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Polatsk (Belarusian: По́лацак, По́лацк; Polish: Połock, also spelt as Polacak; Russian: По́лоцк, also transliterated as Polotsk, Polotzk, Polock) is the most historic city in Belarus, situated on the Dvina river. It is the center of Polatsk district in Vitsebsk voblast. The population is approximately 79,000 residents.



The Old East Slavic name, Polotesk, is derived from the Polota river, that flows into Dvina nearby. The Vikings rendered that name as Palteskja, or Paltejsborg.

Polatsk is one of the most ancient cities of the Eastern Slavs. It was mentioned for the first time by the Primary Chronicle in 862, together with Murom and Beloozero. The Norse sagas describe the city as the most heavily fortified in all of Rus.

Between the 10th and 12th centuries, the principality of Polatsk emerged as the dominant center of power in what is now Belarusian territory, with a lesser role played by the principality of Turaw to the south. It repeatedly asserted its sovereignty in relation to other centers of Kievan Rus, becoming a political capital, the episcopal see and the controller of vassal territories among Balts in the west. Its most powerful ruler was prince Vseslav Bryachislavich (reigned from 1044 to 1101).

Missing image
View of Polotsk in 1912

Polatsk became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1307, and it is said to have been the main center of trade in the state. The Magdeburg law was adopted in 1498. Captured by the Russian army of Ivan the Terrible in 1563, it was returned to Poland just 15 years later. That period of warfare started the gradual decline of the city. After the first partition of Poland Polatsk degraded to the status of a small provincial town of the Russian Empire.

Cultural heritage

The city's Cathedral of Saint Sophia (1044-1066) was a symbol of the independent-mindedness of Polatsk, rivaling churches of the same name in Novgorod and Kyiv and referring to the original Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (and thus to claims of imperial prestige, authority and sovereignty). The present baroque building (, however, dates from the mid-18th century. Some genuine 12th-century architecture survives in the convent of Saint Euphrosyne (, which also features a large neo-Byzantine cathedral (, designed by Konstantin Thon.

Cultural achievements of the medieval period include the work of the nun Euphrosyne of Polatsk (1120-1173), who built monasteries, transcribed books, promoted literacy and sponsored art (including local artisan Lazarus Bohsha's famous "Cross of Euphrosyne," a national symbol and treasure lost during World War II), and the prolific, original Church Slavonic sermons and writings of Bishop Cyril of Turaw (1130-1182).

Belarusan first printer Francysk Skaryna was born in Polatsk around 1490. He is famous for the first printing of the Bible in an East Slavic language (in the Old Ruthenian) in 1517, several decades after the first ever printed book by Johann Gutenberg and just several years after the first Czech Bible (1506).

In September 2003, as "Days of Belarusian Literacy" were celebrated for the 10th time in Polacak, city authorities opened a monument to honor the unique Cyrillic Belarusian letter Ў, which is not used in any other Slavic language. The original idea for the monument came from the Belarusian calligraphy professor Paval Siemchanka who has been studying Cyrillic scripts for many years.

Princes of Polotsk

See List of Belarusian rulers


A crater on Mars is named Polotsk.

See also

External links

de:Polazk pl:Połock ru:Полоцк


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