Minsk: A City of Museums and Factories
Minsk is the capital of Belarus, an ancient country sandwiched between Russia and the Ukraine. Belarus’ largest city, it lies on two rivers, the Svislach and the Niamiha. During the sixteenth century, the Grand Duchy and the Kingdom of Poland were combined into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and a Polish community, including craftsmen, military officers, and government clerks, settled in Minsk. Thanks to this influx, the city became a cultural and economic center for the Commonwealth. Re-settled by the Russians in 1793, the city enjoyed substantial growth in the 1800s, opening its first public library, a fire brigade, a local newspaper, and its first theater. By 1844, this city was a large trading city. This led to a construction boom during which many large brick houses were built, some of which still stand today.
Thanks in part to the railway links (between Moscow and Warsaw, and between Romny and Liepaja), by 1900, 58 factories were in operation, employing some 3000 workers. This led to an economic boom during which many churches, theaters, schools, colleges, newspapers, and more were established. Minsk remains the largest transportation hub of Belarus, with the railways, a subway system, and two international airports. The city now has 12 national universities, 11 theaters, 20 cinemas, 16 museums, and 139 libraries. Some of its oldest churches include the Cathedral of St. Virgin Mary, established in 1700; the Cathedral of St. Joseph, which dates to 1644; and the Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, which is the former church of the Bernardine convent, built in 1642. Major theaters include the National Academic Big Opera and Ballet Theater of the Republic of Belarus and the Maxim Gorky National Drama Theater. Four national museums are in Minsk, including the Great Patriotic War Museum, the National Arts Museum, and the Old Belarusian History Museum.