This is the Belarusian spelling - the Russian spelling is
Минск (pronunciation is similar).
Centuries ago, the town was also known as Menesk (also: Mensk).
There are several theories about the origin of the name - maybe it was the name of the
founder, maybe it derives from the Russian word
менять (men'yat'), which means
"to exchange". The town has always been an important trading place.
It was during the Polish reign that Mensk finally turned into the presently used name 'Minsk'.
Minsk is the capital of the →Belarus
(White Russia) and is quite centrally located. Only →Vilnius
in the north-west is only 185 km away and therefore rather close. Geographically
(and also geopolitically), Minsk lies halfway between Moscow and Berlin, but it's
substantially closer to the former. The area around Minsk is dominated by the Belarusian Alps
(don't take that literally - it's my personal exaggeration) with hills exceeding 300 m in height.
The town itself straddles the small river
. Some 10 km north-west of the centre of Minsk, there is the 8 km long and 4 km wide
Sasslavl water reservoir. The town itself is encircled by the orbital
motorway M 9.
Minsk had not less than 1.729 million inhabitants in 2004, making it the by far largest city in the Belarus.
In other words - every 6th Belarusian lives in Minsk. The town forms its own administrative unit.
Minsk stretches along the small river and occupies some hills on both banks, making it topographically
an interesting town. The Belarusian name of the train station is
вакзал (Tchyigunatchnyi vaksal), but this name never appears on timetables
(look for the old name Минск - Пас). The train station
is conveniently located some hundred metres south of the centre (although a 'typical' centre is hard to define). Next to the
train station is the central bus terminal. The main road of Minsk is not far from there and known as the
Скарыны (Skaryina-Prospekt). Many of the main attractions of Minsk line up along
this broad street. Not far from the main road, on the other side of the river, lies a small quarter trying to resemble the Old Minsk
as it existed before WW 2.
Typical vista: broad boulevards and some drabness
To cut a long story short - Minsk is not really attractive and offers very few highlights. But I have to admit that
my opinion might be biased by the fact that I've visited Minsk in November (dark, foggy, temperatures around 0 C, drizzle or
sleet), making the town an extremely drab place. Things might look better in summer.
Anyway, Minsk is a prime example for stalinist-socialist urban development in a dimension that cannot even be experienced in
Moscow or other towns in Eastern Europe. Most visitors will soon be weary of the place (especially when seen many
other places like that before). City maps (plan goroda) are sold everywhere for less than 1 Euro, but all of them seem to
be in Russian (ie neither in Belarusian nor in English), which might be confusing from time to time, since some street signs
are in Belarusian only.
The town was first mentioned in the year 1067 in connection with - the complete destruction of the town! At that time,
Minsk was within the sphere of innfluence of the Kievan Rus. And it was not the last time that Minsk was leveled.
Historians estimate that the town was all in all destroyed ten times or more in its long history. During the 14th century,
Minsk became a part of the →Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Since Minsk marked the
crossing point of several trading routes, it soon developed into a very important market place with far-ranging connections.
Prosperity was only interrupted in 1505 when the Tartars invaded and burnt down the town (see also
→History of the Crimean Tartars).
Another desaster struck the town during the 17th century. The town was completely destroyed again during the
Russo-Polish war from 1654 to 1667. Since 1793, Minsk was ruled by imperial Russia. Ever since, the town
lost a good deal of its importance. The next to invade Minsk was Napoleon, who looted and burnt down
the whole town in 1812. During the second half of the 19th century, industrialisation reached Minsk. The opening of the
railway connection to →Brest and Moscow in 1900 positively influenced the development of the
town. However, at that time less than 100,000 people lived in Minsk - more than half of them were Jews.
The 20th century was a very tumultuous one for Minsk. During the First World War and the October Revolution,
the town changed hands quickly - Germans, Polish, Bolsheviki and Mensheviki took the town alternately.
The Bolsheviki finally took over and declared Minsk the capital of the Belarusian SSR.
Since 1922, the Belarus SSR officially belonged to the Soviet Union. This initiated an economic boom, which was only brought to
a halt by Nazi Germany in 1941. Massive air raids and the Minsk battle of encirclement and annihilation
at the beginning of the invasion, almost entirely crushing the the Soviet tank brigades, almost entirely wiped out the
town. Within the following three years, an estimated 400,000 inhabitants were killed - most of them were Jews.
The town was eventually liberated on July 3 in 1944. Even today, this day is celebrated throughout the Belarus as
Independence Day. The following years were spent to methodically rebuilt the town. As a matter of
fact, a completely new town was built. Ruthless industrialisation came along with the reconstruction. Since 1984, the
very useful subway serves the citizens. Since 1991, Minsk is the capital in all respects of the Belarus and also, which is
a little known fact, the seat of the headquarters of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Minsk is trying hard to improve its appearance. On the occasion of the 930th anniversary in 1997, many streets and
buildings received a massive facelift. However, it is not to be expected that Minsk is going to be declared
world heritage site by the UNESCO in the near future (I guess it's the Germans who should be blamed).
Minsk is an important stop along the well-frequented international Moscow-Berlin railroad, which means that it has
excellent train connections. All long-distance trains leave from the above-mentioned main train station.
Busses to destinations inside and outside the Belarus leave from the adjacent bus terminal. For detailed information
on how to get to the Belarus and Minsk respectively see →Belarus: Getting there.
Minsk has two airports - Minsk 1 and Minsk 2. The latter is more important for international flights and lies some 40 km away
from the town. Minsk 1 is almost in the centre of town.
The town has a very effective transportation system with trolley buses, buses and the subway. Tickets are the same. A single
ride costs 360 BYR (0.13 Euro). Note that tickets for the bus and trolley bus must be purchased in advance
and then punched on the bus. In metro stations, small plastic chips must be bought in advance to get through the gates.
It's okay to change the subway lines without getting a new chip - well, there are only two lines.
Alas, this town is partially an Orwell-like nightmare.
A giant concrete ghetto without character. Places
like these can be found all over Eastern Europe
(well, not only there) but Minsk has another dimension
(see population). The appearance is due to the Wehrmacht
leveling the town completely, giving way to "total
stalinistic urban development". But the word "ghetto"
is an exaggaration. Stalinistic urban development
has its good aspects, too: There is lots of space,
very broad roads and a lot of green. As a matter
of fact, Minsk can be fun to live in if you like
such places. The town is divided into several large
districts (called rayon). Names of the rayons
haven't changed: There is the Frunse-,
Moscow-, October-, Lenin-, Factory-, Partisan-,
1st May-, Soviet- and Central Rayon.
At central Victory Square
As already mentioned above, просп.
(Skaryina-Prospekt) is the main arterial
road in the centre of town. The road starts from,
although it's almost needless to say, пл.
Square) not far from the train station and
runs dead-straight to the north-east. The prospekt
(Russian for boulevard) is many kilometers long
and leads to the motorway M 2
direction Smolensk and to the airport Minsk-2. The
subway runs along the boulevard, too. When following
the road direction north-east, you will first cross
a bridge and soon after that find yourself right
on пл. Победы
(Victory Square) - a giant roundabout, partially
flanked by large semicircular lit-up buildings.
In the middle stands a monument commemorating the
dead of the Great Patriotic War (i.e. WW 2), consisting
of an obelisk, an eternal flame, hammer and sickle
and the like.
View over the river to the Old town
The area around the bridge of the Skaryina Boulevard
spanning the river Svisloch is dominated by several
nice parks. When walking from there along the river
to the north-west, another large bridge comes into
view. Next to the bridge starts the historic
old town or at least something that tries
to resemble old Minsk. The quarter occupies a rather
small stretch along the river bank and is not really
attractive, but it still offers a nice escape from
the dull surroundings. Among other buildings, there
is also a small synagogue
in the old town. Next to the old town lies the large
(Paris Commune Square), which is actually
a huge park with a somewhat strange and somehow
too big theatre in the middle of it.
The old town hall of Minsk
On the other side of the river, as seen from the
old town, there is a subway station and square named
(Nyamiha), which hit the headlines in 1999
when a large crowd stampeded to the station after
torrential rain started suddenly. Some dozen people
were killed in this incident. Fromn there it's only
a few hundred metres eastwards to пл.
(Liberty Square). The square marks the place
where the old centre of Minsk could be found around
the 16th century. Today, not much more than three
churches (Duchavski, Bernhardine and St Peter &
Paul Church) is left from those glorious old days.
And the old, rebuilt town hall. However, the square
is also dominated by modern Minsk.
Stalinistic classicism at the train
The full monty of typical stalinistic architecture
can be experienced right after leaving the train
station. The Прівакзальная
пл. (Station Square) is dominated
by a large ensemble of socialist classicism as it
can be found in other Eastern European cities, e.g.
(Kiev), East Berlin, →Bucharest
and so on. The same can be said about вул.
street), which stretches north of the train
station near the Dynamo Stadium. Lenin str. is the
main shopping street of the capital, with countless
shops, the obligatory ГУМ
(GUM department store) and, of course, a
Minsk: The new train station is a stylistic
Only very few buildings appear to be different from
the dull socialist uniformity. Among those buildings
is the futuristic train station, which won't really
fit into the surrounding townscape. And it's a fascinating
place to see how they desperately try to keep the
building nice and tidy. Not easy, since the train
station is always packed, with more than a handful
of completely drunk people hanging around here and
there. The train station features some kiosks, news
agents, coin lockers, two banks exchanging money
and much more. A large tunnel connects the station
with the other side of the boulevard. Another one
leads to the metro (subway) station. As already
mentioned above, there are two subway lines, with
one of them running below the Skaryina prospekt.
The tricky thing with the subway is that some stations
have been renamed, so the recent station name is
often completely different to the name given on
Die Minsker Metro
There is more to explore in Minsk - for example
dozens of museums, many of them dealing with the
heroic struggle against the German aggressors during
the Great Patriotic War (WWII),
countless monuments - most of them dedicated to
the same subject, amazingly dull administration
buildings, some nice parks and much more.
It would be an exaggeration to call Minsk a beautiful
town. However, seeing the archetypical blueprint
of a Soviet ideal town in such a dimension is quite
an experience. Yes, that's also Europe. If Minsk
would be only a quarter of what it is today, it
would be a completely uinteresting place. Just a
ride through the vast suburbs - although it's hard
to tell where the centre ends and the suburbs start
- is something special.
Finding affordable accommodation in Minsk isn't
easy. As already mentioned in the →travel
tips Belarus section, foreigners have to pay
the triple or even quadruple price. There are quite
a lot of expensive hotels, but very obviously Minsk
is not used to cater foreign tourists, and so only
few staff can speak English or another foreign language.
I had done some research on www.inyourpocket.com
and decided to give their highly recommended Hotel
Zeloni a try, which was supposed to set us
back something between 5 and 12 USD. It's in the
middle of nowhere, quite away from the centre, in
Odoyefskovo 52. However, there we were told that
we would have to pay 70 USD for a room! The reception
lady was nice, showing mercy and phoning around
for us. But wherever she asked - it was at least
50 USD for a room.
As with us, we finally ended up in the slightly
(Gastinitsa Akademitscheskaja - Hotel of the Academy
of Science). A more or less clean double
set us back 17 Euro per person - 50 USD for the
room so to say. But that was the price for the first
night only - after that, it would be 32 USD only.
The first night is substantially more expensive
because of the registration procedure (the hotel
registers guests with the local authorities). The
hotel - rather a guesthouse - is conveniently located
some 300 m away from the subway station
Akademija Navuk. The ground floor houses
a Chinese Restaurant, open from 1 pm to 11 pm. More
or less authentic main dishes cost around 2 €.
The chef is Chinese with a limited selection of
ingredients. Staff at the hotel can be gruff in
the beginning but they are quite nice and helpful.
Hotel address: vulitsa Surganova
7, Tel: (017) 266 2481, Fax: (017) 268 4871.
Official website of Minsk - includes an extensive English version and is quite useful.
Very nice and - more than that - useful private website on Minsk. In English, German and Russian.
Do you have or do you know a good
website on Minsk? Don't hesitate, let me know! After
checking it, I would love to add it to the link
list. Please note that commercial websites will
be declined. For e-mail link see menu on the