Vitebsk, also known as Viciebsk or Vitsyebsk , is a city in Belarus
Belarus , officially the Republic of Belarus, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered clockwise by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk; other major cities include Brest, Grodno , Gomel ,...

, near the border with Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

. The capital of the Vitebsk Oblast, in 2004 it had 342,381 inhabitants, making it the country's fourth largest city. It is served by Vitebsk Vostochny Airport
Vitebsk Vostochny Airport
Vitebsk Vostochny Airport is an airport in Belarus located 12 km southeast of Vitebsk. It accommodates small airliners up to the size of Tupolev Tu-154. Also can accommodate Il-76.-History:...

 and Vitebsk air base
Vitebsk (air base)
Vitebsk is an air base in Belarus located 8 km northeast of Vitebsk. It is a small airfield complex with a single large tarmac. It was home to 339 VTAP flying 32 Ilyushin Il-76 cargo jets as well as Antonov An-22 planes....



Vitebsk developed from a river harbor where the Vitba River (Віцьба, from which it derives its name) flows into the larger Dvina, which is spanned in the city by the Kirov Bridge
Kirov Bridge
Kirov Bridge is a bridge in Vitsebsk in Belarus. It stems across the Dzvina river....


Its official founding year is 947 (or perhaps 974, or 914), based on an anachronistic legend that it was founded by Olga of Kiev
Olga of Kiev
Saint Olga , or Olga the Beauty, hypothetically Old Norse: Helga In some Scandinavian sources she was called other name. born c. 890 died 11 July 969, Kiev) was a ruler of Kievan Rus' as regent Saint Olga , or Olga the Beauty, hypothetically Old Norse: Helga In some Scandinavian sources she was...

, but the first mention in historical record is in 1021, when Yaroslav the Wise
Yaroslav I the Wise
Yaroslav I, Grand Prince of Rus, known as Yaroslav the Wise Yaroslav I, Grand Prince of Rus, known as Yaroslav the Wise Yaroslav I, Grand Prince of Rus, known as Yaroslav the Wise (Old Norse: Jarizleifr; ; Old East Slavic and Russian: Ярослав Мудрый; Ukrainian: Ярослав Мудрий; c...

 of Kiev
Kiev or Kyiv is the capital and the largest city of Ukraine, located in the north central part of the country on the Dnieper River. The population as of the 2001 census was 2,611,300. However, higher numbers have been cited in the press....

 gave it to Bryachislav Ezyaslavovitch
Bryachislav of Polotsk
Bryachislav Izyaslavich was the prince of Polatsk between 1001 and 1044. His name, possibly, may have been of something in approximation to Vratislav or Wroclaw. He was son of Izyaslav Vladimirovich. During his reign Polotsk was at war with Kiev and Novgorod...

, Duke of Polotsk
Polotsk , is a historical city in Belarus, situated on the Dvina river. It is the center of Polotsk district in Vitsebsk Voblast. Its population is more than 80,000 people...


In the 12th and 13th centuries Vitebsk was the seat of a minor principality which thrived at the crossroads of the river routes among the Baltic
Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...

, Black
Black Sea
The Black Sea is bounded by Europe, Anatolia and the Caucasus and is ultimately connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas and various straits. The Bosphorus strait connects it to the Sea of Marmara, and the strait of the Dardanelles connects that sea to the Aegean...

, and Mediterranean
Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Anatolia and Europe, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant...

 seas. In 1320 the city was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a European state from the 12th /13th century until 1569 and then as a constituent part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1791 when Constitution of May 3, 1791 abolished it in favor of unitary state. It was founded by the Lithuanians, one of the polytheistic...

; in 1569 it became a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th‑century Europe with some and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century...

. In 1597 Vitebsk was granted the Magdeburg Rights
Magdeburg rights
Magdeburg Rights or Magdeburg Law were a set of German town laws regulating the degree of internal autonomy within cities and villages granted by a local ruler. Modelled and named after the laws of the German city of Magdeburg and developed during many centuries of the Holy Roman Empire, it was...

. In 1772 it was taken over by Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

 in the First Partition of Poland
First Partition of Poland
The First Partition of Poland or First Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth took place in 1772 as the first of three partitions that ended the existence of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth by 1795. Growth in the Russian Empire's power, threatening the Kingdom of Prussia and the...


Under Imperial Russia the ancient center of Vitebsk was rebuilt in the Neoclassical style. The town was a significant shtot
A shtetl was typically a small town with a large Jewish population in Central and Eastern Europe until The Holocaust. Shtetls were mainly found in the areas which constituted the 19th century Pale of Settlement in the Russian Empire, the Congress Kingdom of Poland, Galicia and Romania...

 in the Pale of Settlement
Pale of Settlement
The Pale of Settlement was the term given to a region of Imperial Russia, in which permanent residency by Jews was allowed, and beyond which Jewish permanent residency was generally prohibited...

, with around half its population Orthodox Jewish
Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism , is the approach to Judaism which adheres to the traditional interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah as legislated in the Talmudic texts by the Sanhedrin and subsequently developed and applied by the later authorities known as the Gaonim, Rishonim, and...

 at the turn of the 20th century. The most famous of its Jewish natives was the painter Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall Art critic Robert Hughes referred to Chagall as "the quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century."According to art historian Michael J...

. Up to the Second World War, like many other cities in Europe, Vitebsk had a significant Jewish population: according to Russian census of 1897, out of the total population of 65,900, Jews constituted 34,400 (so around 52% percent).

During the Second World War, most of the local Jews perished in the Vitebsk Ghetto
Vitebsk Ghetto
Vitebsk Ghetto or Witebsk Ghetto was a short-lived ghetto in Belarus. It was created soon after the German invasion of the Soviet Union. It was created immediately after Germans took the town of Vitebsk on 11 July 1941....


In the years 1919–1991 Vitebsk was part of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

. During World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, the city was under German occupation (10 July 1941 - 26 June 1944). Much of the old city was destroyed in the ensuing battles between the Nazis and the Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...


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 placed on the wall of his house.

Since 1992, Vitebsk has been hosting the annual Slavianski Bazaar in Vitebsk
Slavianski Bazaar in Vitebsk
The International Festival of Arts "Slavianski Bazaar in Vitebsk" is an annual festival held in Vitebsk, Belarus under the auspices of the Belarussian Government since 1992. Its main program is devoted to Slavic music. The main participants are artists from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, with guests...

, an international art festival. Its main program is devoted to Slavic music. The main participants are artists from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, with guests from many other countries, both Slavic and non-Slavic.

Main sights

The city long preserved one of the oldest buildings in the country: the Annunciation Church. This magnificent six-pillared building dates back to the period of Kievan Rus. It was constructed in the 1140s, rebuilt in the 14th and 17th centuries, repaired in 1883 and destroyed by the Communist administration in 1961. Scarce remains of the church were conserved until 1992, when it was restored to its presumed original appearance, although it's a moot point how the church looked like when it was first built.

Churches from the Polish-Lithuanian period were likewise destroyed, although the Resurrection Church (1772–77) has been rebuilt. The Orthodox cathedral, dedicated to the Intercession of the Theotokos, was erected in 1760. There are also the town hall (1775); the Russian governor's palace, where Napoleon celebrated his 43rd birthday in 1812; the Neo-Romanesque Roman Catholic cathedral (1884–85); and an obelisk
An obelisk is a tall, four-sided, narrow tapering monument which ends in a pyramid-like shape at the top, and is said to resemble a petrified ray of the sun-disk. A pair of obelisks usually stood in front of a pylon...

 commemorating the centenary of the Russian victory over Napoleon.

Vitebsk is also home to a lattice steel TV tower carrying a horizontal cross on which the antenna mast is guyed. This tower, which is nearly identical to that at Grodno
Grodno TV Tower
Grodno TV Tower is a 254 metre tall lattice tower at Grodno, Belarus. Grodno TV Tower, which was built in 1984, is from unique design. Its top is similar to the Wavre Transmitter guyed at four crossbars.Grodno TV Tower is used for FM- and TV-broadcasting....

, but a few metres shorter ( 245 metres in Vitebsk versus 254 metres at Grodno) was completed in 1983.


Vitebsk is home to the Vitebsk State Technological University
Vitebsk State Technological University
Vitebsk State Technological University is an entire academic-scientific-production complex, which trains specialists with higher education for the light industry and other branches of national economy, prepares highly qualified scientific personnel, provides qualification improvement and employees...

, Vitebsk State Medical University and Vitebsk State University of P.M. Masherova

Notable people

  • Zhores Ivanovich Alferov
    Zhores Ivanovich Alferov
    Zhores Ivanovich Alferov is a Soviet and Russian physicist and academic who contributed significantly to the creation of modern heterostructure physics and electronics. He is an inventor of the heterotransistor and the winner of 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics. He is also a Russian politician and has...

    , physicist, 2000 Nobel Prize Winner for Physics
    Nobel Prize in Physics
    The Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded once a year by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895 and awarded since 1901; the others are the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Nobel Prize in Literature, Nobel Peace Prize, and...

  • S. Ansky
    S. Ansky
    Shloyme Zanvl Rappoport , known by his pseudonym S. Ansky , was a Russian Jewish author, playwright, and researcher of Jewish folklore....

    , playwright, The Dybbuk.
  • Marc Chagall
    Marc Chagall
    Marc Chagall Art critic Robert Hughes referred to Chagall as "the quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century."According to art historian Michael J...

    , artist
  • Yehuda Pen
    Yehuda Pen
    Yehuda Pen was a Jewish-Belarusian artist-painter, a teacher and an outstanding figure of the Jewish Renaissance in the Russian and Belarusian art of the beginning of 20th century...

    , artist
  • Joseph Günzburg
    Joseph Günzburg
    Baron Joseph Günzburg Baron Joseph Günzburg Baron Joseph Günzburg (Baron Osip Gavrilovch Gintsburg, Барон Осип Гаврилович Гинцбург (or Iosif-Evzel, Иосиф-Евзель) , (1812, Vitebsk–January 12, 1878, Paris), was a Russian financier and philanthropist. He is the son of Gabriel Günzburg and the father...

  • Leon Kobrin
    Leon Kobrin
    Leon Kobrin was a playwright in Yiddish theater, writer of short stories and novels, and a translator. As a playwright he is generally seen as a disciple of Jacob Gordin, but his mature work was more character-driven, more open and realistic in its presentation of human sexual desire, and less...

    , playwright
  • Marcelo Koc
    Marcelo Koc
    Marcelo Koc was an Argentinian composer.Koc studied at the Academy of Music in Łódź, Poland and in 1938 went to Buenos Aires where he continued his education with Jacobo Ficher, Guillermo Graetzer and Juan Carlos Paz...

     (1918–2006), composer
  • Immanuel Velikovsky
    Immanuel Velikovsky
    Immanuel Velikovsky was a Russian-born American independent scholar of Jewish origins, best known as the author of a number of controversial books reinterpreting the events of ancient history, in particular the US bestseller Worlds in Collision, published in 1950...

    , psychiatrist
    A psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. All psychiatrists are trained in diagnostic evaluation and in psychotherapy...

    /psychoanalyst and author
  • Kazimierz Siemienowicz
    Kazimierz Siemienowicz
    Kazimierz Siemienowicz , was a Polish-Lithuanian general of artillery, gunsmith, military engineer, artillery specialist and pioneer of rocketry. Born in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, he served the armies of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a federation of Poland and the Grand Duchy, and in the...

    , engineer, pioneer of rocketry
  • Simeon Strunsky
    Simeon Strunsky
    Simeon Strunsky, A.B. was a Jewish American essayist, born in Vitebsk, Russian Empire . His parents are Isidor S. and Perl Wainstein. He graduated from Columbia University in 1900...

     (born 1879), author in New York City
    New York City
    New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

  • Joseph Solman
    Joseph Solman
    Joseph Solman was a Jewish American painter, a founder of The Ten, a group of New York City Expressionist painters in the 1930s...

     (born 1909), American painter
  • Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk
    Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk
    Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk , also known as Menachem Mendel of Horodok, was an early leader of Hasidic Judaism. Part of the third generation of Hasidic leaders, he was the primary disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch...

     (born 1730), Hasidic Rebbe
    Rebbe , which means master, teacher, or mentor, is a Yiddish word derived from the Hebrew word Rabbi. It often refers to the leader of a Hasidic Jewish movement...

  • Isser Harel
    Isser Harel
    Isser Harel was spymaster of the intelligence and the security services of Israel and the Director of the Mossad . In his capacity as Mossad director he oversaw the abduction, and secret transport to Israel, of Holocaust organizer Adolph Eichmann....

     (born 1912), Israel intelligence chief
  • Tanya Dziahileva (born 1991), model
  • Leonid Afremov
    Leonid Afremov
    Leonid Afremov is a Jewish Belarusian painter. His paintings are often vividly-coloured landscapes, cityscapes and figures, and are typically painted using a palette knife and oil paint. His work has been greatly influenced by contemporary cityscape painter and modern impressionist Michael...

    , artist
  • Lazar Lagin
    Lazar Lagin
    Lazar Yosifovych Lagin was the pen name of Lazar Ginzburg , a Soviet satirist and children's writer....

    , writer
  • Sergei Kornilenko
    Sergei Kornilenko
    Sergei Aleksandrovich Kornilenko is a Belarusian professional footballer who plays for FC Krylia Sovetov Samara.- Career :Vitebsk-born Kornilenko began his career in his native Belarus as a trainee with FC Dinamo Minsk before joining his hometown club...

    , footballer


  • "Shishanov V. A. Vitebsk Museum of Modern Art
    Vitebsk Museum of Modern Art
    Vitebsk Museum of Modern Art was an art museum in Vitebsk, Belarus organized in 1918 by Marc Chagall, Kazimir Malevich and Alexander Romm. In 1921 it exhibited 120 paintings "representing all the movements of the contemporary art from the Academic Realism to Impressionism to Suprematism". In the...

    : history of creation and collection. 1918-1941. - Minsk: Medisont, 2007. - 144 p. In Russian.
  • Любезный мне город Витебск…. Мемуары и документы. Конец XVIII — начало XIX в. / Вступ. ст., науч., коммент., сост., публ. В. А. Шишанова. Мн.: Асобны Дах, 2005. 40 с.
  • Шишанов В. 974, 947 или 914? // Витебский проспект. 2005. №45. 10 нояб. С.3.
  • Изобразительное искусство Витебска 1918 - 1923 гг. в местной периодической печати : библиограф. указ. и тексты публ. / сост. В. А. Шишанов. - Минск : Медисонт,2010. - 264 с.

External links

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