Modern historians consider 1446 the year of Nesvizh's birth. That year the Duke of the Great Lithuanian Principality Kazimir IV Yagellonchik handed Nesvizh to Mikolai Yan Nemirovich. Almost a century later Nesvizh became the property of the Radzivills - the biggest and most influential family in the Principality. They owned Nesvizh for more than 400 years and made it the capital of their family estate, thus turning the town into one of the most successful and comfortable privately-owned towns in Belarus.
At the threshold of the 16th-17th centuries Nesvizh (Nyasvizh) went through fundamental changes connected to its then owner, Duke Mikolai Krzysztof Radzivill (1549-1616) who was nicknamed Sirotka. It was under the patronage of this prominent statesman and military leader, reformer and patron of the arts that the town's structure was planned anew and the chaotic net of medieval streets changed for the still existing clear divisions into blocks and quarters. On the map, Nesvizh resembles a pentagon, or almost a square. The main street passes from the west to the east and at the city perimeter crosses the earthen ramparts which once encircled the town. Remnants of the city's fortifications are to be found in the south-east of the town on a site where the biggest of its seven towers once stood.
In 1586 Nesvizh was granted the privilege of self-government according to the Statute of Magdeburg. At the same time the town became the centre of ordinance or entailed estate. This decision proved to be the right one and played a paramount role in the economic strengthening of the Radzivill clan and in particular their Nesvizh lands.
The town developed quickly. Its population increased, a school, a hospital, a bath-house, and a barber shop were opened, and numerous handicraft shops appeared. In the 18th century, an art castings workshop opened, and various manufacturing enterprises were established. Unique architectural and park monuments appeared, there was an immense creative output of paintings, engravings, books, and music.
Belarus' first permanent theatre, the "Comedy House", was established here. It began as an amateur enterprise, but in time turned professional, performing as the court theatre.
Many people made their contribution to the cultural history of the town. The watchmaker Evno Yakobson lived in Nesvizh in 1760s. He invented a calculating machine - a prototype for the future calculator. Nowadays, it is kept in the Mikhail Lomonosov Museum in St Petersburg. Among other renowned figures were portrait painter Constantine Alexandrovich, original engraver Girsh Leibovich, court musician and conductor Frantz Vitman and more. We hardly know the names of all the gold jewellers, carvers, smiths, weavers and glass-makers who worked in the town.
Centuries have gone by. Nesvizh has overcome incredibly hard ordeals of war, devastating fires and plunders, flights and falls of different states in which it was incorporated. Radzivills' Nesvizh Ordinance outlasted the Great Lithuanian Principality, the Rzecz Pospolita and the Russian Empire. The estate's marvellous history was finally buried under the debris of the second Rzecz Pospolita of Poland in 1939.
On the Map
- Ensemble of the Town Hall and Trade Stalls. The Town Hall was built at the end of the 16th century. Its well-proportioned, tall, facetted six-tier tower with a clock and a helmet-shaped Baroque surface forms a silhouette on Nesvizh's central square and at the same time symbolizes those freedoms granted to the town by the Statute of Magdeburg. An entrance to the Town Hall was in the tower. One flight of stairs leads to the Town Council Meeting Hall in which various ceremonies and theatrical performances have been held. On the second floor was also situated the private office of the castle's master. The first floor accommodated a chancery, a courtroom, an archive and an exchequer. In the 17th century trade stalls appeared around the Town Hall. In the middle of the next century their number considerably increased. Later, trade stalls pulled back, creating a horseshoe-shaped courtyard with shops facing inside the square.
- "A Market House". This house of a rich craftsman with an elegant Baroque pediment was built in 1721. Its back faces the square. The rectangular building with a semi-basement consists of two parts: the lower stone one and the upper wooden one. An entrance to the second residential floor lies in the courtyard. On the first floor there are storage rooms and a shop facing the square. "A Market House" is a typical example of residential buildings on the square dating to the first years of its existence
St Benedict nunnery. It was built in a Gothic-Renaissance style in 1596 from donations by Sirotka and his wife Elzhbetha Evfimia, nee Vishnevetskaya. The nunnery existed until 1877. Near its entrance stands an elegant three-tier tower of the second half of the 18th century, and beyond it an inner courtyard. Nunnery building facades, the former Catholic church and modern buildings belonging to the Pedagogical College all face into the yard.
A two-storey E-shaped nunnery building with the St Evfimia Catholic Church at its centre once had a tall tower added onto it in the 1720s, but it did not survive to this day. Remnants of an earth rampart 6 metres high and up to 17 metres wide at its foundation remain around the former nunnery walls. The biggest and most fortified of the town's towers was also situated around by the nunnery. Behind lay rampart ditches filled with water from the River Usha. Along the town's eastern boundary Devichiy and Zamkovy ponds approached the ramparts.
- Slutskaya Brama (Town Gates).
Once Nesvizh had four gates but only one remains to this day. Several gates have stood on this site. The first one appeared here in the 16th century. The Brama (gates in Belarusian), which remain today, were erected at the end of the 17th century and rebuilt considerably at the 18th century in a Baroque style. On the second floor, there is a chapel of the Blessed Virgin with stained glass widows. Traditionally people prayed in front of the icon before entering the town. On the first floor of the gates' guard room there are the quarters of the customs house.
- A residential house at 2, Sovetskaya Street, Nesvizh, Belarus; now a shop. It was built in the 18th century. On its facade facing Leninskaya Street a drawing reproduces a fragment of an engraving of Nesvizh made by a famous local engraver, painter and printer Tomash Makovsky. From the drawing it is visible that Nesvizh at the beginning of the 17th century consisted of two sharply defined parts: the town and the castle, which stood separately, detached by ponds, ditches and ramparts as part of its complicated defence system.
- Monument to Symon Budny by sculptor S. Gorbunova. It was opened in 1982. Symon Budny (around 1530-1593) was an outstanding Belarusian Renaissance thinker-humanist, a religious reformer, theologian, and pedagogue. In 1562, in a Nesvizh printing-house which has not survived he was the first on the territory of Belarus to publish books in the Belarusian language; these were "Catechism" and "On Justification of a Sinful Human Before God".
- Plebaniya. It was constructed in the 18th century as a residential building for a Roman Catholic priest. At present it is a Symon Budny Printing House. It has a memorial plate on its facade hanged in 1971 to celebrate Symon Budny publishing in Nesvizh the first books in Belarusian.
Farny (Parish) Catholic Church of St Corpus Christi was built in 1593 as a church of the Jesuits' Monastery (Collegium) according to a project by an Italian architect Giovanni (Yan) Maria Bernardoni (1541-1605). It is Eastern Europe's first Baroque building. The interior of this three-nave basilica is decorated with frescos painted in 1750s-70s by Radzivills' court painters Ksavery Dominic and his son Yuzef Ksavery Hesskys. Frescos were refreshed at the beginning of the 20th century and an altar icon The Last Supper recently restored.
The church's monuments dedicated to the founder of the church Radzivill Sirotka and his children date to the beginning of the 17th century. At the entrance a memorial plate has been put up in honour of Belarusian-Polish poet, writer, publicist and student of a local folklore Vladislav Syrokomlya (Ludwig Kondratovich, 1823-1862). In the church crypt a Radzivills' family burial-vault is situated. It is Eastern Europe's only family necropolis: it has 72 burial places, part of them mummified; the last burial dates to 2000.
Zamkovye Gates' Tower. The defensive tower has been erected in the second half of the 16th century from big bricks using a gothic laying technique. At the bottom there is a massive socle with buttresses. The tower's three tiers are joined by narrow eaves. At present it is used as a Catholic church belfry.
- A Palace and a Castle Ensemble. It was founded in 1584 by the first ordinate Duke of Nesvizh Radzivill Sirotka. Its first stages were built by architect D.M. Bernardoni. During the 17th-18th centuries it was rebuilt many times. It absorbed features of the Renaissance, early and late Baroque, Rococo, Classicism, NeoGothic and Modern styles. The complex numbered around 170 rooms; it was connected by underground passages to the town's monasteries, encircled by ramparts, ditches, four towers and a series of ponds about the River Usha.
The castle boasted valuable collections of arts and crafts, paintings, weapons, numismatic collections, a rich library and a famous archive of the Radzivills in which lie documents relating to the internal and foreign policy of the Great Lithuanian Principality, the Kingdom of Poland, the Rzecz Pospolita, "economic" material, as well as family certificates. The building's main halls (Royal, Hetman's,
Golden, Marble, Arms, Hunting among others) collected unique artistic arrangements. Building materials that matched in colour and texture emphasized and stressed the beauty of the artworks which filled the Dukes' palace.
The Patriotic War of 1812 marks a tragic date in the castle's history. After the death of the eleventh Nesvizh Ordinate, Dominic Heronim Radzivill (1783-1813), which ended the Nesvizh dynasty's male line, all the family's wealth became subject to investigation for the Russian authorities. The castle stood empty for a half of a century and only at the second half of the 19th century it became inhabited again. In 1865, Anthony Wilhelm (1833-1904) and his wife Maria Dorothy, nee Marquise De Castellan (?-1915), arrived at Nesvizh. They were distant heirs of the Ordinance, Radzivills of the "Berlin Branch" which originated from the Kletsk side of the family. Maria Dorothy started creating an amazing park around the castle. It finally formed the composition of the Nesvizh Palace and Castle Ensemble. At present, restoration is under way; its task is to return bygone splendour to this pearl of domestic architecture.
Nesvizh Park. It represents five park compositions which all differ in artistic appearance and mood, with a total area of 100 hectares (including ponds). The parks have not been enclosed thus visually continuing beyond their boundaries to create a united composition of greenery and water. Zamkovy, also known as Anthony's Park, directly encircled the palace buildings, reaching also into the main courtyard. Nearby lies the Old, or Ozerina Park. It was the most valuable in terms of dendrology and featured numerous trees and bushes. Behind the Old Park and on the same bank of Dikiy Pond there was a Japanese garden. On the opposite side of Dikiy Pond the New or Marysya's Park stretched over 22 hectares, making it the largest of the five. A sculpture of St George the Victorious piercing a serpent with his spear was placed in the park. Also, this park has a swan meadow with a round pond and a bridge leading to an Isle of Love in the centre. East of Marysya's Park stands the so-called Russian forest -a woodland that mainly consists of birch trees.
- The large size and remoteness of Marysya's Park, its naturalistic landscapes, lonely obelisk and a spring-grotto called the
"Tears of Maria" all add to make the park especially mysterious, enveloped by veil of legends. Memorial stones mounted by Anthony Radzivill, the XIV Ordinate of Nesvizh to honour his wife Maria de Castellan (the creator of the Park) are all in their original places.
Because of the two world wars and the emigration of the castle's owners, many of its treasures have been lost forever. The parks' ancient walls and a network of underground passages keep the aura of the past; images of the grounds lie on lake surfaces as if paintings of a mysterious yesteryear.
Museums in Nesvizh
National Museum-Reserve of History and Culture «Nesvizh»
19 Leninskaya St.; Nesvizh, 222620, tel: (01770) 5 41 45
Museum of History and Local Lore
96 Leningradskaya St.; Nesvizh, 222620, tel: (01770) 5 58 74
Accomadations in Nesvizh
9 Belaruskaya St.; Nesvizh, 222603 tel: (01770) 5 53 67
Catering service in Nesvizh
7 Belaruskaya St., tel: (01770) 5 56 97
5 Savetskaya St., tel: (01770) 5 54 46
1a Chapaev St., tel: (01770) 5 47 75
13 Leninskaya St., tel: (01770 ) 2 13 28
Cafe «Chameleon» 5 Belaruskaya St., tel: (01770 ) 5 3 3 20