Vitebsk’s Pokrovskaya Street

[b]In the near future, fans of Marc Chagall will be able to promenade through the city quarter which inspired the artist in his younger years[/b] Meeting journalists in Vitebsk, Honoured Architect of Belarus Leonid Levin noted that he had always felt torn by Chagall’s exhibitions in New York and Nice. Foreigners would queue all night to see his artworks, which inspired pride in his heart but also sadness.
In the near future, fans of Marc Chagall will be able to promenade through the city quarter which inspired the artist in his younger years
Meeting journalists in Vitebsk, Honoured Architect of Belarus Leonid Levin noted that he had always felt torn by Chagall’s exhibitions in New York and Nice. Foreigners would queue all night to see his artworks, which inspired pride in his heart but also sadness. He wondered why no such queues are observed in Belarusian Vitebsk, where the great artist was born and where Marc Chagall House Museum operates.
This was true some time ago but changes are now evident, although no queues are yet seen. To promote Chagall-related sites to tourists, Chagall Quarter is being restored in Vitebsk. Work began three years ago, headed by Mr. Levin. It was initially supposed that factories would be removed from Pokrovskaya Street (where the museum is situated) but our architects and historians have changed their minds; the neighbouring Vitebsk Wine Making Plant dates from 1897, making it a peer of the great artist, so Mr. Levin wishes to see it preserved. “If we leave it untouched, it will help us recreate the colour of the age, contributing to the development of the tourist industry,” he emphasises.
We invite you — dear readers — to take a short journey back to Pokrovskaya Street’s past, as well as its present and future.
In the late 19th-early 20th century, the street (in Zadvinye District) was in the city’s Jewish Quarter. In the early 1900s, Marc Chagall’s father built a house there for his family. The small shop where he traded salted fish was situated nearby. Earlier, in 1898, Russian merchant Leiba Mnukhin and his Vitebsk business partner Abram Sverdlin set up a creamery 150m from the site, producing flax oil. By 1920, after the October Revolution, a distillery had opened, making apple jam and apple and fruit wine (in wooden barrels).
By that time, Marc Chagall had moved out of the city,heading for St. Petersburg in 1907 to study. His pictures often depict the street where he lived for 20 years, including the Wine Making Plant (as he remembered it from his childhood).
Restoring Chagall Quarter envisages the reconstruction of Pokrovskaya Street (covering 50 hectares). It will be costly but is surely worth the outlay. A Palace of Arts is to be built, housing pictures by Chagall and other artists who were inspired by Vitebsk and Belarus: Malevich, Kandinsky and Soutine. Workshops will welcome artists from all over the globe, while a shopping centre, cinema and parking is to appear.
The Wine Making Plant is to open to tourists, who’ll be able to take tours of the premises. Mr. Levin has no doubt of the benefits. “We’ll renew our faзade, while constructing two more buildings — to accommodate a museum of wine making, a restaurant, a small hotel and an art gallery. We’ll also open a tasting room and a wine cellar offering Belarusian wine for sampling and sale,” explains the plant’s Director, Vyacheslav Sapronov.
The plant also plans to produce natural premium wines, with its modernised equipment making authentic Belarusian beverages: apple wine, mead and apple jack. A tea ceremony room is being built, as Mr. Sapronov tells us. Since Soviet times, the factory has been mixing Indian and Ceylon teas with mint, John’s wood, lime and currants — all grown on its own farm near the city. Tea ceremonies should attract tourists wishing to sample delicious beverages and to learn more about the tea history of Belarus.
At present, few have probably heard of ‘Russian tea’ but it was very popular with Europeans until the 18th century. The British loved to drink Russian tea blended with French willow, as made in the village of Koporye, near St. Petersburg (the tea was named ‘Koporsky’). It’s now becoming fashionable again in Russia, so the Vitebsk plant plans to produce it, as French willow grows plentifully in the region.
The transformation of Vitebsk Wine Making Plant into a tourist site is being promoted as an investment project. In late 2011, interested delegations from China and Israel visited the factory. Interestingly, a wine making plant is situated in the centre of Israel’s Rishon LeZion (Vitebsk’s twin city). In Vitebsk, Pokrovskaya Street also has a convenient location: close to the railway and bus stations. Even transit passengers, who have little time, will be able to take a tour, experiencing the Vitebsk of Chagall’s youth.
“Owing to Chagall, many foreigners are showing interest in Vitebsk,” notes Mr. Levin, adding with pride, “In my view, Chagall and Vitebsk are inseparable. Vitebsk’s Chagall Quarter will help people worldwide learn more about our country. Being an artistic person, I’ll do all I can to make this happen.”

By Sergey Gomonov
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