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The view of Smolensk in 1912

Smolensk (Russian: Смоленск;, Belarusian: Смаленск) is a city in western Russia, located on the Dniepr river at Template:Coor d, administrative center of Smolensk Oblast. Its population in 2003 is 351,100.

The name of the city is derived from the name of Smolnya River. The origin of the river name is less clear. One possibility is the Russian word smola that means both tar and resin. Pine trees grow in the area, and city was once a center of resin procession and trade. An alternative origin could be the old Slavic word smol—black soil.


Medieval origins

According to the Russian Primary Chronicle, Smolensk (then located slightly downstream) was the capital of the Slavic krivichs tribe in 882 when it was captured by Prince Oleg of Novgorod. A first foreign writer to mention Smolensk was Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Byzantine emperor. In De Administrando Imperio (ca 950) he described Smolensk as an important fortress of the Rus.

The princedom 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, mostly a post-war reconstruction) 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.

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Our Lady of Smolensk (11th century)

Between Russia, Lithuania and Poland

Although spared by the Mongol armies in 1240, Smolensk became increasingly a pawn in the long struggle between Lithuania and Muscovy. It was taken by the Vytautas the Great in 1395, 1404 and 1408. After the city's incorporation into Lithuania, some Smolensk boyars (e.g., the Sapiehas) moved to Vilnius; descendants of the ruling princes (e.g., the Tatischevs, Kropotkins, Mussorgskis, Viazemskis) fled to Moscow.

With the population of 200,000 inhabitants, Smolensk was probably the largest city in the 15th-century Lithuania. Three Smolensk regiments proved decisive during the Battle of Grunwald against the Teutonic knights. It was a severe blow when the city was recaptured by Vasili III of Russia in 1514. To commemorate this event, the tsar founded the Novodevichy Convent in Moscow and dedicated it to the holy 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 15971602 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. 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. It was finally occupied by forces of Muscovy in 1654 and formally conceded by Poland-Lithuania in 1667.

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.

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Smolensk's coat of arms

In August 1812 two 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, the central square of Smolensk features the Eagles monument, unveiled in 1912 to mark the centenary of Napoleon's Russian campaign.

After the Russian Revolution Smolensk was declared part of the Belarus National Republic. On January 1, 1919 the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed in Smolensk, but finally the city stayed part of the RSFSR.

During the WWII 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.

Other pictures

External links

de:Smolensk ja:スモレンスク pl:Smoleńsk os:Смоленск ru:Смоленск fi:Smolensk


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