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Minsk History, Belarus

Minsk, the capital of Belarus, has been a trading centre since immemorial times. Situated on the river that connects the Baltic and the Black seas, Minsk has always been the meeting point of commercial routes linking Baltic and Central-European cities like Riga and Warsaw, with the European part of Russia.

Minsk History - The Dark Ages

During the Dark Ages, the area around Minsk was covered by secular woods. The first settlers seem to have been the East Slavs, who came here from the Carpathians, forcing the previous inhabitants, the Balts, to move north. The Slavs were soon followed by the Vikings, seeking to expand their domination in Eastern Europe. In those times, Minsk was a part of the Principality of Polatsk, which later became Viking territory. Viking influence persists even today, as some aristocratic families dispute their Scandinavian or Lithuanian descent. Minsk's history officially starts with its first documentation, which dates back to 1067, when a terrible battle took place between the Polatsk and Kiev principalities. By that time, the inhabitants of Polatsk had already embraced Christianity, and the first Episcopal chair was established in the city around 992. During the Tartar and Mongol invasions in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Belarusian principalities made an alliance with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1242, Minsk became a part of the Grand Duchy, and the local aristocrats were given ranks at the Lithuanian court. By the mid 15th century, Minsk was a flourishing city, with approximately 5000 inhabitants. Its favorable location, on the routes connecting Poland to Russia, made commerce a very profitable activity.

Minsk History - Minsk under Polish and Russian Rule

In 1569, the Minsk Voivodeship became a part of the newly formed Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. During the next decades, the port of Minsk continued to grow, becoming one of the most important cultural and trading centers in the region. Nevertheless, Minsk history suffered another twist of faith in 1654, when it was conquered by Tsar Alexei of Russia. As Poland's political and military power continued to decrease, by the end of the 18th century Minsk became a Russian Governorate. The new administration was seeking to Russify Belarus by imposing a new architectural style, renaming the streets and building many orthodox churches. Under a wave of nationalism that burst at the beginning of the 20th century, the students and intellectuals of Minsk generated several anti-tsarist riots. However, soon after the October Revolution, Belarus became a Soviet republic. After heavy bombings during World War II, Minsk was again under reconstruction, this time in a less aesthetic, Stalinist style and it suffered a massive industrialization. From 1991, following Perestroika, Belarus became an independent republic, with Minsk as its capital.

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