Vitebsk is an administrative, industrial and cultural center of the oblast, one of the most ancient Slavonic cities in the northeastern part of Belarus. It is located on picturesque banks of the Zapadnaya Dvina and the Vitba rivers in the middle of the way from the Varangians to the Greeks. The city evolved as the focus of unity of the Slavonic tribe Krivichi.
The legend says that Vitebsk was founded by Princess Olga in 974 AD, with the first records dating back to 1021 AD. The city’s favorable geographical location at the crossroads of major trade routes fostered the city’s development and prosperity through centuries.
In 1192 AD Vitebsk became the capital city of the Vitebsk principality to become part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1320 AD. Vitebsk armies were led by Alexander Nevsky to fight Swedes and German knights. They fought knights of the Teutonic Order in the Battle of Grunwald in 1410 AD. In 1597 AD the city acquired Magdeburg Rights and a coat of arms.
Vitebsk became part of the Russian Empire in 1772. In 1776 the city became the center of the Belarus province and in 1802 – the center of the Vitebsk province. During the Great Patriotic War of 1812 battles with Napoleon troops took place near Vitebsk walls. Thanks to this the French army could not beat two Russian armies near Smolensk.
It was a hard time for Vitebsk during World War Two. It was occupied but unconquered. Liberated from the Nazi on 26 June 1944, the city was in ruins, with only 118 residents left alive in basements. During the years of occupation 138,000 residents were shot, killed in concentration camps and forced to labor in Germany. Industry enterprises, architectural specimens, homes were destroyed. The city was reborn out of ashes thanks to major efforts of hard-working Belarusians.
Nowadays Vitebsk is a major industrial city, a city of advanced science and culture. Over 350,000 residents live within 9,585 hectares.
Industry of over 300 enterprises is heavily represented in the city economy. Its major branches are mechanical engineering and metal working, woodworking industry, light and food industries. Vitebsk accounts for 20% of the oblast’s industrial output.
The city is connected with other towns and regions by railroads, air and automobile transport. Railways connect Vitebsk with Warsaw, Saint Petersburg, Minsk, Kyiv and Moscow.
The Vitebsk airport can welcome any kind of aircraft. Automobile transport is used for transportation inside the city and between Vitebsk and other Belarusian and foreign cities.
Major efforts are channeled into creating a favorable investment climate, searching for business partners and reaching into new markets, thus contributing to the economic growth and new jobs.
The home building industry is vibrant.
Vitebsk’s streets and squares are embellished by architecture and monuments. The city upon the Dvina owes its beauty and inimitability to the complicated planning and picturesque real estate development.
There are 233 specimens in Vitebsk on the state list of historical and cultural values. The number includes 219 specimens of architecture, 6 – archeology, 8 – history. The former city hall has been restored as well as Saint Barbara Catholic Church, Pokrovsky Cathedral, Resurrection Church, a XVIII century building Labazy.
Vitebsk was once regarded as one of the centers of avant-garde painting. Lives and arts of the painters I. Repin, Y. Pen, M. Chagall, K. Malevich are intertwined with the city. I. Trutnev, M. Dobuzhinsky, L. Lisitsky, R. Falk worked in the city in their time.
Around 100 Vitebsk painters are members of the Belarus Painters Union. Future painters are trained at two arts schools, a children’s arts school, the Vitebsk Arts School and the P.M. Masherov State University of Vitebsk.
In the city there is an oblast local lore museum and an art museum, a museum of private collections, a literature museum, an M.F. Shmyrev museum, an Afghanistan war museum, an arts center, an M. Chagall house museum, an I. Repin house museum, an exhibition hall of the Painters Union.
Vitebsk was home to historians and regional ethnographers Aleksei Sapunov, Nikolai Nikiforovsky, and Vladimir Krasnyansky as well as men of letters Gavriil Derzhavin, Taras Shevchenko, Ivan Lazhechnikov, Ivan Bunin, and Mikhail Bakhtin. Days of literature dedicated to V. Korotkevich and A. Pushkin are now a tradition.
Over 100 libraries are open to offer the best literature masterpieces of the past and the present.
The Yakub Kolas National Academic Drama Theatre and the Belarusian Theatre Lyalka are genuine centers of Belarusian arts.
Concerts and other cultural events are organized by the Vitebsk center and the Vitebsk oblast philharmonic society. The city boasts three art schools, four music schools and the I. I. Sollertinsky music college.
The town holds children’s and youth festivals, pop music contests. The city is famous for the Slavonic Bazaar international arts festival, the I. I. Sollertinsky international music festival, international modern choreography festival, national competition of designers and models of the Belaya Amphora model agency, festival of classic guitar music Menestrel, art song poetry festival Vitebsky Listopad, Vitebsk festival of patriotic song Afghanistan Memory, church music festival and forum of creative intellectuals Constellation of Muses.
The scientific and educational potential of the city is represented by research and design centers, universities, specialized secondary schools. Vitebsk is home to P.M. Masherov Vitebsk State University, Vitebsk State Technological University, Vitebsk State Veterinary Academy, Vitebsk State Medical University, International Institute of Labour and Social Relations and the Institute of Technical Acoustics of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.
The city has 10 specialized secondary schools, 11 vocational and training schools, 93 pre-school institutions, 50 schools, including 8 gymnasiums. Vitebsk pupils successfully represent the city and the country at the national and international Olympiads. Over 30 major medical institutions of the city are engaged in scientific research. The city has 16 prevention and treatment facilities, 5 oblast medical centers, 2 public health and prevention centers, an oblast diagnostic center, a well-developed network of state-run and private drugstores, an expanding network of private medical centers.
Vitebsk schools of gymnastics, trampolining, acrobatics, boxing, track and field athletics and biathlon have gained a nation-wide and world-wide recognition.
Vitebsk sportsmen have made a remarkable contribution to the development of sport in Belarus. Among them are world, European and Olympic champions, like Larisa Petrik, Tamara Lazakovich, Alexander Tumilovich, Yuri Balabanov, Tatiana Arzhannikova, Alexei Sinkevich (artistic gymnastics), Vyacheslav Yanovsky, Sergei Lyakhovich, Viktor Zuyev (boxing), Igor Kanygin (wrestling), Tatiana Ivinskaya (basketball), Igor Lapshin, Alexander Kovalenko (triple jump), Alexander Potashov (race walking), Viktor Kurentsov (weightlifting), Igor Sumnikov, Zinaida Stagurskaya (cycling), Tatiana Pallyukh, Lilia Ivanova, Galina Lebedeva, Dmitry Polyarush, Yevgeni Belyayev, Nikolai Kazak (trampoline), Vadim Sashurin, Alexei Aidarov, Piotr Ivashko (biathlon), Irina Khlyustova, Anna Kozak (track and field athletics). Athletes representing over 30 Olympic sports train in Vitebsk. The sports facilities of the city include the municipal central sports complex, Palace of Winter Sports, over 140 gyms, 8 indoor swimming pools, over 300 playgrounds. There are 21 sports schools, an Olympic school, a school for advanced sportsmen and 6 sports clubs.
Over 30 travel agencies of the city offer a variety of excursion and recreation programs in Vitebsk, the Vitebsk oblast, CIS and non-CIS states. Tourists can choose among several comfortable hotel complexes, namely Vitebsk, Vetraz, Luchesa and Eridan.
A great significance is attached to the development of foreign economic, sci-tech and cultural links, strengthening of trust, mutual understanding and friendship. Vitebsk develops partner relations with its twin-towns Smolensk, Pskov, Samara, Stupino (the Russian Federation), Frankfurt an der Oder, Nienburg (Germany) , Haskovo (Bulgaria), Daugavpils, Rezekne (Latvia), Beltsy (Moldova) and Zielona Gora (Poland).
At the 21st session of the Hanseatic league (Riga, 9 June 2001) Vitebsk was admitted to its membership. The city executive committee helps establish contacts between the companies of the twin-towns to promote mutually beneficial cooperation.