The town of Kamenets, Brest Oblast, is home to a unique specimen of defense architecture – the Kamenets Tower (also referred to as the Kamenets pillar or Kamenets Vezha). Its origins go back a long way to the second half of the 13th century.
The majestic building resembling a chess rook is located on the hill near the Lesnaya River which was full-flowing back then.
According to the chronicles, the Kamenets Tower was built between 1276 and 1288 on the orders of Galicia–Volhynia Prince Vladimir Vasilkovich by architect Aleksa who found the site to build a town and a wooden castle.
The Kamenets Tower is Volhynian type and shares some features with donjon towers that were widespread in Western Europe in the 12th-13th centuries.
The five-tier round building (30 meters high, 2.5 meters thick with the outer diameter of 13.6 meters) has a 2.3-meter-high foundation which is 16 meters in diameter. The tower is made of dark-red and yellowish bricks.
The tower in Kamenets was built for defensive purposes and therefore lacks architectural and decorative elements. Instead, it has thin portholes and four flat niches with semicircular ends. The top part of the tower, which is now an observation platform, is surrounded by 14 rectangular merlons with apertures. A decorative strip runs around the top of the tower.
The same towers were widespread in many Belarusian towns such as Brest, Grodno, Mstislavl, Myadel, Novogrudok, Polotsk, Radoshkovichi, Turov and Shklov but only the Kametets Tower still survives as a unique specimen of the medieval architecture.
During the 14th-17th centuries the tower survived crusaders’ raids and assaults by Polish and Lithuanian forces, armies of Rzeczpospolita, Sweden and the Moscow State.
By the 19th century the Kamenets tower had lost its defensive importance and was neglected. In 1822 attempts were made to disassemble the brick masonry, but over the centuries it turned into a stone.
The remains of the earth mound which the tower stood on disappeared in 1903 following restoration works. According to Suslov’s architectural project, the earth mound was removed and the first tier, which had been considered a cellar, appeared above the ground. A stone rampart was built around the tower. That was the last major restoration of the tower and since then the appearance of the Kamenets Tower has not changed.
In the early 1950s the tower was for the first time whitened and the floor was paved with stone. Restoration works were also carried out in 1968-1973 and 1996-2003.
There are a lot of myths and legends surrounding the Kamenets Tower. Some of them are plausible, some are nothing but fairytales. One of such fantastic legends says that the Kamenets Tower was built by an unknown giant and is a monument to him.
Currently the silhouette of the Kamenets Tower is one of the most recognizable architectural symbols of Belarus. The word combination Belaya Vezha (White Tower) has become a brand. In Belarus there is a sanatorium called Belaya Vezha as well as a casino, several restaurants and many alcohol and food products.
Since 1996 the International Theater Festival Belaya Vezha has been held in Brest bringing together both famous and young directors, actors, musicians, artists and theater lovers from the entire world.
However, the tower in Kamenets has not been always called Belaya Vezha. The name was born in the 20th century after the author of the book Belovezhskaya Pushcha Georgy Kartsov made a blunder writing that the tower was located on the Belaya River. Today historians think that there was another tower that gave its name to Belovezhskaya Pushcha.
The color of the Kamenets Tower was always brick-red because the red color masked the damage to the walls which made it more difficult for the enemy to shoot with maximum efficiency.
Over the centuries the tower has been called the Kamenets Vezha, Kamenets pillar, Kamenets tower... However, today it is often called Belaya Vezha.
Today the Kamenets Tower is a historical and cultural monument protected by the state.
The Kamenets Tower museum is located here, too. The excursions named "Kamenets’ Architectural Monuments" are organized on the observation platform of the tower. This must-see site is included in various excursions.
The Kamenets Tower is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.
The town of Kamenets is situated 37km to the north of Brest on the outskirts of Belovezhskaya Pushcha.
The Kamenets Tower can be reached by car, or by bus from Minsk or Brest.
There are hotels in Brest and in the National Park Belovezhskaya Pushcha (the village of Kamenyuki, Kamenets District).