A Tale of Two Castles

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Europe » Belarus
October 10th 2013
Published: October 17th 2013
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10 October

I have managed to plan a one-day visit to Belarusian Mir and Nesvizh Castles, but it dawned upon me in the course of planning that it was not advisable to visit both castles on the same day, unless I had a private car. It turned out my changing of the tickets for a 2-day visit was the optimal decision, because I managed to sleep, eat well and comfortably visit the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Belarus.

I bought Ecolines bus tickets to Minsk and spent some 60 Euros for a night in Tourist Hotel. I chose this one because I and Luda had been there on 9 May 2011, and it included a breakfast. I chose it mainly because of proximity to the metro. I also bought two bus tickets from the Belarusian website, one to Mir on the 10th, the other to Nesvizh on the 11th.

Surprisingly, I slept really well in the bus though woke every two hours or so and there was little space between the seats to outstretch my legs. I arrived to Minsk Central Bus Station at about 9-30, and went to Vostochny Bus Station though it was not needed because the bus passed both stations, first the former, then the latter, and I might just as well check-in at the hotel during the ‘lost’ time.

It took some one and a half hours to reach the settlement of Mir and I was already impressed by the first glimpse of the castle from the window. When the bus reached the stop, I saw a small church with blue domes and generally the look of the area was comfortable though, as tiny settlements would often feel, deserted. I entered a small building housing the ‘ticket office’ – with a single window where the woman was checking drivers' papers for quite long, so I decided to buy the return ticket after the castle visit, ascertaining the time of its departure from the schedule posted on the wall. I would spend about two hours here. Walking to the castle, I saw another religious structure – Kostel Svyatogo Nikolaya. I also noticed on pedestrian crossings the painted words ПОСМОТРИНАЛЕВО (Look Left), and such are not found in Russia. The castle's majesty is emphasized by the pointed towers and the location on an elevation. Near the castle is a lake and a park but I did not go there for want of time. I simply wanted to return earlier to Minsk and rest in the hotel, and did not want to take any chances with buses.

The Mir Castle is a defensive construction and residence, an architectural monument, owned by the Ilyinichis till 1568, the Radzivils till 1828, and Vitgensteins till 1891. The castle’s last proprietors were the Svyatopol-Mirskiyes, till 1939, when the castle became state property and a museum.

I entered the castle yard and went to the museum. In the first hall, my attention was drawn by the mockup of the excellent white Grodno castle. I am sure if it survived it would be also a hit with tourists. There were knights’ armours and ancient pistols. I saw a lot of different interiors, displaying the life of its various owners in the XVI-XVIII centuries, with furniture – tables, chairs, a library; the ceremonial Stolovaya Izba (dining room) with a finely decorated ceiling and remarkable chairs, plus a glazed tile stove. Then I descended to the lower rooms – a subterranean Pivnitsa for alcoholic beverages, a kitchen, and a storeroom, all lit dimly and full with relevant objects. After that, I ascended the tower via a very narrow spiral stair to see some more exhibits and the roundabouts from height.

I wanted to find a café but the two nearest ones were ‘closed for special service’ so I simply bought a juice and a cake in one of the small shops, bought the return ticket and soon came to Minsk, checked in at the hotel. The hotel provided three hours of wi-fi for free and I used them.

11 October

I slept marvelously well and easily got up at fifteen to eight to have breakfast. This time, though my ticket's departure was from Vostochny Station, I boarded the bus at Central Station. It’s a wonder that no one, including the driver, bothered to check any tickets. One might actually drive for free, if lucky. However, I then noticed a caption in the bus stating that “Conscience is the best inspector”, so the fact could be partially accounted for.

At eleven o’clock I deposited my rucksack and waited for the bus. The drive lasted about two hours and the bus station, as such, was a simple asphalted area with three posts bearing the towns’ and villages’ names, and a ticket office on the ground floor of a four-storey building. From the station to the castle (somehow the word ‘palace’ seems to me more suitable for such festive constructions) was a long way so I rushed there immediately. Soon I came to a lake and saw the castle far away. I reached the Slutskaya Brama – the only surviving gates ‘welcoming’ the guests coming to the town from the East. Near it on the lake bank were some interesting carved wooden statues with images of personages. I also saw the Town Hall, built in 1596, combining the features of the late Baroque and Renaissance (the oldest Belarusian town hall). Could you imagine that in this little town, resembling Poland more than Russia, I would find a statue of Lenin?

The next sight was Farny Kostel (Church of Corpus Christi), currently under renovation, a monument of the early Baroque built on the prototype of Rome’s Il Gesu, and nearby I found the tourist information centre and bought an entrance ticket. I hurried up along an alley with the lake and trees on both sides of it. Excellent time of the year, dry autumnal weather and yellow leaves everywhere – really, the colours of autumn are livelier than those of summer, though autumn is a transition from active life to ‘hibernation'.

The castle will not fail to satisfy: Unesco do not list their sites just for fun, they mean business. It has some defensive walls and mounds, and is surrounded by a moat. It looked even more beautiful inside the courtyard. A fantastic place, if you come to think of it.

During the XVI—XIX centirues it was the Radzivils’ residence. Nikolai Radzivil Sirotka founded the stone castle in 1583. The Radzivils ranked second to none in the history of the Grand Principality of Lithuania, and provided a lot of outstanding political, military, and cultural personalities.

The first hall I visited accommodated the archives and library, then the other halls. I will not give a detailed description of the rooms. There were various objects pertaining to the dynasty, portraits – I think the standard set to be found it any ancestral palace. Most of all I liked the large Hetman hall, particularly the decoration in the form of a cross and half-moon, embracing a hexagram. There is a hall with hunt trophies where the guided group of kids simply screamed with joy at seeing those stuffed animals and photographed them. I will point out a thing I’ve never seen before – exhibits of the so-called “theatrical machinery”. I quickly glanced through the remaining halls, including an armoury and a chapel, and soon was on my way back to the bus station. The bus came, fortunately, in half an hour.

I dined in a café on Nezalezhnosci Prospect, ordering the good old borsch (a soup without rivals), rural draniki (with meat and mushrooms), and pelmeni in a small jar with ham and cheese – all was very nutritious, and finished everything with tea and strudel.

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