Theme Week Belarus – Minsk

Saturday, 30 July 2022 - 12:00 pm (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General
Reading Time:  10 minutes

Babrujskaja street © Viktar Palstsiuk/cc-by-sa-4.0

Babrujskaja street © Viktar Palstsiuk/cc-by-sa-4.0

Minsk is the capital and the largest city of Belarus, located on the Svislach and the now subterranean Niamiha rivers. As the capital, Minsk has a special administrative status in Belarus and is the administrative centre of Minsk Region (voblasć) and Minsk District (rajon). As of January 2021, its population was 2 million, making Minsk the 11th most populous city in Europe. Minsk is one of the administrative capitals of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). First documented in 1067, Minsk became the capital of the Principality of Minsk before being annexed by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1242. It received town privileges in 1499. From 1569, it was the capital of the Minsk Voivodeship, an administrative division of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. It was part of a region annexed by the Russian Empire in 1793, as a consequence of the Second Partition of Poland. From 1919 to 1991, after the Russian Revolution, Minsk was the capital of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, in the Soviet Union. In June 2019, Minsk hosted the 2019 European Games.

Minsk is located on the southeastern slope of the Minsk Hills, a region of rolling hills running from the southwest (upper reaches of the river Nioman) to the northeast – that is, to Lukomskaye Lake in northwestern Belarus. The average altitude above sea level is 220 metres (720 ft). The physical geography of Minsk was shaped over the two most recent ice ages. The Svislach River, which flows across the city from the northwest to the southeast, is in the urstromtal, an ancient river valley formed by water flowing from melting ice sheets at the end of the last Ice Age. There are six smaller rivers within the city limits, all part of the Black Sea basin. Minsk is in the area of mixed forests typical of most of Belarus. Pinewood and mixed forests border the edge of the city, especially in the north and east. Some of the forests were preserved as parks (for instance, the Chelyuskinites Park) as the city grew. The city was initially built on the hills, which allowed for defensive fortifications, and the western parts of the city are the most hilly. In 5 km from the northwestern edge of city lies large Zaslawskaye reservoir, often called the Minsk sea. It is the second largest reservoir in Belarus, constructed in 1956.

In the early years of the 20th century, Minsk was a major centre for the worker’s movement in Belarus. The 1st Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, the forerunner to the Bolsheviks and eventually the CPSU, was held there in 1898. It was also one of the major centres of the Belarusian national revival, alongside Vilnius. However, the First World War significantly affected the development of Minsk. By 1915, Minsk was a battlefront city. Some factories were closed down, and residents began evacuating to the east. Minsk became the headquarters of the Western Front of the Russian army and also housed military hospitals and military supply bases. The Russian Revolution had an immediate effect in Minsk. A Workers’ Soviet was established in Minsk in October 1917, drawing much of its support from disaffected soldiers and workers. After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, German forces occupied Minsk on 21 February 1918. On 25 March 1918, Minsk was proclaimed the capital of the Belarusian People’s Republic. The republic was short-lived; in December 1918, Minsk was taken over by the Red Army. In January 1919 Minsk was proclaimed the capital of the Belorussian SSR, though later in 1919 (see Operation Minsk) and again in 1920, the city was controlled by the Second Polish Republic during the course of the Polish-Bolshevik War between 8 August 1919 and 11 July 1920 and again between 14 October 1920 and 19 March 1921. Under the terms of the Peace of Riga, Minsk was handed back to the Russian SFSR and became the capital of the Belorussian SSR, one of the founding republics of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. A programme of reconstruction and development was begun in 1922. By 1924, there were 29 factories in operation; schools, museums, theatres and libraries were also established. Throughout the 1920s and the 1930s, Minsk saw rapid development with dozens of new factories being built and new schools, colleges, higher education establishments, hospitals, theatres and cinemas being opened. During this period, Minsk was also a centre for the development of Belarusian language and culture.

National Arts Museum of the Republic of Belarus © Homoatrox/cc-by-sa-4.0 National Opera and Ballet of Belarus © Антон Алегавіч Макоўскі/cc-by-sa-3.0 Trinity Suburb historic district © flickr.com - Pavel Urusov/cc-by-2.0 Babrujskaja street © Viktar Palstsiuk/cc-by-sa-4.0 Cathedral of Saint Virgin Mary © Zedlik/cc-by-sa-3.0 Cathedral of the Holy Spirit © Insider/cc-by-sa-3.0 Independence Avenue © Homoatrox/cc-by-sa-3.0 Janka Kupala National Theatre © Liashko/cc-by-sa-3.0
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National Opera and Ballet of Belarus © Антон Алегавіч Макоўскі/cc-by-sa-3.0
Before the Second World War, Minsk had a population of 300,000 people, but this had fallen to around 50,000 by 1944. The Germans captured Minsk in the Battle of Białystok–Minsk, as part of Operation Barbarossa; after it had been devastated by the Luftwaffe. However, some factories, museums, and tens of thousands of civilians had been evacuated to the east. The Germans designated Minsk the administrative centre of Generalbezirk Weißruthenien. Communists and sympathisers were killed or imprisoned, both locally and after being transported to Germany. Homes were requisitioned to house invading German forces. Thousands starved as food was seized by the German Army and paid work was scarce. Minsk was the site of one of the largest Nazi-run ghettos in the Second World War, temporarily housing over 100,000 Jews (Minsk Ghetto). Some anti-Soviet residents of Minsk, who hoped that Belarus could regain independence, did support the Germans, especially at the beginning of the occupation, but by 1942, Minsk had become a major centre of the Soviet partisan resistance movement against the invasion, in what is known as the German-Soviet War. For this role, Minsk was awarded the title Hero City in 1974. Minsk was recaptured by Soviet troops on 3 July 1944 in Minsk Offensive as part of Operation Bagration. The city was the centre of German resistance to the Soviet advance and saw heavy fighting during the first half of 1944. Factories, municipal buildings, power stations, bridges, most roads, and 80% of the houses were reduced to rubble. In 1944, Minsk’s population was reduced to a mere 50,000.

The historical centre was replaced in the 1940s and 1950s by Stalinist architecture, which favoured grand buildings, broad avenues and wide squares. Subsequently, the city grew rapidly as a result of massive industrialisation. Since the 1960s Minsk’s population has also grown apace, reaching 1 million in 1972 and 1.5 million in 1986. Construction of Minsk Metro began on 16 June 1977, and the system was opened to the public on 30 June 1984, becoming the ninth metro system in the Soviet Union. The rapid population growth was primarily driven by mass migration of young, unskilled workers from rural areas of Belarus, as well as by migration of skilled workers from other parts of the Soviet Union. To house the expanding population, Minsk spread beyond its historical boundaries. Its surrounding villages were absorbed and rebuilt as mikroraions, districts of high-density apartment housing.

Throughout the 1990s, after the fall of Communism, the city continued to change. As the capital of a newly independent country, Minsk quickly acquired the attributes of a major city. Embassies were opened, and a number of Soviet administrative buildings became government centres. During the early and mid-1990s, Minsk was hit by an economic crisis and many development projects were halted, resulting in high unemployment and underemployment. Since the late 1990s, there have been improvements in transport and infrastructure, and a housing boom has been underway since 2002. On the outskirts of Minsk, new mikroraions of residential development have been built. Metro lines have been extended, and the road system (including the Minsk BeltWay) has been improved. In the recent years Minsk has been continuously decentralizing, and with a third line of Minsk Metro set to open in 2020, the city is expected to change even further. More development is planned for several areas outside the city centre, while the future of the older neighborhoods is still unclear.

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

Read more on YesBelarus.com – Minsk, YesBelarus.com – Unknown Minsk, MinskTourism.by, Wikivoyage Minsk and Wikipedia Minsk. 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 - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - 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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