Ermak Travel Guide

 

Smolensk

Smolensk

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transportation

Hotels, motels and where to sleep

Restaurant, taverns and where to eat

Cultural (and not so cultural) events

Interesting information and useful tips

 

Description of Smolensk

Smolensk is a city in western Russia, the administrative, industrial and cultural center of the Smolensk region. This is one of the oldest cities in Russia (the first chronicle mention refers to the year 863). It bears the title of “Hero City” (since May 6, 1985), and was awarded the Order of Lenin and the Order of the Patriotic War, I Degree, and the Gold Star Medal.

In the history of Russia, it is known as the “shield city” and the “key city”, which for many centuries served as a reliable defense of Moscow, protecting it from the encroachments of a number of European countries. In the Time of Troubles, thanks to the courage and dedication of the residents of Smolensk, they managed to detain a large army of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Sigismund III. The resilience and patriotism of the Smolensk citizens, who withstood the siege in the fortress for 20 months, served as an example for the peasant revolts of the Second Militia led by Kuzma Minin and Prince Dmitry Pozharsky against the invaders.

The city is located 378 km (along the highway - 410 km) south-west of Moscow in the upper reaches of the Dnieper, being the most distant administrative center of the region from Moscow, directly bordering the capital region. It has an advantageous geographical position on the routes from Moscow to Belarus, the Baltic States, and the countries of Central and Western Europe. The city extends from west to east for 25 km and from north to south for 15 km. Its territory is 166.35 km². Population - 330,025 people. (2018). According to the census of 2010 - 54th place in Russia.

 

 

 

Destinations in Smolensk

Assumption Cathedral. A 300-years old cathedral in Baroque style. Famous for its magnificent interiors, which combine features of traditional Russian style and Baroque.
The Fortress Wall. The stone kremlin was built in 1595-1602 and helped to defend the city during several wars. Originally the kremlin included 38 towers; 17 of them can be seen today.
The old smithy. The small stone building was built between 17-18th centuries; the exact date remains unknown. The blachsmiths' museum is situated there.
The Roman catholic church. The brick church built in 1884-1896 is a good example of Neo-Gothic architecture. The building used to function as the archive for several decades and now no religious service is held there. Currently it is impossible to get inside.
Gnyozdovo archeological site. The place is one of the largest survivals of the Viking Age in Europe. It contains extensive remains of a Slavic-Varangian settlement that flourished in the 10th century as a major trade station on the trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks.
St. Michael's Church (Svirskaya) and other Pre-Mongol Monuments. Smolensk was one of the most important cities in medieval Russia and has preserved many pre-mongol monuments, most impressive of which is probably the St. Michael's Church (Svirskaya)

 

 

History of Smolensk

Medieval origins

Smolensk is among the oldest Russian cities. The first recorded mention of the city was 863 AD, two years after the founding of Kievan Rus'. According to Russian Primary Chronicle, Smolensk (probably located slightly downstream, at the archaeological site of Gnezdovo) was located on the area settled by the West Slavic Radimichs tribe in 882 when Oleg of Novgorod took it in passing from Novgorod to Kiev. The town was first attested two decades earlier, when the Varangian chieftains Askold and Dir, while on their way to Kiev, decided against challenging Smolensk on account of its large size and population.

The first foreign writer to mention the city was the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus. In De Administrando Imperio (c. 950) he described Smolensk as a key station on the trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks. The Rus' people sailed from the Baltics up the Western Dvina as far as they could then they portaged their boats to the upper Dnieper. It was in Smolensk that they supposedly mended any leaks and small holes that might have appeared in their boats from being dragged on the ground and they used tar to do that, hence the city name.

The Principality of Smolensk was founded in 1054. Due to its central position in Kievan Rus', the city developed rapidly. By the end of the 12th century, the princedom was one of the strongest in Eastern Europe, so that Smolensk Dynasty frequently controlled the Kievan throne. Numerous churches were built in the city at that time, including the church of Sts. Peter and Paul (1146, reconstructed to its presumed original appearance after World War II) and the church of St. John the Baptist (1180, also partly rebuilt). The most remarkable church in the city is called Svirskaya (1197, still standing); it was admired by contemporaries as the most beautiful structure east of Kiev.

Smolensk had its own veche since the very beginning of its history. Its power increased after the disintegration of Kievan Rus', and although it was not as strong as the veche in Novgorod, the princes had to take its opinion into consideration; several times in 12th and 13th centuries there was an open conflict between them.

Between Russia, Lithuania, and Poland
Although spared by the Mongol armies in 1240, Smolensk paid tribute to the Golden Horde, gradually becoming a pawn in the long struggle between Lithuania and the Grand Duchy of Moscow. The last sovereign monarch of Smolensk was Yury of Smolensk; during his reign the city was taken by Vytautas the Great of Lithuania on three occasions: in 1395, 1404, and 1408. After the city's incorporation into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, some of Smolensk's boyars (e.g., the Sapiehas) moved to Vilnius; descendants of the ruling princes (e.g., the Tatishchevs, Kropotkins, Mussorgskys, Vyazemskys) fled to Moscow.

With tens of thousands of people living there, Smolensk was probably the largest city in 15th-century Lithuania. Three Smolensk regiments took part in the Battle of Grunwald against the Teutonic Knights. It was a severe blow to Lithuania when the city was taken by Vasily III of Russia in 1514. To commemorate this event, the Tsar founded the Novodevichy Convent in Moscow and dedicated it to the icon of Our Lady of Smolensk.

In order to repel future Polish–Lithuanian attacks, Boris Godunov made it his priority to heavily fortify the city. The stone kremlin constructed in 1597–1602 is the largest in Russia. It features thick walls and numerous watchtowers. Heavy fortifications did not prevent the fortress from being taken by the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1611 after a long twenty-month siege, during the Time of Troubles and Dimitriads. Weakened Muscovy temporarily ceded Smolensk land to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in the Truce of Deulino and for the next forty-three years it was the seat of Smolensk Voivodeship.

To recapture the city, the Tsardom of Russia launched the so-called "Smolensk War" against the Commonwealth in 1632. After a defeat at the hands of king Wladislaw IV, the city remained in Polish–Lithuanian hands. In 1632, the Uniate bishop Lew Kreuza built his apartments in Smolensk; they were later converted into the Orthodox Church of Saint Barbara. The hostilities resumed in 1654 when the Commonwealth was being affected by the Khmelnytsky Uprising and the Swedish deluge. After another siege, on September 23, 1654, Smolensk was recaptured by Russia. In the 1667 Truce of Andrusovo, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth renounced its claims to Smolensk.

 

Modern history

Smolensk has been a special place to Russians for many reasons, not least for the fact that the local cathedral housed one of the most venerated Orthodox icons, attributed to St. Luke. Building the new Cathedral of the Assumption was a great project which took more than a century to complete. Despite slowly sinking into economic backwater, Smolensk was still valued by Tsars as a key fortress defending the route to Moscow. It was made the seat of Smolensk Governorate in 1708.

In August 1812, two of the largest armies ever assembled clashed in Smolensk. During the hard-fought battle, described by Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace, Napoleon entered the city. Total losses were estimated at 30,000 men. Apart from other military monuments, central Smolensk features the Eagles monument, unveiled in 1912 to mark the centenary of Napoleon's Russian campaign.

At the beginning of World War I, the 56th Smolensk Infantry Division was first assigned to the First Army of the Imperial Russian Army. They fought at the Battle of Tannenberg. It was subsequently transferred to the 10th Army and fought at the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes. In March 1918, while the city remained a part of Russia, Belarusian People's Republic, proclaimed in Minsk under the German occupation, declared Smolensk a part of it. In February–December 1918, Smolensk was home to the headquarters of the Western Front, North-West Oblast Bolshevik Committee and Western Oblast Executive Committee. On January 1, 1919, the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed in Smolensk, but its government moved to Minsk as soon as the German forces had been driven out of Minsk several days later.

 

Soviet period

After the Revolution, for inclusion in its composition as claimed Smolensk Belarusian People's Republic and the Byelorussian SSR. Since April 1918 Smolensk was the center of the Western Region, which is based on January 1, 1919, Byelorussian SSR was formed. January 7 BSSR government moved from Minsk and Smolensk already January 16, 1919 decision of the Central Committee of the RCP Smolensk region was transferred to the RSFSR. In 1920 was held the new provincial census, according to which the Russian population prevailed over Belarus, but the Belarusian party leadership until 1926 leaves no hope for the inclusion of Smolensk in the Belorussian SSR. In 1940, 18 km (11 mi) from Smolensk, the Katyn Massacre occurred.

During World War II, Smolensk once again saw wide-scale fighting during the first Battle of Smolensk when the city was captured by the Germans on July 16, 1941. The first Soviet counteroffensive against the German army was launched in August 1941 but failed. However, the limited Soviet victories outside the city halted the German advance for a crucial two months, granting time to Moscow's defenders to prepare in earnest. Camp 126 was situated close to Smolensk and at this time Boris Menshagin was mayor of Smolensk, with his deputy Boris Bazilevsky. Both of them would be key witnesses in the Nuremberg Trials over the Katyn massacre. Over 93% of the city was destroyed during the fighting; the ancient icon of Our Lady of Smolensk was lost. Nevertheless, it escaped total destruction. In late 1943, Göring[dubious – discuss]had ordered Gotthard Heinrici to destroy Smolensk in accordance with the Nazi "scorched earth" policy. He refused and was punished for it. The city was finally liberated on September 25, 1943, during the second Battle of Smolensk. The rare title of Hero City was bestowed on Smolensk after the war.

After the Germans captured the city in 1941, they found the intact archives of Smolensk Oblast Committee of the Communist Party, the so-called Smolensk Archive. The archive was moved to Germany, and a significant part of it eventually ended up in the United States, providing Western scholars and intelligence specialists with unique information on the local workings of the Soviet government during its first two decades. The archives were returned to Russia by the United States in 2002.

 

Recent events

On April 10, 2010, a Tu-154 military jet carrying Polish president Lech Kaczyński, his wife, and many notable political and military figures crashed in a wooded area near Smolensk while approaching the local military airport. All ninety-six passengers died immediately on impact. The purpose of the visit was to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, in which some 22,000 Polish POWs were murdered by the NKVD.

In 2013, archaeologists of the Russian Academy of Sciences discovered and unearthed in the ancient temples in Smolensk dated to middle to second half of the 12th century, built on the left bank at the time the city was the capital of Smolensk principality. From unique object preserved walls in some places low, in others the height of human growth.

 

In September 2013, Smolensk widely celebrated the 1,150th anniversary with funds spent on different construction and renovation projects in the city. In celebration Central Bank of Russia issued commemorative coins made of precious metals.

 

 

 


 

Transportation

Get in
By train
From Moscow several trains from Belorussky Railway Terminal reach Smolensk in 5-6 hours. Some of them reach into Europe as far as to Paris and Nice (in summer only). The same trains can be used to reach Smolensk from Belarus. Daily expresses connect Smolensk with Moscow and Bryansk; there are regular trains to and from Saint Petersburg and Vilnius.

By bus
Several times a week there are buses connecting Smolensk with such European cities as Paris, Madrid, Riga and some others. Most of these buses originally start their journey in Moscow and make a stopover in Smolensk. Other buses run to Mogilev, Kaluga, Velikiye Luki, Kursk and Tver. Daily buses run to Mstislavl, Belgorod, Bryansk, Moscow, Oryol, Saint Petersburg and Tula. A bus journey from Moscow to Smolensk takes about 4.5-6 hours (depending on possible traffic jams in Moscow), the price of a single ticket starts from 900 rubles (approximately €12.5 or $14).

By car and by thumb
Smolensk is situated on the M1/E30 and A141 highways. Е30 goes from Berlin to Moscow through Warsaw, Brest and Minsk; while A141 connects Oryol to Vilnius through Bryansk and Vitebsk. Both highways are good for hitchhiking - bear in mind that E30 is about 6.5 km north from the city.

Get around
By bus, minibus, tram or trolleybus
A single ticket for bus, tram or trolley use (different tickets for each kind of transport) costs 18 RUB purchased from the service person in the bus (cash only) and is valid for a single ride. No special validation needed. It is highly recommended to buy the ticket, because the controls are regular, especially during the first days of each month. There is a number of discount tickets for students and elderly people, in public buses (trams or trolleys) only. The list of public transport routes is found here (in Russian), their timetable is given here (note that not all buses are included). There is an enormous fleet of minibuses on the same routes. The price is the same as with a public bus (you get no paper tickets in a minibus, though). Minibuses operate every 10-15 minutes, which makes them more convenient than a bus. During rush hours, however, minibuses are often cramped.

By taxi
There are several cab companies offering their services. A regular cab may cost about 130 RUB if you need to get from periphery of the city to the center. You should always call a taxi by phone, even if you see a taxi on the street nearby. Street taxis may charge a higher price than taxis called by phone. Every company has their phone number written on its vehicles; it's very convenient for tourists.

By bicycle
Currently Smolensk is not a bike-friendly city due to the lack of cycling lanes. However, the central park area, the streets nearby as well as a big green area to the south-west are easy to use. In case you decide to go cycling, note that some inhabitants are riding on sidewalks while others prefer the right side of the road.

On foot
The historical part of the city (within the Fortress) can be easily explored on foot. Note that the area is sometimes hilly and several central streets are paved so choose appropriate footwear.

 

Hotels, motels and where to sleep

Felix Hostel, Dzerzhinsky Street, 19, ☎ +7 (4812) 40-10-32 (felixsmolensk@mail.ru). There are rooms for 2, 4 or 5 people. Free wifi in all rooms. Conveniently located. Dorm bed: from RUB 500.
Tourist Hostel, Kashen Street, 15-B, ☎ +7 (4812) 40-16-21 (sutki67@ro.ru). There are rooms for 2, 5, 6 or 8 people. Located close to the railway station. Dorm bed: from RUB 300.
Seven Hills, Smolyaninov Street, 5, ☎ +7(4812) 20-95-74 (receptionhotel7hills@yandex.ru). There are single and double rooms as well as a suite. Rooms: from RUB 2800 to 3500.
Small Hotel, Novo-Moskovskaya Street, 15, ☎ +7(4812) 630-300 (small67@ya.ru). There are single and double rooms as well as a suite. Rooms: from RUB 1800 to 4000.
Usadba Hotel, Bakunin Street, 2-V, ☎ +7 (4812) 38-59-31 (reservation67@yandex.ru). There are single and double rooms as well as a suite of rooms. Free wifi in all rooms. Rooms: from RUB 2700 to 10000.
New Hotel, Gubenko Street, 26, ☎ +7(4812) 272-273 (info@hotel-new.ru). There are twin and double rooms as well as a suite of rooms. Free wifi and convenient location. Rooms: from RUB 3400 to 4600.
Hotel Russia, Dzerzhinsky Street, 23, ☎ +7 (4812) 65-59-70 (info@russia-smolensk.ru). There are single and double rooms as well as a suite of rooms. Free wifi in all rooms. A cinema is situated in the same building. Rooms: from RUB 2280 to 6500.
Smolensk Hotel, Lenin Street, 2/1, ☎ +7(4812) 32-69-91 (booking@smolensk-hotel.ru). There are single and double rooms as well as a suite of rooms. Located in the very centre of the city. Rooms: from RUB 3200 to 25000.

 

Restaurant, taverns and where to eat

Smolensk offers countless opportunities to sample both local cuisine and international favorites. A diversity of foreign cuisines is also available - sushi restaurants in particular are currently in vogue.

 

Cultural (and not so cultural) events

nternational Music Festival of Mikhail Glinka A series of concerts in different genres. The participants come from Russia and Europe. The event is held at the state concert hall. The festival takes place every year in the last week of May and the first week of June.
Firework Festival The event is worth visiting due to magnificent performances of several teams from Russia and Europe. It is organised at the airfield to the south of Smolensk. The festival takes place every year around September, 25.
The ark of Smolensk Theatre festival is held every even year in mid-April.
Slavic Culture Festival The event is a 2-/3-day festival devoted to the Slavs, held annually to the west of Smolensk in mid-August.

 

Interesting information and useful tips

Stay safe
Smolensk is a relatively safe city; however, crimes do occur. Use typical common sense. Avoid dark alleys - like you would anywhere else. Check the advice from your Foreign Office for entry requirements, health, safety, local laws and customs.

When visiting bars and restaurants make sure you know the price before you order and keep track of your spending, so no cheating is possible. Beware of scammers who strike up conversations out of the blue and invite you to visit their favorite club or bar; this is often a favorite way for the fraudsters to rob the foreigners, and the police are unlikely to help if you get scammed.

Also note that in winter months, streets in Smolensk might get quite slippery. Take a pair of grippy shoes or, even better, boots (to prevent twisted ankles) and a waterproof raincoat. Take care as ice patches are often hard to spot, even when they appear to have been cleared or melted. Wearing non-grippy shoes could result in injury.

 

 

 

 

blog comments powered by Disqus