Modern Belarus is the epitome of a dynamic, developing country. Within its borders, one can discover extraordinary natural environments, explore a host of impressive cultural sites, or simply relax in the utmost comfort. Belarus features the largest natural swamp on the continent, Olmanskie Swamp, which boasts an abundance of unique wildlife and fora. Furthermore, the blend of both modern and ancient history enthralls guests of the nation. Even Soviet monuments survive in townships.
Importantly, Belarus is the geographical heart of Europe, as it touches five countries and shares river routes to all points of the continent
Let’s further explore this country, which has recently topped several lists of up-and-coming European destinations!
A COUNTRY OF CASTLES AND LEGENDS
Of course, the history of Belarus extends far beyond the last century. Polotsk, in northern Belarus, along with Novgorod in Russia and Kiev in Ukraine, prevailed as a central point in Europe. Polotsk was the first Belarusian town mentioned in archival documents, dating back to 862 BC. In addition, Polotsk earned fame as the birthplace of the literary pioneer Francysk Skaryna, who produced the first Belarusian book in 1517.
Belarus was once named the “Country of Castles.” Each squire in the kingdom attempted to make his estate more beautiful and exquisite than that of others. Unfortunately, even though restoration continues, many of the castles, palaces, and estates now lay in ruins, following exposure to two world wars. However, following its renovation, the Radziwill Chateau, as part of the Nesvizh Castle Complex, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Nesvizh Castle itself, rooms have been preserved, in order to show how people lived 250 to 300 years ago. A walk through the vintage park allows one to observe monuments, depicting members of the Radziwell family and their pets. At the same time, one can listen to the legend of a hidden treasure that still remains undiscovered.
Another UNESCO World Heritage site, Mir Castle Complex, stands as a fortification near the capital of Minsk. A visit to this edifice allows one the opportunity to wear armor and to learn how to fight as citizens did nearly half a millennium ago. All of the architecture in this castle complex once displayed beauty and elegance, but, presently, budget constraints restrict restorative measures. Consequently, the government has expressed interest in foreign investors, who would be willing to provide financial assistance in the restoration of these structures. Investors would gain a positive financial benefit, as well as the knowledge that restoration would certainly have an immense impact on the country as a whole.
Belarus became an arena for two world wars in the 20th century. Nearly every village in the country has a monument in honor of fallen Belarusian war heroes and an obelisk commemorating the troops. Almost every village also has a mass grave.
In post-Soviet nations, the general populace calls World War II “The Great Patriotic War.” During this war, the Soviet Union fought Nazi Germany and its allies. In Belarus, this crucial period represents the ideological cornerstone of the nation.
Brest Fortress, in southwestern Belarus, memorably received the first blow from German troops and held its ground for over a month. By that time, the Nazi army had occupied the rest of Belarus and used the territory to continue attacks on Russia. Brest Fortress stands as a symbol of heroism, and today it draws visitors from other former Soviet republics, as well as Germany, Poland and Israel.
The Khatyn Memorial Complex, which shares a name with its village location, stands in memory of more than 5,000 towns that were torched by Germans during World War II. Underneath the complex remain the grounds of the village where Germans not only burned the structures, but also the people within them.
The historic meeting of the American and Soviet army at the German river Elbe, in which hundreds of thousands of Belarusians participated, is also commemorated throughout Belarus.
One hundred years ago, Belarusians predominantly lived in rural areas. Today, approximately two-thirds of the population reside within cities, which could be one of the reasons that rural tourism (agritourism) has dramatically increased. Farmsteads offer village vacations that include delectable regional cuisine, horseback riding, workshops on traditional crafts, and even hunting.
The interactive Dudutki Museum in central Belarus provides guests with the opportunity to create arts and crafts, as well as to touch and taste various products. Handcrafted cheeses and beer and vodka can be viewed during production and then purchased. Handcrafted pottery can also be purchased and makes for a lovely souvenir of traditional Belarusian craft. There is also a historic millhouse onsite, where people used to stay after traveling to buy grains.
SECRETS OF THE BELARUSIAN WETLANDS
Belarus is the only country within Europe to encompass a wetland the size of Olmanskie Swamp. Located in the southern part of the nation, this region is often called the “lungs” of Europe, because the swamp both purifies air and moderates weather. During Soviet times, the area was designated as military and aviation training grounds, and, paradoxically, the trainings helped preserve natural conditions. In other parts of the country, a vast number of wetlands were drained and used for agricultural purposes. However, under the protection of the defense department, the Olmanskie Swamp escaped horticultural utilization.
Even so, weapons testing took place in the swamp. To this day, bomb craters, along with rusted military vehicle parts and even aircraft, can be found. Therefore, Olmanskie Swamp attracts many tourists wishing to see what remains of these former top-secret grounds. Tis coupled with the opportunity to spot notable animals, including endemic birds, provides visitors with a truly unique outdoor experience. Olmanskie Swamp contains many secrets, which are included in many different legends and stories. And one can certainly visit and touch these secrets with their own hands.
Of course, Belarus has many other beautiful places, where tourists can relax both body and soul. Even hunters can hunt in the forests of Belarus, catch fish in old lakes, and eat something that falls not only the stomach, but also the soul with a sense of delight.