Theme Week Belarus – Grodno

Friday, 29 July 2022 - 12:00 pm (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General
Reading Time:  8 minutes

© flickr.com - Alexej Mazurkiewicz/cc-by-sa-2.0

© flickr.com – Alexej Mazurkiewicz/cc-by-sa-2.0

Grodno is a city in western Belarus. The city is located at the Neman river, 300 km (186 mi) from Minsk, about 15 km (9 mi) from the Polish border and 30 km (19 mi) away from Lithuania. In 2019 the city had 373,547 inhabitants. Grodno is the capital of Grodno Region and Grodno District. Since 1945, the city has been a centre of one of the provinces of the Byelorussian SSR, now of the independent Republic of Belarus. Most of the Polish inhabitants were expelled or fled to Poland in 1944–1946 and 1955–1959. However nowadays Poles are still the second-most numerous nationality in the city (25%), after Belarusians (60%).

During the Polish Defensive War of September to October 1939 the garrison of Grodno was mostly used for the formation of numerous military units fighting against the invading Wehrmacht. In the course of the Soviet invasion of Poland (initiated on 17 September 1939) heavy fighting took place in the city between Soviet and improvised Polish forces, composed mostly of march battalions and volunteers. In the course of the Battle of Grodno (20-22 September) the Red Army lost some hundred men (according to Polish sources; according to Soviet sources – 57 killed and 159 wounded) and also 19 tanks and 4 APCs destroyed or damaged. The Polish side suffered at least 100 killed in action, military and civil, but losses still remain uncertain in detail (Soviet sources claim 644 killed and 1543 captives with many guns and machine guns etc. captured). Over 300 captured Polish defenders of the city, including Polish Army officers and youth, were massacred afterwards by the Soviets. After the Soviet forces surrounded the engaged Polish units, the escaping Polish units withdrew to Lithuania. In accordance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, the city was occupied by the Soviet Union and annexed into the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. Several thousand of the city’s Polish inhabitants were deported to remote areas of the Soviet Union. On 23 June 1941 the city came under German occupation that lasted until 16 July 1944. It was administered as part of the Bialystok District. Surviving inmates of the Grodno prison were released and the scale of the NKVD prisoner massacres revealed. In the course of the Operation Barbarossa in World War II, the majority of Jews were herded by the Nazis into the Grodno Ghetto and subsequently killed in extermination camps. The Germans also operated a Nazi prison in the city.

The city has one of the largest concentrations of Roman Catholics in Belarus. It is also a centre of Polish culture, with a significant number of Poles living in Belarus residing in the city and its surroundings. The Eastern Orthodox population is also widely present. The city’s Catholic and Orthodox churches are important architectural treasures. The city is known for Grodno State Medical University where many students from different parts of Belarus acquire academic degrees, as do a notable number of foreign students. Other higher educational establishments are Yanka Kupala State University of Grodno (the largest education centre in Grodno Province) and Grodno State Agrarian University. To support the Polish community, a Polish school was built in 1995, where all subjects are taught in Polish and students are able to pass exams to get accepted into Polish universities.

Jesuit Cathedral © Jurasikt/cc-by-3.0 Lenin Square © Samotny Wedrowiec/cc-by-sa-4.0 Old Grodno Castle © Liashko/cc-by-sa-4.0 © Ян Хведчин/cc-by-sa-4.0 Grodno Regional Drama Theatre © Samotny Wedrowiec/cc-by-sa-4.0 © flickr.com - Alexej Mazurkiewicz/cc-by-sa-2.0 © flickr.com - tjabeljan/cc-by-2.0
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Grodno Regional Drama Theatre © Samotny Wedrowiec/cc-by-sa-4.0
The town was planned to be dominated by the Old Grodno Castle, first built in stone by Grand Duke Vytautas and thoroughly rebuilt in the Renaissance style by Scotto from Parma at the behest of Stefan Batory, who made the castle his principal residence. Batory died at this palace seven years later (December 1586) and originally was interred in Grodno. (His autopsy there was the first to take place in Eastern Europe.) After his death, the castle was altered on numerous occasions, although a 17th-century stone arch bridge linking it with the city still survives. The Wettin monarchs of Poland were dissatisfied with the old residence and commissioned Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann to design the New Grodno Castle, whose once sumptuous Baroque interiors were destroyed during World War II.

The oldest extant structure in Grodno is the Kalozha Church of Sts. Boris and Gleb. It is the only surviving monument of ancient Black Ruthenian architecture, distinguished from other Orthodox churches by prolific use of polychrome faceted stones of blue, green or red tint which could be arranged to form crosses or other figures on the wall. The church was built before 1183 and survived intact until 1853, when the south wall collapsed, due to its perilous location on the high bank of the Neman. During restoration works, some fragments of 12th-century frescos were discovered in the apses. Remains of four other churches in the same style, decorated with pitchers and coloured stones instead of frescos, were discovered in Grodno and Vawkavysk. They all date back to the turn of the 13th century, as do remains of the first stone palace in the Old Castle.

Probably the most spectacular landmark of Grodno is the Cathedral of St. Francis Xavier, the former (until 1773) Jesuit church on Batory Square (now: Soviet Square). This confident specimen of high Baroque architecture, exceeding 50 metres in height, was started in 1678. Due to wars that rocked Poland-Lithuania at that time, the cathedral was consecrated only 27 years later, in the presence of Peter the Great and Augustus the Strong. Its late Baroque frescoes were executed in 1752. The extensive grounds of the Bernardine monastery (1602–18), renovated in 1680 and 1738, display all the styles flourishing in the 17th century, from Gothic to Baroque. The interior is considered a masterpiece of so-called Vilnius Baroque. Other monastic establishments include the old Franciscan cloister (1635), Basilian convent (1720–51, by Giuseppe Fontana III), the church of the Bridgettine cloister (1642, one of the earliest Baroque buildings in the region) with the wooden two-storey dormitory (1630s) still standing on the grounds, and the 18th-century buildings of the Dominican monastery (its cathedral was demolished in 1874). Among other sights in Grodno and its environs, we should mention the Orthodox cathedral, a polychrome Russian Revival extravaganza from 1904; the botanical garden, the first in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, founded in 1774; a curiously curved building on the central square (1780s); a 254-metre-high TV tower (1984); and Stanisławów, a summer residence of the last Polish king.

Here you can find the complete Overview of all Theme Weeks.

Read more on YesBelarus.com – Grodno, Wikivoyage Grodno and Wikipedia Grodno. Learn more about the use of photos. To inform you about latest news most of the city, town or tourism websites offer a newsletter service and/or operate Facebook pages/Twitter accounts. In addition more and more destinations, tourist organizations and cultural institutions offer Apps for your Smart Phone or Tablet, to provide you with a mobile tourist guide (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Johns Hopkins University & Medicine - Coronavirus Resource Center - Global Passport Power Rank - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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