Mir Castle & Belarus Mir City Museum
Belarus Cities - Grodno Oblast
Belarus_Mir_CastleIn the year 1395 the settlement of Mir was invaded by crusaders who burnt it to ashes. Thereby it got to chronicles. From the year 1434 Mir became a private possession of big barons. Among them were the Ilyinich and the Radzivil families. As years went by, it turned into a township and later on to a center of the Mir County.
Late XVI - early XVII Mir earthen walls were built around the township turning it into a fortress. There were four gates (their foundations were excavated by archeologists) letting access to the Castle. The gates were named Zamkavaya, Vilenskaya, Minskaya, and Slonimskaya to indicate the direction of the main roads crossing the township.
In 1579 Mir's owner Mikalai Krzysztof Radzivil of the time granted it a privilege of limited self-government. That attracted craftsmen and tradesmen of various national origin - Belarusians, Tatars, Jews, Gipsies... The mixed national character of population in the township cannot but influence the mode of life established there. Thus in the Market Place of the township, in close vicinity of each other cultic buildings were built. They were Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, yeshivah with synagogues and a mosque. The Mir fairs attracted merchants with their goods from all parts of Belarus, Poland, Baltic countries, and Russia.
The name of the township with population of two thousand and a half is well-known beyond the country due to its major place of interest - the Castle. In the year 2000 the Castle was put on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


The "medieval flower", as the Castle is called, was built by the magnate families of Ilyinich and Radzivil. The walls and towers of the Castle appeared in 1520s, the Renaissance palace on its territory was built between the late 16th and early 17th century. The magnate residence preserved its authentic appearance. Restoration work in the palace is nearing completion. With the restoration complete, the Castle will accommodate a small hotel and a restaurant of old-time cuisine apart from the museum display and the conference hall. In the vicinity of the Castle there is a large park that was laid out late 19th - early 20th centuries. In the park there is a chapel serving as a burial-vault. The chapel was built in modernist style in 1904 by the last titled owners of Mir - Sviatopolk-Mirski Princes. At the opposite end of the lake there are some remains of their estate buildings. Moreover, in the central part of the township - the former Market Place currently called 17th September Square - some old buildings remained. Thus, the monumental Renaissance St. Nicholas Roman Church (XVI-XVII c.c.), the Trinity Church, founded in the 16th century, dwelling houses and shops (late XIX-first half of XX c.c.) face the square. The kahal (Jewish self-government) building, two synagogues and a yeshivah (Rabbinic academy for the advanced study of the Talmud) dating from the 19th century are located adjacent to the square.
mir_castle_from_bird_view 1 The Mir Castle. Yuriy llyinich got Mir in 1486 and very likely laid the foundation of the castle in the 1520s (precise date is unknown). The castle was built in a valley where a brook and the Miranka River were flown. Along the four corners four towers were built. The fifth tower with the only entrance to the fortress was built in the centre of the Western wall facing the road leading to then capital Vilnya (now Vilnius).

The south-western tower is the best preserved and today it hosts the exhibition of Belarus National Fine Arts Museum. When you, taking great pains, climb five levels of spiral stairs built inside the wall, and look at surroundings through arrow-loops, you can easily imagine the pert spirit of the Middle Ages.

mir_castle_miniThe defensive power of the citadel was determined by towers as well as by walls with embrasures. The walls were about two meters thick at the top and about three meters thick at the foot. At the time of llyinichs' rule northern and western walls had combat passages, which were framed by pine balustrades at the inner side and parapets of human height at the outer side. The latter served for firing with bows, crossbows and muskets.

Today one may stroll along the southern passage, which was built later and made the inner yard of the castle plainly visible. Between the 16th and the 17th centuries, when Mir became the property of Mikalai Radzivill Sirotka, two palace buildings appeared in the yard changing its warlike Gothic look for a Renaissance one.

At that time entire palaces' walls were covered with plaster, which was used only for tower niches before. Sandstone doors and windows' frameworks also appeared at that time. The castle was fenced in with an earthen rampart connected by an arch bridge with the "Italian" garden. Aristocracy was longing for comfort covering big ovens with colored enamel and tiles of embossing design looking like monuments. Wall paintings imitated sculpture and carvings. Mir became the country seat of the Radzivils family.
After all violent changes Mir seemed to fall into a pleasant sleep. However, during the war with Russia in 1655 the castle was taken by storm and after was deserted for a long time. Hardly have they restored some things, when the Northern War emerged and brought new destructions and losses. The castle was rebuilt only in the 1730s by Mikhail Kazimir Radzivill nicknamed Rybonka (Little Fish). mir_belarus_photo
A stateroom, a portrait gallery, a dancing hall began to glow with gilded modeling and expensive parquetry. Citrus plants, fig trees, myrtle, cypress, box trees, mahogany and laurel trees sprang in the greenhouse of the "Italian" garden. All this exotic beauty placed in planters around the castle emitted odors in summer.

Carol Stanislaw, Rybonka's son, arranged balls and hunting feasts here and thundered the surroundings with cannons and fireworks. After the death of King August III Pane Kohan-ku (nickname of Carol Stanislaw) had to stand a long lasting emigration, for he opposed Stanislaw August Pony-atowsky, who was led to the throne by the Russian tsarina Catherine II. After returning home, he luxuriously received a visit from Stanislaw August himself, the last king of Poland and the Great Lithuanian Principality - the king he intrigued against twenty years before. This reception made memoirists write about inexhaustible wealth of Carol Radzivill, which surpassed that of the King himself.

belarus_mirskiyGradually the castle became no longer what it used to be - a medieval symbol, a guard of the region, a spectacular feudal residence, a villa for pleasures... The decline of Rzecz Pospolita with its "gold liberties for the noble" dramatically affected the castle: its walls have being covered with dust and mold and the former power became the subject of unusual legends. Today "the flower of the Middle Ages" slowly but steadily regains its former beauties, and there is a strong reason to be optimistic about its future.

2 The Earthen Rampart. Between the 16th and the 17th centuries the earthen rampart with four bastions and a pass gate enclosed the castle. Water ponds arranged in between the Zamkovy Brook and the Miranka River came up to the ramparts. In the 18th century the southern part of the rampart was almost completely removed and gave place to a large pond dug up at the beginning of the 19th century.

3 shrine-chapel-in-mirDukes Svyatopolk-Mirskys Family Shrine Chapel was built in 1904 by the last owners of the castle Svyatopolk-Mirskys family by design of Robert Marfeld, a well known architect academician form Petersburg, in a Modernist style. It is spectacularly located and attracts attention with its fancy shapes and asymmetric layout. The moderate-sized chapel serves as an artistic and logical link between the monumental architecture of the castle and the intimacy of the landscape park neighboring the castle walls.

4 The Landscape Park's area is 16 hectares. It was established by Svyatopolk-Mirskys Dukes at the beginning of the 20th century. The park with exotic trees is divided into the upper and the lower parts and covers the northern, the eastern and the southern sides of the castle and includes a pond with an isle and a bridge, and the chapel. From dendrological point of view the most valuable part of the park situated nearby the chapel.

mir_sights_5 5 Technical College Buildings. The No.234 Mir Technical College for Art and Restoration was opened in 1988 and trains specialists in restoration field.

6 St. George Chapel stands in the Orthodox cemetery since the 1910-s, was renewed in the 1990-s. It is built in the Retrospectively Russian style.

mir_sights_7 7 Burial Site of Victims to Fascism. 1,600 Jews from Mir were executed here on November 9, 1941. A monument was added to the burial site in 1966. 850 Jews were imprisoned in a ghetto arranged in the castle. The Hitlerites killed all prisoners on August 13, 1942.
8 St Trinity Church. The church was admittedly built in 1582 by money of Mikalai Radzivill Sirotka. In 1705 it became a Uniate church attached to St Basil Monastery (abolished in 1824). Since 1839 the church became an Orthodox cloister. It was repeatedly rebuilt in the second half of the 19th century and was preserved to our time in the form of four lapidary parts: a vestibule-belfry, a refectory, a pray hall, and a hemispheric apse with sacristy, all four parts sharing a common composition idea.

9 The Synagogue Yard. The synagogue ("assembly house" in Greek) was the place for religious meetings and the center of cultural and religious life of Jews, settled in Mir from the 17th century. Today the "yard" is comprised of a "cold" (i.e. without heating) synagogue (the main), a "warm" synagogue and a school. This is the Belarus only ensemble began been forming in the 18th century and was finished by the early 20th century.

mir_sights_1010 The Mir Former leshiva Building. Leshiva ("sitting", "meeting" in Hebrew) is a religious academy for studying Talmud (the collection of judicial, religious and ethic regulations of Judaism, which guides everyday life of the Jews) and for training rabbis-to-be. Built in a Classicism style, the ieshiva was founded in 1815 and was active until 1939. It enjoyed a very high prestige in Belarus.

mir_sights_11_11 The Former Kahal Building.
Jews appeared in the Great Lithuanian Principality in the 14th century. Their special status was defined by charters issued by the Great Lithuanian Duke Vitovt and was subsequently approved by his successors - kings of Poland and Great Lithuanian Dukes. Jews were governed by the communities - kahals ("meeting" in Hebrew), had their own foremen, court and made up the basis of the trading class. In many Belarusian towns and boroughs Jews were the major part of population -for example, in Mir they made up about 60% of all dwellers.

mir_sights_1212 St. Nicholas Catholic Church. A wooden church was built on this site by Mikalai Radzivill Sirotka in 1599 and was replaced by the stone one in 1605. A four-level square-based and hip-roofed belfry with two small round towers on both sides stood in front of the church. The church in plan is Latin Cross-shaped thanks to sacristies with pentahedral adjacent buildings nearby an altar. The Gothic-Renaissance Catholic Church was an architectural monument with an expressive castle-like silhouette. In 1865 the tsarist authorities turned the Catholic Church into an Orthodox one which was shut down in the 1940s. Today it works as a Catholic Church again after the semi-centennial break.