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Coat of Arms
Polotsk main square with Hotel Dzvina

Polotsk[1][2][3][4] (Polatsk, Belarusian: По́лацк, Russian: По́лоцк, Polish: Połock, Lithuanian: Polockas) is a historical city in Belarus, situated on the Dvina river. It is the center of Polotsk district in Vitsebsk Voblast. Its population is approximately 79,000. It is served by Polotsk Airport and during the Cold War was home to Borovitsy air base.



The Old East Slavic name, Polotesk, is derived from the Polota river, that flows into the Dvina nearby. The Vikings rendered that name as Palteskja, or Paltejsborg.

Polotsk is one of the most ancient cities of the Eastern Slavs. It was mentioned for the first time by the Primary Chronicle in 862 (as Полотескъ, /poloteskŭ/), together with Murom and Beloozero. The Norse sagas describe the city as the most heavily fortified in all of Rus.

View of Polotsk in 1912

Between the 10th and 12th centuries, the Principality of Polotsk emerged as the dominant center of power in what is now Belarusian territory, with a lesser role played by the principality of Turaŭ to the south. It repeatedly asserted its sovereignty in relation to other centers of Kievan Rus, becoming a political capital, the episcopal see and the controller of vassal territories among Balts in the west. Its most powerful ruler was prince Vseslav Bryachislavich, who reigned from 1044 to 1101. A 12th-century inscription commissioned by Vseslav's son Boris may still be seen on a huge boulder installed near the St. Sophia Cathedral. For a full list of Polotsk rulers, please see List of Belarusian rulers.

Polotsk became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1307, and it is said to have been the main center of trade in the state. The Magdeburg law was adopted in 1498. Polotsk was a capital of Połock Voivodship of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1772. Captured by the Russian army of Ivan the Terrible in 1563, it was returned to Lithuania just 15 years later.

That period of warfare started the gradual decline of the city. After the first partition of Poland, Polotsk degraded to have the status of a small provincial town of the Russian Empire. During the French invasion of Russia in 1812, it was the site of two battles: see First battle of Polotsk and Second battle of Polotsk for details.

Cultural heritage

Saint Sophia Cathedral in 2006

The city's Cathedral of Saint Sophia in Polotsk (1044-1066) was a symbol of the independent-mindedness of Polotsk, rivaling churches of the same name in Novgorod and Kiev and referring to the original Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (and thus to claims of imperial prestige, authority and sovereignty). The building of the cathedral had been ruined by the troops of Peter I of Russia. Hence the present baroque building by Johann Christoph Glaubitz dates from the mid-18th century. Some genuine 12th-century architecture survives in the Convent of Saint Euphrosyne, which also features a neo-Byzantine cathedral, designed and built in 1893—1899 by Vladimir Korshikov.[5]

Cultural achievements of the medieval period include the work of the nun Euphrosyne of Polotsk (1120-1173), who built monasteries, transcribed books, promoted literacy and sponsored art (including local artisan Lazarus Bohsha's famous "Cross of Euphrosyne," a national symbol and treasure lost during World War II), and the prolific, original Church Slavonic sermons and writings of Bishop Cyril of Turaw (1130-1182).

Belarusian first printer Francysk Skaryna was born in Polotsk around 1490. He is famous for the first printing of the Bible in an East Slavic language (in Old Belarusian) in 1517, several decades after the first-ever printed book by Johann Gutenberg and just several years after the first Czech Bible (1506).

In September 2003, as "Days of Belarusian Literacy" were celebrated for the 10th time in Polotsk, city authorities opened a monument to honor the unique Cyrillic Belarusian letter Ў, which is not used in any other Slavic language. The original idea for the monument came from the Belarusian calligraphy professor Paval Siemchanka, who has been studying Cyrillic scripts for many years.


The city has produced players to the Belarusian national bandy team.[6]

Notable people


  1. ^ Occidental spelling according to the Belarus Permanent Mission to the United Nations.
  2. ^ Occidental spelling according to the official Belarus website.
  3. ^ Occidental spelling according to "Nations Online" website.
  4. ^ Spelling according to Google Maps.
  5. ^ Savelyev, Yu. R. Vizantiysky stil v architecture Rossii (Савельев, Ю. Р. Византийский стиль в архитектуре России. - СПБ., 2005) Saint Petersburg, 2005. ISBN 5-87411-207-6, p.260
  6. ^

External links

Coordinates: 55°29′N 28°48′E / 55.483°N 28.8°E / 55.483; 28.8

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

POLOTSK, a town of Russia, in the government of Vitebsk, at the confluence of the Polota with the Dvina, 62 m. by rail N.W. of the town of Vitebsk. Pop. 20,751. Owing to the continuous wars, of which, from its position on the line of communication between central Russia and the west it was for many centuries the scene, scarcely any of its remarkable antiquities remain. The upper castle, which stood at the confluence of the rivers and had a stone wall with seven towers, is in ruins, as is the lower castle formerly enclosed with strong walls and connected with the upper castle by a bridge. The cathedral of St Sophia in the upper castle, built in the 12th century, fell to ruins in the 18th century, whereupon the United Greek bishop substituted a modern structure. Upwards of two-thirds of the inhabitants are Jews; the remainder have belonged mostly to the Orthodox Greek Church since 1839, when they were compelled to abandon the United Greek Church. Flax, linseed, corn and timber are the leading articles of commerce.

Polotesk or Poltesk is mentioned in 862 as one of the towns given by the Scandinavian Rurik to his men. In 980 it had a prince of its own, Ragvald (Rogvolod or Rognvald), whose daughter is the subject of many legends. It remained an independent principality until the 12th century, resisting the repeated attacks of the princes of Kiev; those of Pskov, Lithuania, and the Livonian Knights, however, proved more effective, and Polotsk fell under Lithuanian rule in 1320. About 1385 its independence was destroyed by the Lithuanian prince Vitovt. It was five times besieged by Moscow in 1500-18, and was taken by Ivan the Terrible in 1563. Recaptured by Stephen Bathory, king of Poland, sixteen years later, it became Polish by the treaty of 1582. It was then a large and populous city, and carried on an active commerce. Pestilences and conflagrations were its ruin; the plague of 1566 wrought great havoc among its inhabitants, and that of 1600 destroyed 15,000. The castles, the town and its walls were burned in 1607 and 1642. The Russians continued their attacks, burning and plundering the town, and twice, in 1633 and 1705, taking possession of it for a few years. It was not definitely annexed, however, to Russia until 1772, after the first dismemberment of Poland. In 1812 its inhabitants resisted the French invasion, and the town was partially destroyed.

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