Belarus is one of the few countries where it is still possible to experience a taste of the Soviet era. The largest landlocked country in Europe, it remains a predominantly rural economy with picturesque villages where age old traditions have been preserved. Over 40% of Belarus is forested with vast plains, lakes and national parks where bison, bears, wild boar, lynx, beaver and wolves still roam freely. The natural beauty of the countryside is coupled with cities and towns that still hold the relics of its Soviet past almost allowing you to step back into the former USSR. This intriguing nation has a troubled history; from losing a third of its population during WWII, to the austerity of Communism, the Afghan-Soviet war and finally the effects of Chernobyl. Unlike its Baltic neighbours, it eschewed Western modernity following the collapse of the Soviet Union making it a unique, and arguably the last truly undiscovered, country in Europe.
One of the most Soviet cities left in the world, Minsk is the place to visit if you are interested in the architecture of that time with its concrete tower blocks, metro system adorned with symbolic art, wide tree-lined boulevards and spacious parks. Located on the banks of the Svisloch River, Minsk was first settled in 1067 but barely any ancient monuments remain in the city. After total destruction during WWII, the Belarussian capital was reconstructed as a model Soviet city, with many imposing examples of Stalinist-style architecture including Victory Square and Independence Square, one of the largest squares in Europe showcasing monumental buildings and a guarded statue of Lenin. Venturing out of town, you can visit the Line of Stalin, a fortification line stretching more than 2,000km built in 1933 to protect the western borders of the USSR.
Nesvizh, with its cluster of historic buildings is one of the country’s prettiest cities and is home to the UNESCO World Heritage listed Nesvizh Castle and the nearby Mir Castle, often described as the most beautiful buildings in Belarus. This small city was witness to atrocities against its Jewish community during WWII that resulted in one of the first Jewish ghetto uprisings during the war. The Nesvizh Castle, once owned by the noble and powerful Radzivill family, was subsequently seized by the Red Army. It has been rebuilt over the centuries and is an amalgamation of Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-gothic architectural styles.
Located in Belarus’s western front on the border with Poland, Brest is one of the country’s most intriguing cities. As one of the main commercial centres, Brest’s strategic location has seen it ravaged by the Mongols in the 1200s, adopted as part of Lithuania, Russia and Poland, decimated by the Germans in the world wars and annexed by the Soviets. The city was witness to some of the most horrific warfare of the 20th century being the epicentre of battles between Nazi Germany and the USSR. In a uniquely Soviet style of memorialisation, the Brest Fortress is a powerfully moving and solemn reminder of the region’s tragic past with visitors drawn to its monumental sculptures depicting two regiments that kept the German army at bay for a month despite relentless bombing.
Fast Facts on countries the CENTUM+ team have explored so far ...