Smolensk ( _ru. Смоленск) is a city in western Russia, located on the Dnieper River, the administrative centre of Smolensk Oblast. Its population in 2003 was estimated as 351,100 (325,137 as of 2002 Census). Situated 360 kilometres (225 mi) west-southwest of Moscow, this walled city was destroyed several times throughout its long history since it was on the invasion routes of both Napoleon and Hitler. Today, Smolensk is noted for electronics, textiles, and food processing.


Origins of the name

The name of the city is derived from the name of the Smolnya Rivulet. The origin of the hydronym is less clear. One possibility is the old Slavic word for black soil, which might have coloured the waters of the long-derelict Smolnya. An alternative origin could be the Russian word "smola," which means tar. Pine trees grow in the area, and city was once a center of resin processing and trade.

Medieval origins

Smolensk is among the oldest of Russian cities. The first recorded mention of the city was 863 AD, two years after the founding of ancient Russia. According to Russian Primary Chronicle, Smolensk (probably located slightly downstream, at the archaeological site of Gnezdovo) was the capital of the Slavic Krivichs 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 messing with Smolensk on account of its large size and population.

The first foreign writer to mention the city was the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus. In "De Administrando Imperio" (c. 950) he described Smolensk as a key station on the Road from Varangians to Greeks. The Rus sailed from the Baltics up the Western Dvina as far as they could then they pulled their boats out onto the ground and dragged them along 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 amid Russian lands, 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 WWII) and 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 to the east of Kiev.

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 Muscovy. The last sovereign monarch of Smolensk was George of Smolensk; during his disastrous reign the city was taken by Vytautas of Lithuania on three occasions, in 1395, 1404 and 1408. After the city's incorporation into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, some Smolensk boyars (e.g., the Sapiehas) moved to Vilnius; descendants of the ruling princes (e.g., the Tatishchevs, Kropotkins, Mussorgskys, Viazemskis) fled to Moscow.

With a population of tens of thousands of people, Smolensk was probably the largest city in 15th-century Lithuania. Three Smolensk regiments proved decisive during the Battle of Grunwald against the Teutonic knights. It was a severe blow to Lithuania when the city was retaken by Vasili 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.

Polish-Muscovite War (1605-1618), by Juliusz Kossak; a painting reflecting the Polish view of the city's history. ]

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 remarkably thick walls and numerous watch-towers. Heavy fortifications didn't prevent the fortress from being taken by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1611 after a long 20-month siege, during the Time of Troubles and Dimitriads. Weakened Muscovy ceded temporarily Smolensk land to the Commonwealth in the Truce of Deulino and for the next forty three years it was the capital of the Smolensk Voivodeship.

To recapture the city, Muscovy launched the so-called "Smolensk War" against the Commonwealth in 1632. After a heavy 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 St. Barbara. The hostilities resumed in 1654 when the Commonwealth was being rocked by the Uprising of Ukrainian Cossacks and Swedish invasion. After another siege, on September 23, 1654 Smolensk was recaptured by Russia as the Polish garrison left the city. In the 1667 Treaty of Andrusovo the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth finally renounced its claims to the 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 capital of Guberniya 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, downtown Smolensk features the Eagles monument, unveiled in 1912 to mark the centenary of Napoleon's Russian campaign.

Immediately after the October Revolution, when Belarus proper was still occupied by German forces, Smolensk ( _be. Смаленск, "Smalensk") became a notable centre of Belarusian political life, although remaining administratively a part of Russia. In 1918, German occupational forces declared Smolensk Governorate a constituent of the Belarusian People's Republic, which only lasted less than a year. On January 2, 1919 the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed in Smolensk, but its government moved to Minsk as soon as the Polish forces had been driven out of the Belarusian capital several months later.

During World War II, Smolensk was again chosen by history as a stage for one of its greater battles, the Battle of Smolensk. The first Soviet counteroffensive against the German army was launched here in August 1941. Over 93% of the city was destroyed during the fighting. The ancient icon was lost forever. It is no surprise that the title of Hero City was bestowed on Smolensk after the war. Smolensk is served by Smolensk Airport and Smolensk air base.

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 [] []

As indicated by his name, the prominent 19th-century Jewish novelist Peretz Smolenskin and his family originated from Smolensk, though he himself was born near Mogilev.

Sister cities

*1981 flagicon|France Tulle, France.
*1985 flagicon|Germany Hagen, Germany.
*1993 flagicon|United States Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Other pictures


External links

*ru icon [ Smolensk Youth information portal]
* [ Travel to Smolensk]
*ru icon [ Smolensk Wiki]
*ru icon [ Basketball in Smolensk]
*ru icon [ Homepage of the Smolensk fortress]
* [ Some photos of the Smolensk fortress]
* [ More photos of Smolensk]
* [ Historic images of Smolensk]
*ru icon [ Smolensk for tourists]

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