Welcome to Vitebsk, a city in Belarus that is rich in history and culture. As the administrative center of Vitebsk Region, it is the fourth-largest city in the country with a population of 366,299. Vitebsk is served by Vitebsk Vostochny Airport and Vitebsk Air Base, making it easily accessible for travelers. Let’s dive into the history of this fascinating city.
Vitebsk developed from a river harbor where the Vićba River flows into the larger Western Dvina. Archaeological research indicates that Baltic tribes had settlements at the mouth of Vitba. In the 9th century, Slavic settlements of the tribal union of the Krivichs replaced them. According to the Chronicle of Michael Brigandine, Princess Olga of Kiev founded Vitebsk in 974. Other versions give 947 or 914. An important place on the trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks, Vitebsk became by the end of the 12th century a center of trade and commerce, and the center of an independent principality, following Polotsk, and at times, Smolensk and Kiev princes.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, Vitebsk functioned as the capital of the Principality of Vitebsk, an appanage principality which thrived at the crossroads of the river routes between the Baltic and Black seas. In 1320 the city was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as dowry of the Princess Maria, the first wife of Grand Duke of Lithuania Algirdas. By 1351 the city had erected a stone Upper and Lower Castle, the princes palace. In 1410 Vitebsk participated in the Battle of Grunwald. In 1569 it became a part of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1597 the townsfolk of Vitebsk were privileged with Magdeburg rights. However, the rights were taken away in 1623 after the citizens revolted against the imposed Union of Brest and killed Archbishop Josaphat Kuntsevych of Polotsk. The city was almost completely destroyed in 1708, during the Great Northern War. In the First Partition of Poland in 1772, the Russian Empire annexed Vitebsk. Under the Russian Empire, the historic center of Vitebsk was rebuilt in the Neoclassical style. The Battle of Vitebsk was fought west of the city on 26–27 July 1812 as Napoleon attempted to engage decisively with the Russian army.
Before World War II, Vitebsk had a significant Jewish population, with Jews constituting 52% of the total population of 65,900 in 1897. The most famous of its Jewish natives was the painter Marc Chagall (1887-1985). During World War II, the city came under Nazi German occupation from 1941 to 1944. Much of the old city was destroyed in the ensuing battles between the Germans and Red Army soldiers. Most of the remaining local Jews perished in the Vitebsk Ghetto massacre of October 1941. The Soviets recaptured the city during the 1944 Vitebsk–Orsha Offensive.
In the first postwar five-year period, the city was rebuilt. Its industrial complex covered machinery, light industry, and machine tools. In 1959 a TV tower was commissioned and started broadcasting the 1st Central Television program. In January 1991, Vitebsk celebrated the first Marc Chagall Festival. In June 1992, a monument to Chagall was erected on his native Pokrovskaja Street and a memorial inscription was placed on the wall of his house. Since 1992 Vitebsk has been hosting the annual Slavianski Bazaar, an international music festival. The main participants are artists from Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, with guests from many other countries, both Slavic and non-Slavic. There has been a remarkable improvement and expansion of the city. The central stadium was reconstructed, and the Summer Amphitheatre, the railway station and other historical sites and facilities were restored, and the Ice Sports Palace along with a number of new churches and other public facilities were built, together with the construction of new residential areas.