Through the heart of the city
Part one.Belarus has been called a transit country for good reason.Since ancient times the road connecting Europe and Russia has run right through its middle. Here, on Belarusian land, the Tatar-Mongol hordes were stopped in their tracks on their way to Central Europe. Most invaders — Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler among them — suffered their final defeat here. And all of them have passed through Minsk. Destroyed several times, Minsk is forever being reborn like a phoenix from the ashes, each time with a totally new appearance. In Soviet times Minsk became the gateway to Stalin’s vast empire, an idea reflected in the city's contemporary architecture and urban design. The city's main street, of which the central segment is known as Nezavisimosti (Independence) Avenue, forms part of the Brest–Minsk–Moscow highway. The city's main attractions are threaded along it or all easily found within its grasp. Strolling its length is as good a way as any to understand how today's Minsk really ticks.
Back in 1952, Privokzalnaya Square (Railway Station Square) was referred to as the 'main lobby (or antechamber) of the capital' by M. Osmolovsky, one of the creators of the massive restoration project to rebuild a war-ravaged, almost completely destroyed Minsk. Right after you exit the glass doors of the city's new Central Train Station, straight in front of you on the other side of the square is the so-called Minsk Gate, two vast 1950s housing complexes complete with towers, the work of architects B. Rubanenko, L. Golubovsky and A. Korabelnikov and topped by four Socialist Realist sculptures representing the Warrior, the Partisan, the Peasant woman and the Engineer. In one of the twin towers, at Kirov Street 1, a huge 3.5-metre clock (one of the largest in the country) is mounted. After navigating the underpass and entering the city through its 'gate', continue along Kirova Street and in a little more than five minutes you will find yourself in the shadows spread by the trees of Mikhailovsky Park. The park is decorated with a series of sculptures cast in bronze and representing miscellaneous urban characters. The work of sculptor V. Zhbanov and completed between 1998 and 2000, the life-size monuments are there to be touched and photographed. In the late 1990s a series of sculptures such as these began to spring up all over the city. Eschewing the former pompous practice of placing historical figures on pedestals, these new works of art live 'on an equal footing' with their audience. Those who prefer their public art the old fashion way however, fear not, for a classic Socialist Realist monument to Lenin complete with imposing pedestal can be found nearby at Nezavisimosti (Independence) Square, a square that also bore Vladimir Ilyich's name before 1991.
Around Nezavisimosti Square are to be found the most important buildings and institutions of national importance including the main building of the Belarusian State, the building of the Minsk City Council (also topped by a tower containing a giant clock!), corps of Engineers of the Minsk Metro and the buildings of the Belarusian State University and State Pedagogical University. The red brick Church of Sts. Simon & Helena and the two houses to the right of it offer a rare reminder of pre-revolutionary Minsk. The dominant feature of the area however is the grandiose House of Government (architect I. Langbard, 1935), a textbook example of the achievements of Soviet urban planning of the 1930s.