Belarus is a country of rich history and original culture. In Belarus there is a significant number of historic towns: Novogrudok — the first capital of the Grand Principality of Lithuania, Polotsk — the capital of the Principality of Polotsk, Turov and Grodno — major towns of Slavonic principalities in the 9th-12th centuries, Mstislavl — the centre of a large voivodship of the 16th century. Many towns have retained ancient temples and monasteries, palaces and castles, precious historical monuments and cultural sites.
In order to wisely use the national cultural legacy and the most valuable natural complexes for the benefit of the travel industry, the Belarusian government has worked out a state investment programme Belarus Golden Ring aimed at reviving the historical, cultural and natural legacy of the country. The draft programme provides for setting up a special economic zone for tourism and recreation businesses.
The travel industry is a rapidly developing branch of the Belarusian economy. The industry’s average annual turnover has been in excess of $20 million for the last three years, gaining 8% per year. According to official data, the profitability of setting up a tourism business varies between 10-20% per annum depending on the market situation. Investments in the tourism industry exceed $18 million. Annual earnings per every tourism industry employee amount to $6,000-8,000. The tourism industry employs over 3,600 people. About 500 Belarusian companies are licensed for tourism business, with 86% of the number privately owned.
Over 250 hotels can accommodate 30,000 tourists at a time. Travellers can choose between 14 hotels for tourists (for over 6,500 people), nine holiday camps and camping sites (4,300-capacity).
Hunting and fishing tourism has become widely popular in Belarus. Game hunting agencies offer commercial hunting tours with guaranteed trophies.
Belarus’ major climate traits are determined by the country’s location in the temperate latitudes of the northern hemisphere on a hilly plain practically in the centre of Europe.
In short, the climate can be described as a transition from the maritime climate to the continental one and is qualified as moderately continental. The moderate continentality is manifested in all elements of the climate, especially in air temperature variations.
The highest recorded temperature stands at 36Ñ in the north of the country and at 38Ñ in the south. Every year one can expect 2-4 days (up to 6 day in the south) on the average when the air temperature rises up to plus 30C and above and approximately 1-3 days every ten years with the air temperature higher than 35C in the southern half of the country. In the north-east temperatures may plunge down to minus 40C and lower (approximately once in 25 years) and are registered to fall lower than minus 30C practically every year. The snow cover is observed from December till March, with the snow cover depth reaching its max of 15-35 centimetres in early March.
The first wildlife reserve in Belarus — Bereza State Wildlife Reserve — was set up in 1925. More than half a century later it became an international biosphere reserve. In 1993 the Council of Europe inducted Bereza State Wildlife Reserve into the network of biogenetic reserves. The wildlife reserve covers more than 80,000 hectares. In its territory 230 bird species have been registered, including 56 Red Book bird species. In 1998 scientists recognised Bereza Wildlife Reserve as a key ornithological territory.
The national park Belovezhskaya Pushcha (87,000 hectares) was created in 1990 out of one of the oldest state reserves. Belovezhskaya Pushcha is situated in the south-west of the Republic of Belarus 340km far from Minsk in Grodno and Brest oblasts. The state reserve is home to 59 species of mammals (including 6 protected ones), 253 species of birds, including 75 ones listed by the Red Book. A herd of some 300 aurochses is the jewel of the state reserve.
Belovezhskaya Pushcha is a unique and largest body of ancient forests typical for Central Europe plains. The average age of Belovezhskaya Pushcha forests exceeds 100 years, with some parts of the forest more than 250-350 years old. In Belovezhskaya Pushcha there are over one thousand giant trees: oaks, which are 400-600 years old, ash trees and pines more than 250-300 years old, 200-250-year fir trees. Belovezhskaya Pushcha is unparalleled in Europe in its number of plant varieties and animal species. In 1992 Belovezhskaya Pushcha was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In 1993 the state reserve was turned into a biosphere reserve, and Belovezhskaya Pushcha was awarded a Diploma of the Council of Europe in 1997.
The Belarusian-Polish state border crosses Belovezhskaya Pushcha.
Other national parks of the Republic of Belarus:
Braslav Lakes (created in 1995). Around 200 water ponds are the jewel of the park;
Pripyatskiy national park (created in 1996);
Narochanskiy national park (created in 1999). In the national park there is the nation’s pearl — Lake Naroch, a most important resort.
Places of Interest
Lake Naroch, the largest lake in Belarus, has always attracted tourists by its beauty and good recreation opportunities. In the area there is the country’s largest sanatorium Naroch and a holiday camp. Here one can enjoy comfortable vacation for about 240 days a year and can swim for around 100 days per year. The Naroch Lake land is also renowned for its mineral waters. Along with the richest recreational opportunities local holiday camps and vacation homes offer fascinating excursions.
A town, which emerged on the trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks, Polotsk was first mentioned by the ancient Tale of Bygone Years. In the X-XII centuries the town was the capital of the Polotsk Duchy. Scandinavian sagas narrate about Polotsk retinues, which reached Byzantium during their campaigns. The Lay of Igor's Warfare glorifies the courage of Polotsk residents and the wisdom of duke Vseslav. Founded in the 1120s, the Convent of the Saviour and St Euphrosyne strikes visitors with its architectural forms and XII century frescos, which have survived by miracle up till now. In the cathedral hallows of Celestial Patroness of Belarus Euphrosyne of Polotsk rest. Poet and playwright Simeon of Polotsk was a teacher at the former Epiphany Monastery in the XVIII century.
In the town of Mir you will see a masterpiece of the Belarusian architecture — Mir Castle — the first national cultural monument to enter the UNESCO World Heritage List. Erected by the magnates Ilyinichs in 1540 in the style of the Belarusian gothic, the castle’s grandeur is striking even now. Five towers up to 27 meters tall are connected by thick defence walls. The castle’s unique ensemble smoothly fits the surrounding landscape.
Nesvizh Castle is a former residence of the once-powerful Belarusian family Radzivils. To embellish the family’s estates, they hired the best European architects, painters, woodcarvers, gardeners, and jewellers. The legend about hidden gold apostles of the Radzivils baits many even now.
Khatyn is a sacred place for every Belarusian. In 1943 Nazis burnt down this small village and all its residents — 149 people, including 75 children. Now the site is a memorial. There is also a symbolic Graveyard of Villages created in the memory of another 185 Belarusian villages destroyed by the invaders.
Brest Hero Fortress
The fortress’ construction at the crossroads between Warsaw, Vilnius, Moscow and Kyiv back in the XIX century determined its strategic importance as a major stronghold. During the Great Patriotic War the fortress earned fame by holding the line for 28 days — from June 22 till July 20, 1941. The Brest Fortress was assaulted by German 45th Infantry Division reinforced with tanks, artillery and aircraft. Inconsiderable in number, separate units of the Red Army’s 42nd and 6th Rifle Divisions together with the border guard (all in all, 3,500 personnel) were struck by the superior strength of the enemy. Most defenders of the fortress were killed in action, some managed to get to guerrillas, while the rest, bleeding and injured, were captured by the enemy.
The defence of the Brest Fortress is an eminent example of the unparalleled perseverance and courage of the Soviet warriors. May 8, 1965 saw the fortress awarded an honorary rank Hero-Fortress, a Lenin’s Order and a Gold Star Medal.