemiga metro station. The site will occupy almost five hectares, with the Lower Market also revived nearby: the city’s first market square. Open air trading stalls will operate, beside a tented pavilion for street theatre.
Meanwhile, a sculptural composition to honour Menesk — the legendary founder of Minsk — is to be unveiled near the River Svisloch. A bridge will be constructed near the monument, uniting the castle with Troitsky Suburbs.