Posted: 24.05.2024 11:50:33

Secrets of cities’ coats of arms

Seemingly innocent animals placed on coats of arms actually hide the centuries-old secrets of Belarusian cities. In order to unravel unconventional mysteries,  it is necessary to set out on a journey across the country.

Distinguish between grey and red

     Coat of arms of Mstislavl 
If you ask the residents of Mstislavl [city in the east of Belarus] what animal is portrayed on their city’s coat of arms, some will say it is a wolf while others will argue it is a fox. One thing can be said for sure — the animal is of a rich red colour. Why? The point is that red has always been associated with beauty. Mstislavl is considered one of the ancient Belarusian cities, which was founded by Vladimir Monomakh’s grandson Rostislav Mstislavich. Tourists will definitely love it here — spectacular knight festivals are held on picturesque Zamkovaya mountain in the summer, and local museums feature unique artifacts from a thousand years ago. The ancient streets of the city are studded with temples, churches, monuments to famous countrymen. One of them, Pyotr Mstislavets, is the closest associate of the first printer, Ivan Fyodorov. Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, also happened to visit this place. The empress stayed in Mstislavl overnight on her way to Taurida [the old name of the peninsula of Crimea]. It is believed that it was at her behest that a fox appeared on the coat of arms of the city, which has by now transformed into a wolf.

Race with a deer 

            Coat of arms of Grodno
The coat of arms of Grodno features not only a noble animal but also a cross between its antlers. Why? This is because it is not an ordinary deer, but the deer of Saint Hubert — a famous hunter of the 8th century. He became a priest and gave up hunting after a deer presumably helped him get out of the forest after a storm. St. Hubert is considered the patron saint of hunters, and there were a lot of them among the residents of Grodno. 
In 1540, when the city was granted a coat of arms, it was surrounded by thick forests inhabited by a lot of ungulates. However, in the 20th century, hunters overdid it — the species disappeared from the territory of Belarus. Hubert would obviously not approve that! Now experts are engaged in restoring the population of this graceful animal.  

Dance with a bear 

A sculptural composition of buffoons and a bear — the Smorgon landmark
         Coat of arms of Smorgon

Smorgon [city in Belarus’ Grodno Region] was famous throughout Europe in the 17th-19th centuries for its ‘Bear Academy’. Local gypsies trained wild animals so skilfully that the latter could dance with a lady, and even drink champagne Brüderschaft. Smart bears from dense Belarusian forests were awaited at fairs in Paris and Rome as the dearest guests. That is why the clubfoot bear with a tambourine has long been an unspoken symbol of the town. Nowadays, bears do not roam freely the streets of Smorgon. One has settled on the city’s coat of arms, though. In addition, the memory of the unique academy was immortalised in a sculptural composition — a shaggy big bear dancing to the accompaniment of two buffoons. This is a favourite place for tourists to take selfies.     

Spot an invisible lion

      Coat of arms of Gorodok 
It is a curious paradox that the king of the hot jungle appeared on the coat of arms of a Belarusian northern city. According to the observations of weather forecasters, the absolute minimum temperature — minus 41.5 degrees Celsius — was recorded in Gorodok District in 1940. Every winter, this place is the first in the country to meet the cold Arctic air. On the plus side, locals have the opportunity to occasionally admire the northern lights. What does the lion have to do with this? The majestic animal appeared on the coat of arms back in the 16th century since it was believed that the inhabitants of this region were brave, strong and fearless. Well, just like lions in nature! 

Sail across the river with a lynx

           Coat of arms of Gomel
According to a legend, a wild cat from Belarusian Polesie [a unique area of swamps, peat bogs and marshy lakes in Gomel Region] once accompanied a traveller on a boat, who actually gave the name to the city of Gomel. He was sailing across the foggy Sozh river, followed by other travellers. When his boat struck aground, he began to shout, “Go! Mel [‘shallow water’ from Russian]!” 
The lynx is the symbol of the city. It shows off not only on the coat of arms, but also on sign plates and souvenirs. It was embodied in genre sculptures on the streets. Meanwhile, this beautiful predator with tassels on its ears lives in Belarusian forests. It does not look for meetings with people, but is captured by camera traps all the time. 

‘Boatman’ — a monument to the first settler hunter and his tame lynx in Gomel

By Sofia Arsenyeva