Belarus: Polatsk

Polatsk is the oldest town in Belarus and one of the oldest in the entire eastern Slavic territory, together with such towns as Murom in Russia or Kiev in Ukraine. For several centuries it was an independent Principality of Polotsk, going through peace and wars with its Moscow or Kiev neighbors, until in the 13th century it became an autonomous unit in the mighty and vast Great Duchy of Lithuania (a historic predecessor of the present day Belarus). Poland incorporated it in the 17th century. In the 18th century, Russians took over after the Poland’s dismemberment. The Saint Sofia cathedral in Polatsk was built in 1044, same era as the Kiev and Novgorod cathedrals, attesting to the region’s importance. Unfortunately, Russian troops under Peter the Great demolishes it and built a baroque structure that stand today (while the original foundation and stones can be seen in the basement). Modern Polatsk is a sleepy town of just about 80K people, with a couple more churches, some Soviet architecture, a Lenin statue, and a few nice large squares. Everything is slow and provincially backward.