Minsk (Mansk), Belarus
Minsk, lying on the Svisloch River, is the capital of Belarus and of the oblast of Minsk. Almost completely destroyed during World War II, it was rebuilt by the Soviets as a showpiece city. Belarus’ most important industrial city and a major railway junction, it became capital of the newly independent state in 1991.
The first recorded mention of Minsk dates back to 1067 though it is believed that there was a settlement in place considerably earlier. Its early history was dominated by the dynastic wars between the houses of Kiev and Polacak and by 1101 it was the seat of a Principality. In 1116 the city came under Lithuanian control but was ravaged by Kievans 3 years later and again in 1129. Polacak reclaimed it in 1146 and formed a loose alliance with Lithuania over the ensuing decades. The city was effectively under Lithuanian control in the fourteenth century.
In the early sixteenth century the city came under attack from Muscovites and Tartars and in 1547 suffered major damage in a fire. Lithuania, in a weakened state, embarked on a political alliance with Poland in 1569 and Minsk was adopted as the operational centre in the wars against Ivan IV of Russia in 1563–79. Minsk prospered in the second half of the sixteenth century as numerous professional guilds emerged. Under Polish influence, the Orthodox religion lost out to closer ties with the Vatican, a situation that was to lead to religious strife.
Russia launched an attack on Lithuania and Belarus in 1652, taking Minsk 3 years later. A savage regime was imposed for all those not accepting Russian Orthodoxy and in 1657 a city rebellion was quashed. By the time the Russian forces were withdrawn in 1661, Minsk had been devastated and was beset by plague. A peace treaty, signed with Russia in 1667, allowed for the Russians to intervene under certain circumstances on behalf of the Orthodox population. Growth continued in the early part of the eighteenth century with the building of roads and canals and improved communications with neighbouring cities. Minsk suffered famines, plagues and, in 1737, a devastating fire. The Russians occupied the city in 1733, ostensibly in defence of the Orthodox minority, and in 1793 Minsk again fell to Russia.
In 1812, Napoléon and his troops took the city as they marched on Russia, but it fell back under Russian control when Napoléon retreated. There were severe typhus epidemics in 1848 and 1853. Two Catholic uprisings in the 1830s and 1860s were put down by the Russians, who imprisoned thousands and sent many more to Siberia. Russia failed to suppress Belorussian culture and history and, by the end of the nineteenth century, there was a growing tide of nationalism. A power struggle between the Nationalists and Russian Bolsheviks in 1917–19 culminated in the execution of hundreds of thousands of nationalists in the forests surrounding Minsk in the 1930s.
Nazi Germany destroyed the city in 1941. Virtually no buildings survived and the Jewish population, 40% of the total prior to German arrival, was decimated. The Soviets took control of Minsk once again towards the end of the war, carrying out a mass deportation of suspected Nazi collaborators and embarking on the rebuilding of the city. Modern Minsk is a well-planned city filled with avenues and parks and grand, if not always aesthetically pleasing, buildings. The city’s population tripled in the 30 years up to 1989. When Belarus gained independence in 1991, Minsk was named the capital.
Today Minsk is home to many cultural and educational institutions, and the few old buildings remaining, such as the Marlinsky Cathedral and the Bernadine Monastery, are being restored to their former glory. Industrially, machine manufacturing dominates although textiles are also important. It is served by two major airports, is at the centre of a number of major rail routes and has an underground system.
Places of Interest
Noteworthy architecture of the twentieth century includes the art deco Government House, the National Opera and Ballet and Academy of Sciences from the 1930s. The main thoroughfare is Praspekt Skarny, site of the Polish Catholic church. Other churches of interest are the baroque cathedral of St Dukhawski, the seventeenth century cathedral of St Peter and Paul and the nineteenth century Mary Magdeline church.