Architecture. Belarus lies on a spiritual boundary between the Eastern and Western Europe, in the break of their cultural areas and religious systems. This, naturally, effected the specificity of the Belarusian architecture. First towns on the territory of Belarus appeared in the early Middle Ages. Polotsk and Vitebsk are the most ancient of them. In the X century the first cross–dome Orthodox Sofia cathedral was erected in Polotsk, which laid the foundations for the Belarusian monumental architecture. Eastern Slavic architect monk Joanne also came from Polotsk, where he erected a small cathedral of the Saved Transfiguration Monastery in the XII century.

In the XIII century the period of total defense architecture set on. The main type of monumental constructions were castles of princes and magnates with powerful walls and towers build of huge boulders and big–size bricks, surrounded by ramparts and ditches. The donjon tower in Kamenets, castles in Lida, Krevo, Mir, Nesvizh, Grodno remained. Orthodox churches were transformed into small fortresses flanked by battle towers in their corners. All the neighboring population gathered in them in case of military danger.

In the middle of the XVI century a new architectural and artistic style of Baroque appeared, which would dominate for the next two centuries. The first work of Baroque was Roman–Catholic Church in Nesvizh, center of possessions of the Radzivillis princes. That temple became a shoot to give growth to the original architecture of the Belarusian Baroque.

Photo: Vital Baneyeu

In the XVII — XVIII centuries the basis for monumental architecture and urban planning was formed by monastery ensembles of numerous Catholic Orders. Secular monumental buildings, town–halls and residences of magnates were also important architectural monuments.

Photo: Alena Baneyeva

The end of the XVIII century saw the advent of Classicism, the architecture followed the art canons of antiquity. Catholic temples were mostly closed and rebuilt into Orthodox churches in the pseudo–Russian style. However, even those artificially implanted plastic architectural forms, when embodied in local materials, natural rock and wood, acquired their artistic originality.

The XX century, the century of two world wars and the Proletariat Revolution, delivered a catastrophic blow to the cultural heritage of Belarus. During the Great Patriotic War almost all Belarusian cities were destroyed to be rebuild in the post–war period.

Belarusian literature is inseparably linked with the oral–poetic people's creativity and folklore. Sources of Belarusian literature lie in remote antiquity. The origin of literature in the Belarusian lands was directly connected with the appearance of written language in the X century. In the XII–XIII centuries local chronicles originated, considerable works of the autobiographical genre appeared ("Life of Yefrosinya of Polotsk", "Life of Abraham of Smolensk"). The Belarusian theme sounds in the "Tales of Temporal Years" chronicle and in "The Song of Igor's Campaign" — masterpieces of the ancient Eastern Slavic literature.

For further formation and development of the Belarusian literature in the XIV–XV centuries of major value was the unification of the Belarusian lands under the Great Duchy of Lithuania where the Old Belarusian language was the official state language. The Belarusian — Lithuanian chronicles ("Annalist of Great Lithuanian Princes", "Chronicles of the Great Duchy of Lithuania, Russia and Zhemaity" and others) became achievements of Belarusian historical prose of the XIV–XVI centuries.

In the XVI century the development of the Belarusian literature was greatly influenced by the Belarusian humanist and educator, founder of East Slavic book–printing, writer and translator Frantsisk Skorina. In the middle of the XVII century Simeon Polotsky, Belarusian and Russian poet, playwright and enlightener started his work.

Until the XIX century the Belarusian literature developed in the framework of the trends dominant in the Western Europe. The first half of the XIX century saw orientation towards spoken language and folklore. The brightest representative of this direction was the great Polish and Belarusian poet Adam Mitskevich. The beginning of the literary activity of Vintsent Dunin–Martsinkevich, who is considered to be the forefather of the modern Belarusian literature, belongs to the same period.

The most considerable figure of the late XIX century was Frantishek Bogushevich, in essence the first people's and national Belarusian writer.

An important role in the development of Belarusian literature was played by the first legal Belarusian newspapers "Nasha Dolya" ("Our Fate") and "Nasha Niva" ("Our Field"), around which the most famous authors of the period united: Yanka Kupala, Yakub Kolas, Eloisa Pashkevich, Maxim Bogdanovich, Zmitrok Byadulya, Maxim Goretsky and others.

During the second half of the XX century publicism and satire were especially actual genres of art. The theme of the Great Patriotic War becomes a long–lasting dominant in literature.

Photo: Vital Baneyeu

This period saw active work of Pimen Panchanka, Arkady Kuleshov, Kuzma Chorny, Ivan Shamyakin, Mikhas Lynkov, Ales Adamovich, Rygor Borodulin, Vasil Bykov. Besides war topics, the Belarusian prose mirrored everyday problems of the Belarusian village (Ivan Melezh, Yanka Bryl), the historical genre becomes more active (Vladimir Korotkevich). After 1986 Chernobyl–related problems become actual for the Belarusian literature.

Musical art of Belarus originates from the folk music of Eastern Slavs and the Kiev Russia. A major element of the national culture is its ancient musical and poetic folklore — calendar and ceremonial rural songs (Christmas carol, Pancake week carnival, reaping, christening, wedding and other ceremonial songs). Ethnic features of the Belarusian people, its aspirations and dreams found reflection in this folklore. An important factor in the formation of national musical culture were dramatized dances. Among the national instruments the pipe, zhaleyka, horn, lyre, violin, basetlya and cymbals became popular. First carriers of secular professional musical tradition were skomorokhs — wondering artists.

A local version of neuma (sigh) drawling song was formed in Orthodox Church music by the XV century. In the XVII century the tradition of partes singing (choral concerts, psalms) was formed. Musical monuments of the time were the collections of vocal and instrumental pieces of music "Polotsk Notebook" and "Courants". In the XVIII century private theatres and choirs belonging to magnates Radzivils, Sapegas and Oginskies and others became centers of musical culture. Among local famous composers were Y.Golland, E. Vanzhura, M.Radzivil and others.
At the beginning of the XX century Belarusian musical culture and education flourished: musical schools and national conservatories were opened, the opera and ballet theater was established.

The following companies work in Belarus today: the National Academic Theater of Opera, the National Academic Theater of Ballet, the State Musical Theater, the State Academic People's Orchestra named after I.Zhinovich, the State Academic Symphonic Orchestra, the State Academic Choral Cappella named after G.Shirma, the State Academic People's Chorus named after G.Tsitovich, the Academic Chorus of Belarusian Radio and Television, the Symphonic Orchestra of Belarusian Radio and Television, the State Orchestra of Symphonic and Variety Music, the State Ensemble of Dance and others.

Annually, more than 30 international, national and regional musical festivals are held in Belarus: "Belarusian Musical Autumn", "Minsk Spring", "Slavic Bazaar in Vitebsk", International Music Festival "Golden Hit", Jazz Festival, Festival of Chamber Music "Muses of Nesvizh", festival of ancient and modern music in Polotsk and others. Modern Belarusian musical art strives to preserve rich national traditions.

Theatrical life. Sources of the Belarusian theater lie in popular rites and games, in creations of vagrant actor–skomorokhs. In the XVI century the "Batleika" puppet theater appeared. In the XVI–XVIII centuries school theaters gained significance, in the XVI–XX centuries — popular drama. In the first half of the XVIII century private theaters worked in cities and estates, some of them reached professional level. An important role in the development of theatrical art in Belarus was played by the work of the playwright, actor and producer V.Dunin–Martsinkevich, who in the middle of the XVIII century began to create Belarusian professional theater.


Photo: Vital Baneyeu

A new phase of development of Belarusian theatrical art begun in the XX century: a series of new theaters were opened, many famous Belarusian authors fruitfully worked in the dramatic genre: Y.Kupala, Y.Kolas, L.Rodzevich, F.Alekhnovich and others.

By the middle of the XX century there were 23 professional theaters in Belarus. However, during the Great Patriotic War the majority of them were closed. In the post–war period many theaters were reopened, new ones were established.

There are about 30 state theaters in Belarus now. Belarus is holding festivals, drama competitions, shows of theatrics on a regular basis: international festivals "Slavic Theatrical Meetings" and "White Tower", festival "March in Molodechno" and others.

Belarus cinema. Belarus’ cinematography traces its roots to the 1930s. The Belarusian movie studio Belgoskino was founded in 1924. Founded in 1928 as the studio Soviet Belarus in Leningrad, the studio was moved to Minsk in 1939 and was renamed Belarusfilm in 1946. The studio produced feature, topical and popular science movies.

The Belarus’ first feature movie Liasnaia byl was directed by Yuriy Tarych. Belarusian documentarians were one of the very first to shoot front reports.

Belarus’ post-war movies reproduced the tragic destiny of Belarus people. Belarus filmmakers filled a big niche of their own in children's cinema. The Belarus documentary is recognized worldwide.

Belarus’ modern cinematography carries on the tradition of previous generations, looking for a new pathway. Belarus’ movies are prestigious world film festival award winners. Sergei Loznitsa’s In the Fog based on the novel by Vasil Bykov received the FIPRESCI award at the 65th Cannes Film Festival in 2012.

А lot of movies in Belarus are produced in cooperation with cinematographers from all over the world. Numerous movies were made by Nikita Mikhalkov, Petr and Valerij Todorovskij, Dmitriy Astrahan, Alexander Sokurov at Belarusfilm.

Belarus hosts major cinema festivals:

  • the International Film Festival Listapad and the Children and Youth Film Festival Listapadzik (Minsk)
  • the National Festival of Belarusian Films (Brest)
  • the International Animated Film Festival Animaevka (Mogilev)
  • International festival of Christian movies and TV programs Magnificat (Glubokoye)

Fine art. The territory of Belarus has preserved samples of primitive art of the epoch of palaeolith and neolith (bone laminas and ceramics with ornament, decorations, sculptural statuettes of people and animals). In the X–XII centuries under the influence of the art of Byzantium with the advent of Christianity fresco paintings, book miniatures, small–sized plastic arts developed. An example of ancient Belarusian art of the XII century was the cross made by Lazar Bogsha for Yefrosinya of Polotsk.


Photo: Alena Baneyeva

By the end of the XVI century the original Belarusian school of icon–painting was formed. As a result of numerous wars and social–political shocks the majority of Belarusian icons was lost. Only a few of the XV–XVI centuries' icons remained: "Blessed Virgin Odigitry", "Blessed Virgin Odigitry of Smolensk", "Blessed Virgin Odigitry of Jerusalem", "Paraskeva" and "Christ the Almighty". Belarusian icons are distinguished by a specific rendering of the icon–painting methods of Byzantium, ancient Russian and Balkan, Renaissance and Baroque ideas. In Belarusian icons such features appeared as the character's type as well as different natural human moods (weeping, pleasure, grief). The works also keenly grasped everyday situations (birth of a child, funeral, ect.), local landscapes, architecture, interiors, furniture, glassware, clothes, figures of peasants, noblemen, princes. With the help of icons one may study the ethnographic signs of rural and urban life styles.

In the middle of the XV century secular painting evolved and reached its peak in the XVI — early XVIII centuries. Monumental painting developed. In the XVII century carvers from Belarus decorated temples and palaces of the Moscow State.

By the end of the XVI century an original style of book decoration was established, the beginning of which was laid by Frantsisk Skorina. In the XIV–XVI centuries production of ceramics (terracotta and glazed polychrome) reached high artistic level as well as artistic metal processing and jewelry business. In the XVII–XVIII centuries weaving manufactories were widely known. In the XVIII–XIX centuries painting went on developing in the traditions of Romanticism and Classicism. In the art of the XX century various directions and trends dominated. One of these was avantguardism represented by K.Malevich and M.Chagal.

Museums. First museum collections were formed in residences of major feudal lords, monasteries, brotherhoods and temples in the XVI–XVIII centuries. The most considerable collections belonged to Princes Radzivills and Sapegas — the most influential magnates of the Grad Duchy of Lithuania. These collections were gathered from generation to generation and included family jewelry, rare archive materials and books, weapons, numismatic collections, works of fine art and much else.
In the XVIII–XIX centuries first museum–type institutions appeared.

The first public museum in Vilno was opened at the end of the XIX century. The main collection of the Vilno museum of antiquities mirrored the material and spiritual culture of Belarusians. A number of church and archaeological museums were organized in the end of the XIX — beginning of the XX century. During the First World War and the Civil War many museum collections were either destroyed in military action or moved outside Belarus. After the establishment of the BSSR, new authorities carried out steps to revive museums.

The Second World War caused an irreplaceable damage to the museum business in Belarus. Many historical and cultural valuables were lost. The majority of Belarusian museums were plundered. In the post–war period work began to collect and systemize the valuables remained and returned from evacuation, to recover museum network. There are 160 state museums in Belarus now.

Photo: Vital Baneyeu

The leading museum of historical profile in Belarus is the National Museum of History and Culture of Belarus. Its funds contain 250 thousand exhibits: rich collections of archaeology, numismatics, exhibits of ethnography and everyday life, military history, hand–written and ancient books, icon–painting, works of professional and folk art. The National Art Museum of Belarus has an exclusively rich collection of Russian fine art of the XVIII century — beginning of the XX century, and also the collection of modern Belarusian art, works of Eastern and Western–European art. The Belarusian State History Museum of the Great Patriotic War was established in the post–war period.

Photo: Alena Baneyeva

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