My encounter with Belarus started with this wonderful and historic city, which I believe, is not a coincidence.
Polotsk is one of the oldest cities in Belarus. The city is located at the crossroads of European routes at the crossroads of Western and Eastern civilizations, historical and cultural traditions of East and West. It has an advantageous geographical location, numerous rivers and overland trade routes that pass through the Polotsk, which contribute to its economic and cultural development. The city continued to flourished during the X – XII centuries when it became the capital of one of the largest states in Eastern Europe, the principality of Polotsk. In the XIV century, Polotsk became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. At that time, the city had trade connections with Riga, the Livonian Order, Novgorod, Moscow, Pskov and many other cities in the East and West. In the XIV to XV century, Polotsk was one of the largest cities in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In the “Chronicle of Poland” of 1382 it was named as the castle (fortress) of White Russia (Belarus in Russian). After the reunification of Poland and Lithuania in the XVI century, Polotsk province became the center of Polotsk office of voevode in Rec Paspalitaja (Polish spelling Rzecz Pospolita). At the end of the XVIII century, the city became part of Russia. Nearly thirty times Polotsk changed its status, it is now a city of regional subordination in the Vitebsk region.
Among the must-see places there, I would definitely recommend a visit to St. Sophia Cathedral and the The Savior and St Euphrosyne Monastery in Polotsk.
St. Sophia Cathedral is a monument of history and architecture from the XI-XVIII centuries. This Cathedral was also inspired by St. Sophia in Constantinople like other 2 cathedrals dedicated to St. Sophia on former Kievan Rus territory (in Kiev (Ukraine) and Veliky Novgorod (Russia). It was originally built during the reign of Prince Vseslav Magician as a symbol of power and independence of Polotsk. Performed in high-power designs (wall thickness 1.45m) the cathedral was also a fortress and citadel, which defended the prince and the people in times of danger. Polotsk Sofia is being constantly decorated and rebuilt. In 1607, the Cathedral burned and was eventually rebuilt, then during the Northern War in 1710, it was almost entirely destroyed by the explosion of gunpowder stored in it. In the 18th century, St. Sophia’s Cathedral was rebuilt completely by Uniates in the style of the late Belarus Baroque and it in this form that we will get to see it today. The building of the cathedral now houses a concert hall with an organ and the Museum of History and Architecture of St. Sophia Cathedral.
The Savior and St. Euphrosyne monastery founded in the 1120-ies to become a monk shelter for Euphrosyne (she was a princess of Polotsk at that times), who was an abbess there for 45 years. The transfiguration of Lord Church is located in the heart of the monastery complex and is an architectural monument of the Polotsk School of Architecture in the XII century. Its particular importance is its historical significance of fresco painting of the XII century as a unique creation of ancient monumental art. The Cathedral of Exaltation of the Cross is to the left side from the monastery entrance. It was built in 1893-97 as a monument of Russian-Byzantine style in retrospect. In 1997, the monastery was returned to the look of the Belarusian Orthodox shrines with a cross of St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk. The relics of St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk are also there.