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Polotsk, the beautiful town that Ivan the Terrible conquered in 1563, is the oldest in Belarus

History of Polotsk

Polotsk on lithography of Napoleon OrdaPolotsk was founded in 862 and not only is it the oldest town in the country, it is one of the oldest in the whole Slavic region, making it a popular tourist attraction in Belarus. The town is located 250km north of Minsk in the Vitebsk region of Belarus.

In its eventful history the town has endured Viking incursions from the north, fought against crusaders and had been occupied numerous times.

Euphrosyne of PolotskPolotsk became the centre of Christianity during the first Russian state of Rus. The town was a birthplace for the first Belarusian canonized woman Euphrosyne of Polotsk.

In the 10-13th centuries Polotsk was the centre of the powerful Polotsk Duchy.

In 1307 the town became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and became self-governing in 1498.

Frantsysk SkorinaBelarusian first printer and enlightener Frantsysk Skorina was born here as well.

Ivan the Terrible conquered the town in 1563. Polotsk was returned to Lithuania in 1578. Two decisive battles of the Napoleonic wars were fought in Polotsk in 1812.

During the early 20th century, the town was thriving. Occupied by the Nazis in 1941, it was liberated in 1944 by the Soviet Red Army.

Polotsk today

Polotsk is one of the most beautiful towns in Belarus, enjoying an attractive riverside location on the River Western Dvina.

Cathedral of Saint SophiaThe town is dominated by the Cathedral of Saint Sophia in the centre. Originally built between 1044 and 1066, it was a rival for cathedrals of the same name in Kiev and Novgorod. Much of the cathedral has been destroyed and rebuilt, but the eastern elevation and some of the basement walls are original.

Potolsk is full of historical buildings and monuments. Other interesting places to visit in the town include:

  • Boris’ Stone (12th century)
  • Red Bridge over the river Polota, commemorating the bloody battles of the Napoleonic wars
  • Museum of Belarusian Typography
  • Museum of Regional History and Culture
  • Saint Ephrosinia Convent (12th century)
  • Epiphany Monastery (1582)
  • Monument to the 23 Guardsmen – commemorating those who died defending the town in 1944 

Polotsk is the fist Belarusian town named  Belarus’ Capital of Culture due to its outstanding historical and cultural heritage, rich cultural life. Polotsk has been announced Belarus’ 2010 Capital of Culture.

Polotsk’ 1150th anniversaryPolotsk’ 1150th anniversary was included in the Calendar of Events of UNESCO in 2012-2013. A photo exhibition “Ancient Polotsk. Modern Polotsk” was held in the UN headquarters in Paris in November 2012. An international conference “History and Archeology of Polotsk and Polotsk Land” supported by UNESCO took place in Polotsk in November.

Getting to Polotsk and where to stay

The Dvina HotelThe best way to get to Polotsk is by train from Vitebsk. The journey takes two hours.

From Minsk the best way to get here is by car – the train journey can take up to eight hours.

There is one hotel in the old town of Polotsk, the Dvina Hotel. Other hotels can be found in the neighbouring new town of Novopolotsk. There is a greater choice of hotels in Vitebsk, and it is easy to arrange a tour to Polotsk from there.

Things to see near Polotsk

There are plenty of things to see inPolotsk town, but if you have time to venture a little further afield you might want to visit:

Great Patriotic War monuments in Belarus