The train ride from Polatsk to Vitebsk turned out to be a most pleasant one, and when the train pulled into the station of one of the major cities of Belarus, I was eager to explore. My first stop was the house where the famous son of Vitebsk was born: Marc Chagall. Built by his father, it now is a small museum with some artifacts from his life in Vitebsk. Around the corner, a sculpture in his honour. I refilled by bottle with some fresh water from a fountain before I walked through the quiet neighbourhood to Kirov street. When I approached Kirov bridge, the historic part of Vitebsk opened before my eyes, across the river Dvina. According to legend, it was here, where the river Vitba joins the Dvina, that princess Olga of Kiev ordered a city to be built because she found it a beautiful spot. In reality, the origins of the city have not been confirmed beyond doubt, but it is assumed that somewhere in the 10th or 11th city, Vitebsk was founded and grew into a successful trading post.
Inevitably, it was also vulnerable to military operations, and indeed suffered badly in wars, the last one the Great Patriotic War in which much of the city was destroyed and most of its inhabitants killed - Vitebsk had a large proportion of Jews. But the city was revived, and when I walked past the classical Art Museum with its columns, over the Pushkin bridge guarded by lions, thus crossing the Vitba river, I arrived at the foot of Uspensky hill on top of which the iconic church of the Assumption towers high into the sky. Through the quiet streets, I reached the church of the Resurrection, passed the remarkable baroque tower of the City Hall, to reach a shopping street which led me close to the square on which the Marc Chagall museum is located. Here, many of his works are on display: lithos, etchings, and aquatints - I had the museum all to myself. Right outside: a leafy square with an obelisk commemorating the centenary of the victory against Napoleon who resided in the building across the square - he celebrated his 43rd birthday here.
From the Art Museum, I retraced my steps, paid a visit to the church of the Assumption, and descended to the river banks where I followed a path downstream until I reached the pointy monument for the victory in the Great Patriotic War. I walked up the stairs, past the eternal flame and the rectangular square with water running in the middle and sculptures on the sides remembering every year of the war. On my way back to the city, walking through a fair with Soviet helicopters and war planes, I reached what once were the two oldest churches of town, the wooden Alexander Nevsky and the Blaghovezhenskaya church, both rebuilt versions of their original. The sun was on its way down, and I crossed the Dvina again, and found a spot on the banks on the western side, which offered an unrestrained view of the historic part of Vitebsk, reflected in the waters of the Dvina river. From time to time, a party boat with blaring music passed, erasing the reflection, but the river always returned to be a mirror, and the golden cupolas lighted up the water, already in the dark.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Vitebsk (Belarus). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Vitebsk. Read more about this site.