For the reason I can’t explain lately I’ve been fascinated with Soviet architecture, massive concrete structures being a tribute to working class and showing the real power of the authority. Some might find the majestic buildings slightly overwhelming, but for me they are beautiful. And so I knew when I eventually visit Minsk I will like it there for sure! The trip to Belarus has been on my mind for months (I almost went there this winter) so when it was announced you can travel visa free for the Hockey Championships I couldn’t miss a chance like that!
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Rising like a phoenix from the ashes…
Even if Minsk is a Stalinist architecture masterpiece the city is actually quiet old! It was founded in 1067 and for centuries has played an important role as an economic, cultural and religious center of the area. Minsk was also badly damaged couple of times in the troublesome history. The worst was World War II when 80-90% of the city was in ruins, making Minsk third most destroyed city of that time. But while in Warsaw everything was rebuilt to look like it used to before the war and Berlin only put up most important buildings, Minsk was reinvented in a completely new manner!
Arriving to Minsk
After taking a really comfortable and super cheap night train from Grodno we ended up in rainy Minsk early in the morning. Right in front of the train station we were welcomed by two spectacular Soviet style towers – the left one has the biggest clock in Belarus while one the right one you can see coat of arms of Soviet Union. It was just the foretaste of how Minsk looks like, how grand every street, corner and square is! Later on it turned out our accommodation is in this spectacular building – I couldn’t have asked for a better location!
Discover Soviet Minsk architecture
Not far from the train station the spectacular Independence Square is located. While in most of the post-Soviet countries monuments of Lenin are removed, in Minsk it stands proudly, guarding the Belarusian Government Building. Apparently it’s forbidden to take pictures there but no one really stopped us – it might have been the Hockey Championships thing though. The Independence Square itself is huge! Walking from one side to the other takes some 10 minutes! It must have been designed that way so big marches praising communist regime could start from this central point of the city. Underneath the Independence Square a big shopping center can be found. I find it pretty ironic considering the importance and the history of the place, the Lenin statue and the fact that the nearby subway station, still with signs “Lenin Square’, has a huge statue of sickle and hammer in the midle of the platform.
The Independence Square is the starting point of Praspyekt Nezavismosti or Independence Avenue. This extremely long (15kms) and wide street, with four lanes each way, is a Stalinist architecture orgy! No surprise it has big chances to make it to the UNESCO World Heritage List as a great example of the socialist realist post-war buildings. Strolling it on a sunny day is a pure pleasure as it’s also the best place to see the most important locations in Minsk: the National Bank, Main Post Office, KGB Headquarters (yes, KGB is still operating in Belarus and looks like they’re doing fine there), Palace of the Republic or Residence of the President – just to give you few examples. All the buildings on Independence Avenue are really massive concrete structures, so enormous that walking from number 11 to 17 took us 15 minutes (we were about to get to the restaurant located at Independence Avenue 49, it was 8 or so bus stops further from number 17, 10 minutes by bus)!
Somewhere along the way (2 metro stops from Independence Square) there’s yet another important landmark in Minsk – Victory Square. Surrounded by red stars, with big Victory Column and eternal flame in the middle are accompanied by red propaganda slogans placed on the nearby buildings. Minsk is one of the 13 “Hero Cities”, a name given to the places in former Soviet Union that had to struggle during Second World War. The capital of Belarus was awarded with this title in 1974, commemorating a tragic three-year long occupation that cost lives of over 400.000 civilians.
More than just the architecture
If the architecture isn’t enough a lot of street names in Minsk date back to the Soviet times, to remind who and what is important! In the center of the city I came across Lenin Street, Marx Street, Engels Street, Komsomolskaya Street or Leningradska Street (who cares now it’s Sankt-Petersburg). Just looking at all the names transferred me back in the time to Soviet Union and collective good.
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Visit Minsk – the perfect city of Soviet Union
Minsk was designed to overwhelm, to show how weak and unimportant the single person is. In the whole Soviet Union there was no better, more perfect city than Minsk. It might seem like the time has stopped there, the policemen wearing huge green caps constantly watch your every move, that there is no space for independent individuals, that Belarus is a living museum of communism. But that’s not fully true! While life is much harder for people there, with limited rights and access to things that may be basic in Western Europe, it is still a normal country with restaurants full of people, exclusive shops and some of the cool bars with the most welcoming clientele ever!
Do you like Stalinist architecture? Would you like to visit Minsk?
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If you think of visiting Belarus or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it:
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