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Belarus Tour Guide: Ideas for Your Trip!

What to see in Pinsk: Jesuit college, the oldest pipe organ and other attractions

What to see in Pinsk: Jesuit college, the oldest pipe organ and other attractions

Pinsk, one of the largest towns in southern Belarus, an ancient cultural, spiritual and historical center, has been known for more than nine centuries. It was first mentioned in chronicles on 5 November 1097. Pinsk was an influential town and always fascinated visitors by its beauty and uniqueness. Today the unofficial capital of the Polesie region is home to more than 160 historical sites which make up a unique urban ensemble. Pinsk yields only to the ‘royal city’ of Grodno in terms of the number of architectural monuments. Rich heritage, amazing nature and unique cultural identity of the locals known as Poleshuks distinguish Pinsk among other cities of the country.

Jesuit College - Museum of Belarusian Polesie

On the main square of Pinsk there stands the Jesuit College - one of the gems of the 17thcentury architecture in Belarus. Nearby there was the Roman-Catholic Church of St. Stanislaus, but it was blown up in 1953. Together with other buildings they formed a beautiful ensemble of the Jesuit monastery. Unfortunately, only the college and two monastery wings have survived to this day.

The Jesuit monastery, which combined the Baroque and Renaissance styles, was built in Pinsk in 1630-1670. The local college was one of the largest educational centers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and was almost on par with universities in terms of the quality of education.

In our time, after restoration, the historical building houses the Museum of the Belarusian Polesie that holds many local rarities. Among them, for example, are an ancient stone cross, a sarcophagus made of pink slate in the 12th century, a unique wooden bicycle made by a local craftsman in the early 1930s. In its time it cost like two cows. Today no other museum in Belarus can boast such artifacts.

The gem of the museum is an art gallery of more than 2,000 paintings. Its history is very interesting! Researcher Vladimir Borovikov put forward an idea to set up a collection in the early 1960s. The idea was supported by USSR Culture Minister Yekaterina Furtseva. She  made sure that the leading galleries of the country shared paintings with Pinsk. The works of Shishkin, Aivazovsky, Vasnetsov, Perov and other outstanding masters were brought to Pinsk. Over time, the gallery was supplemented with paintings by famous Belarusian artists.

Another iconic artifact of the museum is the couch of Yakub Kolas, who lived and worked in Pinsk in 1914. The house where the future people’s poet settled with his young wife and where the family had their firstborn, has survived till present day and is in private ownership.
Where: 22 Lenina Square

River Terminal

A long time ago the Pina River was part of a long route between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea together with the famous Pripyat, the Yaselda and the Bug. The town itself became a buzzing port harboring merchant ships and even had a boat market. Today, if you walk from the building of the college down to the embankment, you will get directly to the old river terminal - a specimen of Polesie wooden architecture. The port-terminal is open during a tourist season, therefore you can take a river trip on the Pinskmotor ship or go on a big cruise across Polesie, the only one of this kind in Belarus. The Belaya Rus river journey connects Brest and Mozyr and passes through Pinsk.

Pedestrian Lenina Street

Over its many years of history, Pinsk’s oldest street has changed names many times: it was Bolshaya Spasskaya, Bolshaya Frantsiskanskaya, Bolshaya Kievskaya, in the 20th century – Kosciuszko, Bolshaya and, finally, in 1939, it was named after Lenin. At all times it has been the heart of the town. The best houses, banks, shops, hotels, workshops and ateliers were located there. Today, almost all buildings of the street have historical and cultural value, they are well preserved specimens of urban architecture of the late 19th - early 20th centuries. It is here where the town’s famous landmarks are located: - Butrimovich (Butrymowicz) Palace, or Pinsky Mur that is used as a marriage registry office now, the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary that boasts Belarus’ oldest organ, and many others. Walking down the street you not only move from one building to another, but travel in time.

The idea to turn Lenina Street into a pedestrian street was put forward back in the late 1980s, but it was materialized not until 2016–2018. After a large-scale refurbishment project, the street got many cozy nooks and thematic lanterns creating a fabulous atmosphere in the evenings. At the beginning of the street there is a bronze monument to a local resident - Pinchuk. This flamboyant character represents a typical Poleshuk. It stands in a proud posture characteristic of local people and shows a distinct hand gesture. On the basis of the statue you can read “To begin with, I am from Pinsk ...”. The curved little finger and this phrase are believed to be distinctive features of Pinsk residents.

Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Franciscan Church)

On Lenina Street, not far from the old Pina embankment, there is another gem of Pinsk - the ensemble of the former Franciscan Monastery. It was founded in 1396 and became one of the first Catholic monasteries in Belarus. In the 17th-18thcenturies the complex was rebuilt in the Baroque style using stone. The dominant part of the ensemble is the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It has been a landmark of the town since its construction in 1730. Some elements of the building date back to 1510. Cozy courtyards appeared in the complex when stone buildings of the monastery were added to the cathedral centuries ago. Today It is a great place for relaxed strolls.

When you step inside the cathedral you will be amazed by its decoration, including wooden, gold-covered sculptures by Jan Schmitt, beautiful frescoes, ornamental paintings. The biggest treasures of the cathedral are the famous painting The Madonna of Pinsk by Alfred Romer (an ordinary local woman was the model for the artwork) and Belarus’ oldest functioning organ having 1,498 wooden and metal pipes. It was made by the famous Belarusian organ maker Albertus Grodnitsky in 1836, and to this day, the old organ is used during solemn services and concerts.

Pinsk Catholic Church is one of the three churches in Belarus that bear the honorary title of basilica minor. This title is awarded by the Pope in recognition of the great importance of a temple. The history of the church is closely tied with first Belarusian Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek, who was the keeper of the Franciscan heritage for more than half a century. He restored St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Seminary in Pinsk. In 2006, Kazimierz Swiatek was awarded the title of Commander of the Legion of Honor of France. Apart from Pinsk Catholic Church, the status of basilica minor was granted only to St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Grodno and Budslau Bernardine Church, a famous sanctuary.

In 1817 a three-tier bell tower was built in the courtyard of the Franciscan monastery. In the 1930s, during a makeover after the fire it got another tier and a dome. Due to a barely noticeable tilt, the locals jokingly call it “Pinsk Tower of Pisa”.

Where: 16 Lenina Street

All-Male Gymnasium in Pinsk

The two-storeyed all-male gymnasium was built in the main street of the town in 1852-1853. The gymnasium was later famed by its talented students. Among them was biochemist and first president of Israel Chaim Weizmann; inventor Isaac Schoenberg, who was knighted in Great Britain for his contribution to the development of English television; Nobel Prize winner, economist Simon Kuznets; architect Ivan Zholtovsky, one of the major representatives of Neoclassicism in European architecture of the 20th century and many others. The inscription in Polish Męskie Gimnazium Państwowe (All-Male National Gymnasium) was preserved on the facade of the building. Memorial plaques were also installed in honor of Chaim Weizmann and Ivan Zholtovsky. Today, the building is used by the education department of the Pinsk Town Hall.

Where: 39 Lenina Street

Orda House

Opposite the all-male gymnasium, there is a red-brick eclectic style house at the corner of Butrymowicz Street and Lenina Street. The house was built in the early 20th century. The house was owned by Leontina Orda, a daughter-in-law of famous artist, composer and musician Napoleon Orda. A corner entrance, ornamental decorations, and ornate balconies make the house stand out among other street buildings.

Where: 38 Lenina Street

Butrymowicz Palace

The palace, designed by architect Karol Schildhaus for prominent statesman of Rzeczpospolita, judge Mateusz Butrymowicz in 1784-1794, was the first stone building in Pinsk. People called the building Pinsky Mur (mur in Belarusian is stone masonry). The stone breaking ceremony was attended by King of Rzeczpospolita Stanislaw August Poniatowski, who visited Polesie in September 1784. The beautiful palace combined elements of Baroque and Classicism.

Later, the palace was owned by Mateusz Butrymowicz’s heirs - representatives of the famous Polesie families Orda and Skirmunt, who included many talented sculptors, painters and writers. In the 19th century, Butrymowicz's grandson, famous artist, musician, teacher and composer Napoleon Orda lived and worked here.

Throughout its history the palace was also the residence of the Catholic bishop, a printing house, a cinema and the House of Pioneers. Since 2009 the palace has been used as a marriage registry office.

Where: 44 Lenina Street

Polesie Drama Theater

In 2006, Kazino, the oldest cinema in Pinsk that was built in the Art Nouveau style in 1911-1912, re-opened as a theater. The historic building with a green tiled roof became home to the Polesie Drama Theater. The first theater company appeared in Pinsk in 1939, but in the course of history, the theater closed and re-opened several times. In 1954, it was kicked out of its building. For many years, only an amateur theater company operated in the town. The early 2000s saw the revival of the professional theater. Its repertoire includes productions for adults and children. The theater’s auditorium can seat 110 spectators. Near the theater, there are wooden sculptures of characters of the legendary comedy Pinsk Nobility by the Belarusian dramatist Vintsent Dunin-Martsinkevich.

Where: 10 Very Khoruzhei Street

Pinsk (Confederal) Synagogue

The synagogue in Pinsk is a former prayer house of rabbis of the Perlov family. It is located in the Karolin (Karlin) neighborhood that is currently within the town boundaries. It is the birthplace of the religious movement of Karlin-Stolin Hasidim that was founded by Aaron Perlov (of Karlin) and his son Osher (of Stolin). The neighborhood was famous across the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, its Hasidic residents were known as members of the Karlin-Stolin Hasidic dynasty. From 1841, the prayer house was wooden, but after the fire of 1901, it was re-built from brick. In the spring of 1941, the building played host to an illegal convention of rabbis of Western Belarus and Western Ukraine. In the Soviet era, the synagogue was home to various organizations and served as a residential building. In 1993, the building was returned to the Jewish community of Pinsk.

In the past, Pinsk was often called the Jerusalem of Polesie: the town was home to many Jews and dozens of synagogues. Unfortunately, most of the heritage of the 500-year history of the Jews of Pinsk – houses, synagogues, even cemeteries – is lost.

Where: 12 Irkutsko-Pinskoi Divizii Street

Church of St Charles Borromeo

A catholic church appeared in the Karolin neighborhood even earlier than the synagogue. The first wooden church was built in 1695 for members of the Apostolic Union of Secular Priests – secular clergy who came to Pinsk from Northern Italy. In 1770-1782, Hetman Michal Kazimierz Oginski helped build there a new stone church in the Baroque style with elements of defensive castle architecture. In 1784, the church was dedicated to St Charles Borromeo, a canonized cardinal who was an active participant in the reforms of monastic orders. The premises of the church featured a wooden bell tower, a priest’s house, a dining hall, a kitchen, a bakery, stables, and other outbuildings. However, with time the church fell into disarray, along with the union of secular priests itself.

In 1860, the church was renovated and re-dedicated to the Holy Trinity. In the 20th century, it operated until the 1960s. The church even stayed open and was almost unscathed during the Great Patriotic War. However, soon aferwards it was abandoned and started falling into disrepair. After the renovation in 1992, the old church became home to a chamber music hall with an electric organ. Since then, the former church has played host to concerts of Belarusian and foreign musicians as well as exhibitions.

Where: 37 Kirova Street

Saint Barbara’s Cathedral Church

Today the cathedral church erected in honor of Saint Barbara the Great Martyr is the key Orthodox temple in Pinsk. However, centuries ago it was Archangel Michael’s Roman Catholic church standing as part of a monastery of the Bernardians. The initial church was a wooden building. It was rebuilt as a Baroque stone structure in the 1770s-1780s.

In the 1830s after the monastery was closed, the Roman Catholic church was reconstructed and reopened as an Orthodox church named after Saint Barbara. The high roof was replaced with a more slanting one. In the center of the roof they built an onion dome but the ornately shaped Baroque fronton remained unchanged, this is why today’s building looks eclectic. A two-story wing of the cathedral church was built in the early 19th century and a monastery was housed there for some time. A two-story classicism-style gateway with a bell tower was built on the western side of the temple. The gateway is now part of one architectural ensemble.

The temple’s treasures include the icon of Our Lady Hodegetria of Jerusalem dating back to the 16th century, the Holy Protection icon, the Virgin Mary of Tenderness icon, and the Three Holy Hierarchs icon, with the last three dating back to the 18th century.

Where: 34 Sovetskaya Street

Glorious Resurrection Church

This unusual church is located not far from Lenina Square. Despite its rich spiritual history it also went through a series of transformations, including… transformation from a movie theater. The first spiritual building at this location – a wooden Saint Dominic Roman Catholic Church – was erected in 1667. It was rebuilt in stone in the Classicism style in the late 18th century – middle of the 19th century and handed over to the Orthodox Church as a Collegiate Church of Saint Theodore Tyron – the patron of Pinsk. Unfortunately, in the 1950s the building was demolished in order to build a movie theater named Druzhba [Friendship]. The building was designed by the Soviet architect Zoya Brod in the spirit of Stalin’s age with a neo-classic portico: about 100 movie theaters of the same kind were built all over the USSR. But the history restored everything to their rightful places! In 1994 the movie theater that had been closed down was handed over to the Orthodox Church and a reconstruction project began. Towers with domelike roofs and miniature onion domes were built at the corners of the building. The entrance into the new church was built instead of the movie screen.

By the way, a house of the archbishop of Pinsk and Polesie, a monastery, and a consistory, which are located around the movie theater, were left untouched during Soviet years. After the church resumed ownership, the consistory was used to house the administration of the Pinsk and Luninets Orthodox Eparchy and a family chapel of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr.

Where: 33 Gorkogo Street

Memorial complex in honor of Pinsk’s liberators

The memorial is dedicated to the most tragic pages in the history of the 20th century. Pinsk was occupied by the Nazi for nearly three years – from 4 July 1941 through 14 July 1944. Thousands of people did everything they could to fight the enemy and bring the victory closer – they set up underground resistance cells in the river port, the railway station, and at all the enterprises, they collected weapons and ammunition for partisan units and arranged subversive actions… Troops of the 1st Belarusian Front – the 28th army and the 61st army as well as the Dnieper military flotilla – liberated Pinsk as part of the legendary Operation Bagration.

A memorial complex was erected in 1950-1967 at the location where the troops landed. It is also a place of a communal grave of 176 army soldiers, sailors of the Dnieper military flotilla and partisans, who fell in the course of Pinsk’s liberation during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. It was designed by architect M. Zarzhetsky and sculptor A. Shamkov.

A BK-92 armored boat and a stele with a commemorative engraving are part of the composition. The ship was crewed by a team combining representatives of many nationalities. They fought with valor and died as heroes in the course of liberating the town. There is a stairway nearby in the center of the complex. It bears names of the fallen and leads to the stele with bronze bas-reliefs of a sailor, a soldier, and a woman. An Eternal Flame burns at the foot of the stele. Obelisks on the graves of the Heroes of the Soviet Union Tikhon Kalinin and Aleksei Kulikov were erected on both sides of the stele.

Where: Pinsk Municipal Park of Culture and Recreation named after the Order of the Red Banner Dnieper Flotilla

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