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Vitebsk

General information

Vitebsk is the city in the northeast of Belarus and the administrative center of Vitebsk region. The city is located in the eastern part of Vitebsk region on the river Western Dvina. It is the 2nd oldest city in Belarus after Polotsk. Vitebsk also is the 4th largest city in Belarus in terms of population (after Minsk, Gomel and Mogilev). Population of the city is 374 600 people.

The town was founded on the high banks of the Daugava and Vitba rivers, the latter giving the city its name. Vitebsk was found right on the way “from Varangians to the Greeks”. According to the urban legend of the 18th century it was founded by the St. Princess Olga. The town was one of the centers of the Slavic-Krivichy union and with convenient geographical position at the crossroads of important trade routes the city grew and became prosperous over the next centuries.

 

Country Belarus
Founded 947
Government
Mayor Victor Nikolaikin
Area 124.54 km2 (48.09 sq mi)
Elevation 157 172 m (564 ft)
Population (2014)
• Total 363,061
• Density 2,900/km2 (7,600/sq mi)
Time zone EET (UTC+2)
• Summer (DST) EEST (UTC+3)
Postal code 210000
Area code(s) +375-212
Vehicle registration 2
Website http://www.vitebsk.gov.by

 

How to get to Vitebsk

There’s quite a variety of way to get to Vitebsk. Normally you can choose an alternative between air transport (plane) or ground transport (train, car, bus) which should correspond to your personal preferences and financial capacity.

By plane
There is a small regional airport near from Vitebsk, but it is not served by any airlines worthy of note for the typical tourist, and you will be able to connect to only larger airports in Belarus and Russia. The best way to reach Vitebsk would be flying to Minsk and taking a 4.5 h train to Vitebsk. Gomel airport, southern Belarus, , might be a good connection to reach Vitebsk too. But you need to verify that before planning your trip. Another option would be to fly to Moscow or Saint Petersburg and taking a 9 h train from there. While Belarus and Russia formally have no monitored border (you may hop on a train and get from one country to the other), train crews normally check your passport before getting on the train to make sure you possess the visa.

By train
Vitebsk sits on the major train route from Minsk, capital of Belarus, to Saint Petersburg, Russia. Moscow is also easily accessible by train. Vitebsk also serves as a regional hub.

By car
Vitebsk is accessible by major highways.

By bus
Regular buses travel between Vitebsk and Smolensk, Minsk or Moscow, as well as to numerous other smaller regional towns. Buses to Lithuania and Latvia are also available. “Route buses” or “marshrutka” from Minsk are a good way of transportation: they are fast, convinient and can often drop you off nearby the hotel or the house in Vitebsk, which you point to. Getting to Riga takes about 11 h by coach from Vitebsk. Getting to Smolensk takes 3 h, to Moscow – around 9 h, to Saint Petersburg – around 12 h, to Kyiv – around 9 h. Note that getting to places outside Belarus by coach can be time-consuming due to border controls.”

 

History of Vitebsk

Vitebsk developed on the harbour of the Vitba river and was named after the river. According to the Chronicle of Michael Brigandine Vitebsk was founded by Princess Olga of Kiev in 974. The city took an important place on trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks, by the end of the 12th century it became a center of trade and commerce, following Polotsk, and at times, Smolensk and Kiev.

In the 12th and 13th centuries Vitebsk was the capital of the Principality of Vitebsk,  which thrived at the crossroads of the river routes among the Baltic and Black seas. In 1320 the city was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1410 Vitebsk participated in the Battleof Grunwald. In 1597, the townsfolk of Vitebsk were privileged with Magdeburg rights. However, the rights were taken away in 1623 after the citizens revolted against the imposed Union of Brest and killed Archbishop Josaphat Kuntsevych. During the First Partition of Poland in 1772, Vitebsk was annexed by the Russian Empire.

By the World War II, Vitebsk had a significant Jewish population: out of the total population of 65,900, Jews constituted 34,400 (around 52% percent).The most famous of its Jewish natives was the painter Marc Chagall.

In 1919, Vitebsk was proclaimed to be part of the Socialist Soviet Repuplic of Byelorussia.

During World War II, the city was under the Nazi Germany occupation (10 July 1941 – 26 June 1944). Much of the old city was destroyed in the ensuing battles between the Germans and the Red Army soldiers. Most of the local Jews perished in the Vitebsk Ghetto massacre.

 

Business in Vitebsk

Whether you intend to relocate your business to Belarus or plan to do business there, Belarus has much to offer any size of company and a vast number of sectors. Thebusiness environment is strong, and with a large focus on the industrial sector there is a wealth of opportunity for investment.  Vitebsk ofen becomes the host of various business related events among which are regular International business conferances and Investment forums. Moreover Vitebsk is included into a free economic zone which poses a range of benefits for business perating  including:

  • zero-rate tax on exports for the first 5 years
  • exemptions on road tax and property tax
  • entitlement to open foreign and Belarusian currency bank accounts
  • priority at border crossings
  • full exemption from import duty on raw materials

Things to do in Vitebsk

Vitebsk is often referred to as the “Cultural Capital” of Belarus. It is best known as the birthplace of the Jewish painter Marc Chagall, and his home has been preserved and operates as a museum. It is located near the railway station and costs 15,000 rubles(for students) and 20,000(for adults) to get in. There is also a museum dedicated to his works that also frequently hosts exhibitions by the city’s large modernist/post-modernist/avant garde artist community.

Vitebsk is also home to the National Academic Dramatic Theatre named for Yakub Kolas. This company has seen considerable success internationally. It is especially notable for being one of the last two professional theatres in the world performing exclusively in the Belarusian language. Foreign travellers unable to understand Belarusian should not be afraid of attending a performance as the show is so visually striking and frequently of such an avant garde nature that can be appreciated without an understanding of the language.

In November, the city holds the International Festival of Modern Choreography, which plays host to dance companies from around the world.

Finally, Vitebsk is the home of the Slaviansky Bazaar, a huge festival of music from across the Slavic-speaking world. It is hosted in a stunning amphitheatre near the center.

The Ratusha(city hall), with its renowned clock tower, is a beautiful piece of 19th century architecture, as is St. Varvara’s Catholic Church. The church of Alexander Nevsky, sitting on the River Dvina across Zamkovaya street from the Yakub Kolas Theatre is also a beautiful example of old wooden style Orthodox churches.

There is a tram museum by the address: 5-Frunze street, 7. The entrance is free, but you have to contact the administration in advance.
Tel.: +375 (212) 23-73-45 or +375 (29) 590-15-42,
Ask for Petr Petrovich Ignatov, deputy head of tram and trolleybus administration of Vitebsk.

Also you can pay a visit to a former residence of a famous Russian painter Ilya Repin which is located at Zdravnevo, not far from Vitebsk.

 

Vitebsk famous people

Vitebsk land  has been the cradle of numerous talented people who gained glory and fame internationally for their outstanding achievements.

The most  famous notable citizen of Vitebsk is surely the world-famous modernist painter Mark Chagall. He’s often reffered to as “the quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century”. Among his most distinguished creations are stained glass works for a cathedral in Metz, France,windows of UN building, New York and the Jerusalem Windows in Israel. He also did large-scale paintings, including part of the ceiling of the Paris Opera. He’s believed to have synthesized the a number of modernist art forms in his works.

Marc Chagall was the founder of the art college in Vitebsk which is named after the artist up to the present day. Although the great painter spent most of his life beyond Belarusian border he never forgot his motherland and expressed the nostalgy for his native land in a number of his canvasses. Marc Chagall’s works are exhibited worldwide. The Marc chagall museum in  Vitibesk houses several of his works as well as 2 original works by Chagall can be fond in the National Gallery in Minsk.

A famous Russian financier and philanthropist ,Baron Joseph Günzburg , also was born in Vitebsk. Having acquired great wealth during the Crimean war he established a banking firm at Saint Petersburg. There he began to labor on behalf of the welfare of the Jewish community and exerted himself grandly to raise the standard of the education of the Jews.

Another well-know person from Vitebsk is Zhores Alferov, a Belarusian, Soviet and Russian physicist and academic. He is the inventor of the heterotransistor and the winner of 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Among contemporary notable citizens of Vitebsk  there stands out the name of a football player Sergei Kornilenko,  who’s played as a striker for such outstanding football clubs as Zenit St. Petersburg, Rubin Kazan, Blackpool etc., as well as has been the member of Belarusian National Football Team.

Another famous Belarusian name has struck the contemporary high fashion industry. A vivid representative of Belarusian beauty, our lovely compatriot Tanya Dziahileva has walked the runways at the Paris Fashion Week and Milan Fashion Week, landing an exclusive with Prada in Milan and booking top shows in Paris including Alexander McQueen, Cahnel and Chloe.

 

Accommodation in Vitebsk

Hotels in Vitebsk are seriously overpriced, but decent accommodation can nevertheless be found. Foreigners staying in Belarus should know that hotel prices are different for foreigners than they are for CIS citizens.

In “Eridan”, the best located, continuously renovated hotel of 4 stars, an individual should expect to pay $60-$120 a night.

Opened in 2007 hotel “Luchyosa” is also overpriced but the quality of service is similar to that of in Eridan.

Hotel “Vitebsk” is located by the river Dvina and, despite its Soviet entourage, provides guests with all necessary amenities (known up-to-date in Belarus).

Hotel “Vetraz” is near the hotel “Luchyosa” on the banks of the Dvina river. The hotel – is the best way to experience the Soviet-style hospitality.

Apart from the hotels mentioned above, there are a number of smaller private hotels spread across the city. Vitebsk Yellow Pages would be the best way to find more opportunities for accommodating yourself in this lovely city.

For example one of the top rated is Hostel Х.О which is located in the heart of historical part of the city, just 75 meters away from the City Hall.

As for March 2014 the prices rate from €6 to €10 depending on the number of people sharing the same room. There are 3 bathrooms. Towel and bed linen included. There is basic kitchen with fridge and microwaves, free wifi. The place is very clean.

Adress: 10/2 Suvorova street (Pass between City Hall and Holy Resurrection Church and take first turn to the left (to Krylova street). You’ll see the sign above the archway.)
Phone number: +375 212 23-66-26, +375 29 718-45-54 and +375 29 618-45-54.
checkin: 11:00; checkout: 12:00

Cafes and restaurants in Vitebsk

There is not a great deal of fine dining available in Vitebsk, nor a great deal of variety.

The best regarded restaurant for both atmosphere and food quality (but not portion sizes) is a newly-opened “Usad’ba”, located in close proximity to city concert hall, and provides a portion of its menu in English.

“Traktir” – is another famous dining venue, yet with arguable quality of food.

There is also a good Chinese restaurant “Zolotoy Drakon” (the Golden Dragon), another few short blocks away, which also issues its menu in English.

“Cafe Teatralnoye,” underneath the Yakub Kolas Theatre, has a fairly extensive menu and reasonably attractive dining area.

If you take a short stroll from Ratusha towards Philharmonia, on your right side you will find a stylish, cosy cafe “Melody” (Lenina street, 65) with live music every weekday.

There are numerous other smaller cafes around. Kiosks sell fast foods like hot dogs, “home-style” pizza slices, and ‘Tchebureks’, a student favorite of meat in fried crust.

A new pizza restaurant,  Arena, has opened in the center of the city. It is spotlessly clean, popular with locals and serves decent pizzas for around 10,000 rubles, including a vegetarian option. Late night dining is normally available only in dancing clubs.

 

Night life in Vitebsk

The previously mentioned “Cafe Teatralnoye”, Club Aurora, and the club on the main floor of the Hotel Vitebsk are the most popular places to go for drinking and dancing.

There are numerous other smaller cafes, such as “Cafe Gulliver” behind the Yakub Kolas Theatre, Cafe Aladdin, and Cafe Jamaica, where one might grab a quick drink. Cafe “Melody” would be the ideal destination for those seeking serenity and good quality of service and food.

You should note some tips about the culture of drinking in Belarus. For example, you should note that drinking vodka straight without anything to chase is associated more with drunkards. Vodka is normally enjoyed with food, but if you’re not hungry, it is customary to at least purchase a soft drink to serve as a chaser. Apart from certain brandies, you’ll pay incredibly high prices for foreign liquors, even those which Westerners might consider ordinary, such as Jack Daniels whiskey or Jose Cuervo tequila. Beer is easy to come by and cheap, however.

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