Belarus is of course more than Minsk. Mir castle and the palace in Niasvizh are two popular attractions. To make it easy, I decided to join an organized tour offered by Viapol Tour Operator. I booked the tour just the day before, so the guiding along the way was only in Russian. At Mir Castle and Niasvizh Palace however, I got English audio guide.
Mir Castle was our first stop, about 1,5 hours from Minsk. The castle is idyllically situated by a small lake, and a large bed of red tulips in front makes it look like a beautiful and peaceful place. That was of course not always the case throughout the history. Several sieges took place here, leaving the castle partly damaged many times.
The castle was originally built as a fortress in the end of the 15th century. The 3-meter thick towers were built separately, all meant to be independent towers of defense.
Walking through the different parts of the castle, various exhibitions were presented. One of them shows when the area was turned into an isolated Jewish Ghetto during WW2, counting almost 3000 people. Most of them were killed at an early stage, and the 850 surviving moved inside the castle walls. Sadly, 600 of them were taken out to the surrounding woods to be shot in 1942. The remaining Jews managed to escape with local help.
After the Jews fled, the other families in Mir were seeking shelter in the castle, and most of them did not move out until the 1960s.
Mir castle is one of the major tourist attractions in Belarus, and has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2000.
The inside interior shows the life of the upper class in the earlier days, with the beautiful tiled ovens and adorned roofs, a portrait room and the hunting trophies hanging on the walls. They even had a separate room made just for that. Hunting animals was seen as a way to train for combat…
The huge basement was mainly used as a storage room, big enough to store food and drinks for up to three years in case of a war. In the 17-1800s beer was very popular, and over 20 different types were produced. Vodka was less popular, and actually mainly used as medicine.
Fun fact from the kitchen; the cookbook of course contains recipes, but also instructions how to fire a chef!
Moving on to the historic Niasvizh, we first stopped by the Niasvizh Corpus Christi church with beautiful wall paints inside. A bit of a contrast to the basement where there are 70 coffins. One room with adults and one with children. It felt a little bit creepy to go down there in the dark…
Walking along the lake towards the Niasvizh Palace was a much brighter experience. The water was completely calm, reflecting the blue sky dotted by cotton clouds, and the lush green grass and trees. At the end of the path, the Niasvizh Palace rose in front of me, surrounded by a perfectly mirroring moat. In case it is not clear already, I tend to get amazed by reflections in water. This was clearly no exception.
Crossing the yellow bridge and entering the courtyard was a step back in time. Continuing further into the palace, the different rooms gave insight in the life back in the heydays. Dark red velour curtains in the room with the grand golden ornaments, grandiose furniture and chandeliers, dining room, bedrooms and study rooms. The room with the original pool table from 1896. And the ballroom with the short theater act.
But it was not always pomp and circumstance. During the war, the palace was used as a German hospital.
It was not a part of the program for the daytrip, but I left the palace a little bit before the group to see a little bit of the city as well. Not far from the lake I found a street with small colorful wooden houses, with white lace curtains in the windows. Most of them also had their own patch of land for growing vegetables. The houses look quite run down, with the paint peeling off, but that only adds to the charm!
Apparently the main square is also supposed to be very nice, but unfortunately I did not find that.
It had been a long and eventful day, full of impressions. Good thing it is not too much to see on the way back, so I could doze off without feeling too guilty…