Ancient forest preserves historical and natural relics
Huge forests stretch along the road from Minsk to Grodno and Vilnius. The towers of Orthodox and Catholic churches flash occasionally in between, as do various road signs to settlements. Archaic villages and ancient towns are almost ‘hidden’ in the Nalibokskaya Pushcha.
James Bond was here
Historians assert that pagan and Lithuanian villages were once located in the pushcha, near Zaslavl: the ancient town of Christian White Rus. The Baltic names remain today.
Between 1941 and 1944, partisans lived in the great forest during their fight against the Nazis. Their bravery is marked in the many memorials along the road. Interestingly, several years ago, actor Daniel Craig (the current James Bond) shot Defiance in the Nalibokskaya Pushcha. The film tells the dramatic history of a partisan brigade led by the Belskie brothers, who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews.
In addition, Felix Dzerzhinsky — the founder of the Soviet special services State Security Committee (a forerunner of the KGB) — was born in Ivenets. Apollinary Pupko — another local legend — also lived there. In 1917, the founder of the Belarusian militia, Mikhail Frunze, stayed at his house. Pupko’s descendants have since turned the building into a museum and agro-eco-estate.
“Mr. Pupko is known for his famous art works; the walls, doors and ceiling of the house were covered with unique drawings,” notes his younger daughter, Sophia, speaking of her father with great reverence. “He knew so much but tended not to share his knowledge; like most of those residing in the Nalibokskaya Pushcha, he kept himself to himself. Anyone who likes our unique Belarusian culture would surely enjoy our house-museum.”
Crystal from Anna Radziwill
Ivenets also boasts a local history museum, alongside two beautiful Catholic churches: one red (early 20th century) and one white (17th century). You can view folk artefacts at Ivenets museum but they don’t give a complete picture of local life. In fact, Belarusian industry originates there.
The Nalibokskaya Pushcha is comparable with the Russian Urals. The preservation of such a huge forest near densely populated areas can be explained by the fact that it has extremely unfertile soil. This has always made farming economically unprofitable; any attempt to farm has failed. Instead, the region began extracting and processing mineral resources: bog iron ore, clay and quartz sand. Gradually, small-scale craftsmen were replaced by large industrial enterprises — many supported by enlightened Anna Radziwill. Naliboksky Glass Factory (‘guta’) became famous back in the 18th century; its crystal appears in the world’s largest museums -alongside Faberge eggs.
In 1840, Minsk resident Wincenty Dunin-Marcinkiewicz sold his city property and moved to the Pushcha’s Lyutsinka estate, located near the road. Its steps still remain today, leading from an asphalt road to Dunin-Marcinkiewicz’s monument. He was the first to become professionally involved in composing works in the Belarusian language. Belarus’ first opera was staged in the building which currently houses the Europe Hotel -based on his story Sielanka.
He resided in Lyutsinka for 40 years, writing most of his works there. He was visited by writer Vladislav Syrokomlya, composer Stanislaw Moniuszko, violinist Konstantin Kryzhanovsky, historian Alexander Yelsky, artist Yan Damel and local historian Konstantin Tyszkiewicz. Their names are familiar to every educated person in Belarus, Poland and Lithuania. Belarusian writer Anton Levitsky — more familiar to us under the penname of Yadvigin Sh. — once studied at a school opened by Dunin-Marcinkiewicz.
One archive document describes his home as ‘a shingle-roofed house made from pinewood, with a porticoed porch and shuttered windows’. Historian and entrepreneur Alexander Bely has built his own house close to that of the classical writer and has plans for developing a new tourist route.
Open air museum
Famous points are soon to join the Pushcha’s tourist route; the ‘Brama v Naliboki’ (Gates to Naliboki) eco-museum group is to unite various interesting sites around the region.
“The term ‘eco-museum’ first appeared in France last century,” explains Mr. Bely. “The idea is to unite nature, historical sites and infrastructure. Nothing new is created; we simply adjust old facilities to meet the needs of tourists. Sweden has the greatest number of eco-museums to date. Naliboksky eco-museum will unite Catholic churches, estates, chapels and rural buildings, with special paths through the forest; these will lead to the habitats of rare animals and meadows where flowers and grasses registered in the Red Book, grow.”
One of the most unusual sites is situated in Vyaloe: the ruins of the Tyshkevich estate. Nearby, 200-400 year old oaks remain. The palace once housed the photographic laboratory of Duke Benedykt Tyszkiewicz — a pioneer in Lithuania and Belarus.
Several tourist routes already operate in the Nalibokskaya Pushcha; it takes a week (rather a day or two) to see them all. Vishnevo, where the current Israeli President, Shimon Peres, was born, is a wonderful place to visit; you can even drink water from the well. The neighbouring Catholic church is also worth seeing; according to legend, Symon Budny, who wrote the first book published in the Belarusian language in Belarus, is buried there. The church is filled with baroque-style sculptures from the 17th century. Near the village of Bogdanovo is the estate of painter Ferdynand Ruszczyc. The Nalibokskaya Pushcha is perhaps not as wild as it first seems, as it has so many cultural sites worth seeing.
By Viktar Korbut
Unknown Nalibokskaya Pushcha
[b]Ancient forest preserves historical and natural relics[/b] Huge forests stretch along the road from Minsk to Grodno and Vilnius. The towers of Orthodox and Catholic churches flash occasionally in between, as do various road signs to settlements. Archaic villages and ancient towns are almost ‘hidden’ in the Nalibokskaya Pushcha.