Belarus lies in the center of Europe. It was a place at the crossroads "From the Vikings to the Greeks" and from European capitals to Moscow. Numerous invaders came here with fire and sword: the Mongol-Tatars and Crusaders, the Swedes, Napoleon's troops, the Nazis. Talented Belarusian ancestors left a legacy of magnificent monuments, showcasing the original traditions of Belarusian architecture, inseparable from that of Europe and the whole world at the same time. It seems if you disturb the dust of ages on these majestic ruins, you can feel the pulse of history. It is no accident many ancient Belarusian cities and towns surrounding palace and castle complexes like Nesvizh, Mir, Pruzhani, Rhuzhani, and Lida, have become the venue for various medieval festivals of battles, music, and art.
Discover the most majestic castles, palaces, and mansions of Belarus.
1) Mir Castle
The Mir Castle is truly the pearl of Belarusian architecture. In its 500 of history, the castle has experienced many moments of decline and revival and is today a national monument and the Art Museum of Belarus. It’s included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The construction of the castle as a family residence was started in the 16th century by Yuri Ilyinich, the marshal of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It was initially a small square fort with four towers at the corners, and the fifth – on the entrance gate.
In the middle of 16th century, the castle was passed to a Polish-Lithuanian nobleman Nicholas Radziwill. Radziwill began the second phase of construction. By this time, the stone walls and towers of the castle had already lost defensive value, and the whole structure was turned into a palace. The beautiful park was set up around the palace, following the examples of Schönbrunn Palace, Mirabell, Versailles, and others. The first half of the 17th century was the best time for the Mir Castle. After that, a long period of decline started.
At the end of the 19th century, the estate with the castle was bought by Prince Svyatopolk-Mirsky, Ataman of the Don Cossack Army. One of the motives for the acquisition was the belief that the name “Mirsky” comes from the name of the town. During the Second World War, the castle was turned into a ghetto, and the villagers settled there in the post-war years. It was only in 1987 that the Mir Castle was restored and opened as the National Art Museum of Belarus.
What to see
The Mir Complex includes castle ramparts, an English landscape park, an Italian garden reconstruction, a pond, a chapel-tomb of Svyatopolk-Mirsky, a guard's house and a roadside chapel. The chapel-tomb of Prince Svyatopolk-Mirsky was built by architect Marfeld.
Unique pieces of furniture, weapons, and tapestries can be found among museum exhibits. Famous medieval music art festivals are held here during the summer.
2) Nesvizh Сastle
Nesvizh Castle is one of the most beautiful sights of Belarus. It served as the residence of the richest family of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – the Radziwills. The magnificent palace with a large landscape park is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Radziwill family owned vast land properties on the territory of modern Belarus. At the beginning of the 16th century, Radziwill Black divided his possessions between his three sons. Niasvizh was given to the eldest – Nicholas Christopher, also known as the Orphan.
Radziwill the Orphan traveled extensively in Europe and the Middle East. In late 16th century he was impressed by the military architecture of Italy and upon his return ordered the building of a new castle, worthy of the name and the title of the Radziwill family. The construction began a few years later under the command of Italian architect Giovanni Bernardoni. Within a century, Nesvizh Castle withstood many attacks. Only in 1706, it was conquered by the troops of Charles XII. The Swedes blew up the defensive bastions and property was looted. The castle was rebuilt in the middle of the XVIII century by architect Zhdanovich.
The luxury and wealth of the interior, as well as the countless treasures of the Radziwill family, were legendary. In addition to valuable collections of weapons, paintings, books, and diamonds, there was a priceless collection of the 12 apostles made of pure gold and silver.
The power of the Radziwill family fell with the arrival of Napoleon. The last Nesvizh Prince Dominik Radziwill joined the French in 1812, and, like Napoleon, fled after the defeat, soon was mortally wounded, and died. A further change of owners, robbery, wars, and rebellions led to the ruin of the castle of Nesvizh.
After World War II, the castle was adapted for a resort, the park fell into neglect. In 2004, restoration works began, and in 2011 Nesvizh was opened as a Historical and Cultural Museum-Conservancy "Nesvizh".
What to see
Nesvizh Castle is a complex of buildings that combine many architectural styles from Renaissance and Baroque to Art Nouveau and neoclassical. Nesvizh Palace is just one of the sights to see in Nesvizh and if you are planning a trip you should also visit: Nesvizh Benedictine Monastery, Farny Polish Roman Catholic Church (16th century Baroque), and Nesvizh town square.
3) Sapeg Castle in Ruzhani
Borough Ruzhany in Brest region was first mentioned in written sources in the late 15th century. It is known that up to 1552 it belonged to Tyszkiewicz’s family.
At the end of 16th century Lev Sapieha, the famous tycoon and politician, Chancellor, one of the authors of a unique set of laws - Statute of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania - bought the estate in Ruzhany. He ordered the building of a castle in the early 17th century. The castle was built with three towers combining the features of a defensive fortress and a ceremonial palace. In the 17th century, the castle was an important center of the political life of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It hosted receptions of ambassadors and kings. In the second half of the 17th century the palace survived the hard times: it was partly destroyed mainly due to the Great Northern War. In the 1770s Rouge Chancellor Alexander Sapieha rebuilt the residence. Thanks to Saxon architect Jan Samuel Becker the castle was turned into a refined palace with gardens, parks, and greenhouses.
The pride of Ruzhany Palace was a rich library, an art gallery and one of the best theaters in Europe. There were 60 actors and 40 musicians playing. Many performances were staged in the French language.
After the unsuccessful Polish uprising of 1831, Ruzhansky possessions were confiscated, and Sapieha moved to another estate. The merchant-tenant in the chambers of the palace organized a weaving factory, which operated here until the beginning of the 20th century. In 1914 the palace was accidentally set on fire by factory workers. During the First World War, the complex was destroyed again, but the greatest damage to the palace was caused by the Second World War.
Ruzhansky Castle today
In the summer of 2008 restoration works and archaeological excavations started in the ancient residence of the Sapieha family. Now the central entrance gate – Brama – and the side wings are restored. Ruzhansky Castle is open for tourists. In the east wing of the museum called "Sapieha Palace Complex" you can see authentic objects and interior elements of the castle.
One of the halls is devoted to the Sapieha dynasty. The gallery hosts exhibitions of Belarusian artists. There are plans to restore the East (Theatre) building. It will be used for hotel rooms, a restaurant, and a horse riding school. Since 2011 Sapieha Palace hosts an annual festival "Ruzhanskaya Gate".
4) Pruzhani Manor House
This Italian style countryside villa in Pruzhani was designed by Polish architect F. Lanci for nobleman Valenty Shvykovsky in the middle of the 19th century. Among other things, it had an elegant greenhouse with lots of exotic plants. It is the only restored manor house of this type in Belarus. It was used for different purposes until 1989 when restoration started.
In 1998 the building became known as the "Pruzhanskі Palatsyk" Museum. Today it is a well-known socio-cultural and research center.
Musical and literary evenings and scientific conferences take place there. In the exhibition halls, various antiquities are on display. The museum hosts the annual festival of experimental art called "Reha Dahua”.
5) Skoki Manor House
This estate of the Nemtsevich family near Brest was built in the late 18th century. Skokovsky manor and park ensemble is a typical example of architecture of transition from baroque to classicism. The state was owned by the family of Nemtsevich until 1939. Despite the war, the palace survived. After that, a school operated here for a long time, saving it from destruction.
The estate has seen many interesting historical events. Many famous persons have once visited the Nemtsevich family. There were meetings with Ian Fleming, Princes Czartoryski Shuiskys and Tadeusz Kosciuszko. During the 1st World War, for almost two years the manor house was a residence of Commander of the Eastern Front German Prince Leopold of Bavaria.
Restoration works started here in 2006. In 2010, the decision of establishing the Historical and Memorial Museum "Manor Nemtsevich" was made. In Belarus, there are not many well-restored manor houses, especially with a restored interior. For this reason, the manor in the village of Skoki has great value for the whole country.
6) Kossovo Palace
The Kossovo township, now situated in the Brest region, has been known since the end of the 15th century. At the beginning of 19th century, Wojciech Puslovsky bought the manor there. He founded a carpet factory in the vicinity of Kossovo and refurbished or built about 60 churches in the area. Puslovsky was proud of the proximity of his estate to the manor at the Merechevschina tract where Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a national hero of Poland and the United States, an honorary citizen of France was born. After Wojciech the estate was inherited by his son Vandalin Puslovsky – an industrialist and an art lover. He began to build the magnificent Kossovo palace in 1838.
The author of the project was outstanding architect František Yaschold; Vladislav Marconi was also involved. Kossovo Palace is unique. The building consists of a central two-storey building and two side wings, and thanks to faceted towers it is often called a miniature castle. Each tower symbolized the month of the year, 4 central: May, June, July, and August are the highest. There were more than 100 rooms in the palace.
Thanks to a special arrangement of corridors and windows, for two and a half days a year, the sunlight completely flooded one of the chambers. At this time, the hosts celebrated this Day by decorating it and spending a lot of time there.
The palace was surrounded by a beautiful park with more than 150 species of exotic plants. Some especially rare ones grew in a greenhouse. After the last owner of the Puslovski family Leonard Puslovsky lost his property in a cards game, Kosovo has been repeatedly passed to new owners. During the First World War the palace was looted, many of the values were taken abroad. In 1921 it housed the district administration and the school. The greatest destruction of the palace took place during the Second World War. The fire of 1944 completely destroyed the decoration of rooms, leaving only the majestic walls standing.
Kossovo Palace today
In 2008 the restoration of the palace started.
When work will be completed, Kossovo Palace will become a socio-cultural and tourist center with a museum, a mini-hotel, and a restaurant. It is also planned to revive the former beauty of the largest terraced park in Belarus. I revisited Palace after a few years and I am really happy to see a progress of work done there.
7) Old and New Castle Complex in Grodno
Grodno Old Castle
It is a historical complex of fortifications of XI-XIX centuries. The original castle was built as a wooden fortress. After a fire in the end of 14th century, Duke Vytautas built a Gothic five-turret Upper Castle, later known as the Old Castle.
The castle is located on a high and steep hill on the right bank of the Neman. The length of the fortress walls reached almost 300 m, with an average thickness of about 3 m. In the second part of 16th century, the Castle was the residence of King Stefan Batory. During the Northern War at the beginning of the 18th century, the castle was destroyed by the Swedes. The Palace, fragments of defensive walls, the prince's quarters, the bridge and the castle site have survived until modern times. In 1925, a historical and archaeological museum was opened there.
New Castle in Grodno
In the early 18th century during the Great Northern War in Grodno, the Old Castle was demolished. Instead of spending time and money on restoration, it was decided to build a new castle. The construction and decoration lasted for 50 years and was completed in 1789. New Castle was used for General Sejm (Polish), and as the residence of Polish kings.
At the end of 18th century Grodno became part of the Russian Empire. Before World War I, Emperor Nicholas II signed a decree on the transformation of Grodno into a fortress. Around town, half a dozen of powerful forts and other fortifications were built. New Castle was also adapted for military purposes - it was used as a barracks.
During World War II, New Castle in Grodno was destroyed. When the complex was restored in the middle of 20th century, it looked nothing like a palace. The buildings have obtained some features of the Soviet Empire, and the main tower spire appeared with a five-pointed star.
8) Lida Castle
Gediminas Castle in Romanesque Gothic style in Lida was built in the early 14th century for protection from Crusaders. Lida Castle is shrouded in romantic legends of medieval battles and marriage, luring tourists in, and the theatrical knight tournament provides an opportunity to learn about the history of ancient Belarus.
In 1323, Duke Gediminas ordered to lay a stone castle in Lida to put up the knights of the road in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Over the centuries, Lida and its castle repeatedly fought off enemy attacks -hence the impressive atmosphere of Lida Castle for tourists, ideal for the reconstruction of medieval battles. In the Russian-Polish war, it was badly damaged during the siege. It was completely destroyed in 1702 when one of its towers was blown up.
A legendary event in the history of the castle was the marriage of the 71-year-old grand duke of Lithuania Jagiello with the 17-year-old Polish queen Sophia Golshanskaya, celebrated here in 1422. Sophia bore him three sons. The birth of the last son was a real scandal, as there were rumors that the child is not from Jagiello. But Sofia has sworn her innocence. After the children grew up, all became convinced that they resemble Jagiello a lot. The scene of the wedding of Jagiello and Sofia Golshanskaya became the most popular theatrical performance at Lida Castle. In the late 19th century, local people began to break down the walls of the castle and sell the stone and brick. In the last two decades, the castle has undergone restoration and archaeological research and is now open to visitors.
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Author: Anita Sāne
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