Posted: 18.04.2024 11:50:00

Belarusian Polesie in spring

Wayward rivers and marshy landscapes, unique architecture and mysterious folklore, amazing cuisine and vibrant lifestyle of the locals — Belarus’ southern region wins the hearts  of even the most sophisticated tourists

Pripyatsky National Park       belta

Exploring Herodotus’ world map  

The Pripyat River — the circulatory system of the region — is called the Polesie Amazon for its beauty and huge expanses of unspoiled nature. The current is fast, the landscapes in the floodplain are incredible. It also provides a habitat for a great number of animals there — from majestic bisons and red deer to rare Przewalski’s horses. In order to experience maximum unity with nature, it is best to explore Pripyat from the water. Renting a kayak or a boat is no problem at all — kayaking and boat tours are arranged even directly from Minsk. It should be noted that such tours enjoy huge popularity. After all, now the river has overflowed its banks and turned the entire neighbourhood into a solid expanse of water — the bottom is not visible even in clear weather. By the way, according to the maps of ancient Greek historian Herodotus, it was in the area of modern Polesie that the real sea was once located. 

Water tours along the Pripyat River are very popular         belta

Building a temple without a single nail 

The wooden temples of Polesie built without a single nail are impressive for their durability. Modest at first glance churches have been the decoration of many villages for two or three hundred years already. All of them were built by local nameless craftsmen, so you cannot find two similar ones. There is an amazing Church of Trinity in Dobroslavka, a monument of wooden architecture — its width is only seven metres. The St. Nicholas Church in Kozhan-Gorodok surprises with five domes, each of which looks in its own direction. It seems to be about to collapse. Yet, it has been like this almost since the first years of construction in 1818. The St. Michael the Archangel Church in Rubel has never been closed since 1796, even during the wars. An almost two-hundred-year-old iconostasis has also been preserved inside. However, nowadays church services are held across the street, in the new Church of Christ the Saviour Image Not Made by Hands. 

St. Nicholas Church in Kozhan-Gorodok

Tasting potato babka 

“Poleshuki [name given to the people who populate the swamps of Polesie] are interesting people. If they do not like you, go away wherever you wish… But if they do, it is forever,” Bishop Stefan of Pinsk and Luninets once said. And he was definitely right. Polesie is a special swamp republic inside Belarus with its own traditions, cuisine and even language. Each village has its own dialect, which is sometimes understood only by the locals. Yet, listening to them is a pleasure! Especially when sitting at the table with wonderful Polesie dishes — fragrant round loaves of bread, rich soups, machanka [stew made with a combination of pork, sour cream, flour, and beef stock] accompanied with fluffy pancakes, dumplings with blueberries and nalistniki [large think pancakes] filled with cottage cheese. Many villages have been provided with gas heating, but no household is in a hurry to destroy masonry stoves. After all, it is in a cast iron pot that you can make the tastiest potato babka [baked grated potato pie, dressed with fried meat and onions] with a crispy crust — mmm, delicious!

Making friends with feathered and furry creatures

Turovsky Meadow is a nesting place for rare bird species. Ruffs perform a mating ritual         belta

Travellers with children should definitely take an opportunity and go to the Pripyatsky National Park. Kids will appreciate walks à la safari, where in a couple of hours they can see deer, elk, roe deer, wild boars, foxes, hares and other animals on forest paths. There is also a site with a real ancient heathen temple and a meadow of wishes. Older children will be interested in visiting the Turovsky Meadow Nature Reserve. The locals jokingly call it ‘the bird airport’. Every year, hundreds of thousands of birds stop here on their way from Europe and Africa, where they winter, to nesting sites that can be located even in Yakutia. The chances of seeing an azure tit, a greater spotted eagle, a Terek sandpiper within arm’s reach are very high. Professional ornithologists teach young tourists to ring birds.   

Pripyatsky National Park         belta

Getting to know the Pinsk gentry 

“Pinsk is not a province, but the capital! The capital of Polesie,” residents of one of the oldest Belarusian cities say with pride. It is worth visiting here at least because Pinsk is in second place in the country in terms of preservation of architectural heritage. Magnificent temples, churches and synagogues, interesting museums and the picturesque embankment of the Pina River... Even the civilian registry office is located in a real palace of the 18th century. Cultural life is also booming. The Polessky Drama Theatre is the pearl of Belarus’ theatrical art. Avid theatregoers from all over the country specially come to watch The Pinsk Gentry play in a local theatre. Yet, an absolute hit of recent seasons is Viy [horror fantasy play based on the novel by Nikolai Gogol]. In the performance of poleshuki, the evil spirit looks fascinating. 

The civilian registry office in Pinsk is located in Butrimovich Palace         belta     

By Sofia Arsenyeva