Mir & Polotsk
I visited Mir on Saturday when my host went to visit her mother in Mogilev.
Mir is a small pretty town famous for its namesake – the castle Mir – a world heritage site completed in the early 16th Century.
A trip to Mir is fairly easy from Minsk. There are direct buses from the main bus station a short 5 minute walk from the train station. The bus / marshutka back leave from the same point they arrive in the centre and there are plenty of departures going back. The town itself is small and while some of the wooden houses can be colourful and nice (and others in a state of disrepair) there would not be much to keep the visitor in the town except for the castle.
Mir Castle comes with a foreigner price attached and it seems to have increased a lot although that just may be inflation. The actual charge itself is still cheap working out to around 3 GBP when I was there.
The Castle is attractive but nothing special inside. Inside there are some exhibits mainly photographs, or a written pieces about the castle or its inhabitants. A lot of the decor us not decorated although there was a room with what I assume to be a dining room that was set up attractively. The content is not boring, only that it is not special compared to the many castles or palaces in Europe, I had seen it all before and a bit more impressively.
But it was still interesting and worth the brief visit inside.
The staff including at the ticket office did not speak English despite the information in English available but they were friendly. There is also a courtyard and it seems there may be festivals and other events here during warmer climates.
Also the grounds are nice especially viewing the castles reflection in the small lake and there is a memorial chapel also on the grounds which are not used for its built purpose anymore.
As for the town itself it is very small and there is not much else to see. There were two Orthodox churches (both closed at the time) and A Roman Catholic one. A small market, some cafes and a restaurant but not much really.
I took a minibus on Monday from Minsk to Polatsk (or Polotsk). Belarus’s oldest town and in fact one of the oldest Slavic towns in existence (founded in 862 AD). Once a self governing state as well as part of the great Kiev Rus, Polotsk was once a spiritual centre of Orthodoxy and with St Ephrosinia convent houses the relics of a revered local Saint Ephrosinia of Polotsk. Once located within the convent as well was another revered relic the cross of St Ephrosinia. However today is just a reproduction with the original gone missing under Communist ‘care’ although one of the theories involve possible theft by the Nazis. As for the town that was once an important spiritual centre there is still a lot of connected sites although some are no longer used for their religious function.
The Cathedral of St Sophia which commands a view over the banks and town was an Orthodox Cathedral, partly destroyed, remodelled as a Catholic Cathedral by the Poles and now a museum.
Next to it is one of the Boris’ Stones. The stone there is from the 12th century on which son of ruler Vyseslsv Bryachislavich carved the inscription of “Dear Lord, please help Boris your slave” as well as a cross.
As for the town it held a St Ephrosinia monastery, now a Simeon of Polatsk printing museum.
Competing with it spiritual identity though is its recent soviet occupation.
Despite its long history and heritage (it changed hands several times, whether between Lithuania and Poland and Russia) it is still a small town with some beautiful buildings rather than beautiful throughout. Most of the sites are close together only with the monastery further away. And like other Belarusian cities and towns statues of Lenin can be found quite easily.
My hosts were the kind Dimir and Aksana who drove me to the monastery in the morning and ten into the small town. Polatsk is small enough in that all the sites can be seen in a couple of hours although you may want to extend time at the monastery. The nearest major town or city near here Vitebsk. From Minsk I took a bus directly to Polotsk. I departed to Mogilev via Vitebsk.
I only transferred from Marshutka) to train (arriving from Polatsk) on the way to Minsk. I do intend to visit this city. Vitebsk is also old (founded 974 AD) but it is quite attractive at least in the centre.
The train station is nice, trams run through the city and the main wide boulevard is attractive. There are also attractive churches along the river a brisk 10 minutes walk away. My stay in Vitebsk was a little more than 30 minutes or so, luggage in tow. Just enough to view the churches and catch my train. The Orthodox Annunciation Cathedral is a rebuilt 13th century church and next to it is a rebuild Orthodox Church dedicated to St Alexander Nevsky. There is also a famous catholic church and the city is also famous for being the home of the Jewish painter Marc Chagall and there is a museum close to station.
I only had a taste of this small city and hope to come for longer