Mir Castle - The Beauty, the Atrocities, and the Restoration
The modern nation of Belarus has had a dramatic and often bloody history because of its strategic location. Like many other European nations, it has a rich heritage in military architecture. While many of the castles in Belarus fell into decline, local authorities are working hard to restore them to their former glory. One of the most distinctive in this landlocked nation, is Mir Castle, which has been granted the prestigious status of a World Heritage site. It was the first site in Belarus to win this coveted distinction.
The Bloody and Tragic History of Mir Castle
Duke Jerzy Illinič began the construction of the Gothic castle near the village of Mir in the early 16 th century. At this time, the area was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In the 1560s ownership of the castle was transferred to the powerful Radziwiłł family. Mikołaj Krzysztof Radziwiłł made many additions to the castle and extended it considerably.
The castle was besieged in 1655 during a war between the Polish-Commonwealth and Russia. It was once again besieged in 1706 and it was later abandoned after it had suffered considerable damage. The castle was also badly damaged during the Battle of Mir (1812), a battle between Polish lancers serving with Napoleon and the Russian cavalry.
After the defeat of Napoleon’s invasion, the castle became the property of Prince Ludwig Zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, who bequeathed it to his daughter. In 1895 the castle passed into the hands of the Bialynia clan and the castle was rebuilt.
The Sviatopolk-Mirski family owned the castle until 1939 when it was part of the Republic of Poland. This family owned the castle until the Soviet Union occupied eastern Poland as part of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact.
The Germans used the castle as a ghetto for Polish Jews, many of whom were later killed by execution squads. It was also used as a Prisoner of War camp by both the Germans and the Soviets. By 1945 the castle was dilapidated. It was extensively restored in the post-war period and reconstruction continued for many decades.
The Wonders of Beautiful Mir Castle
The entire complex spans across 27 hectares and the castle itself, built in a quadrangular shape, overlooks the river. In the 16 th century, the fortress consisted of the four towers and the wall. All the towers have basements with vaulted ceilings. The window, door frames, and the balconies were constructed of sandstone, with the rooves of the towers were adorned with glazed tiles. The courtyard within the castle is 250 feet (75m) wide.
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Mir Castle complex well within the courtyard (Aleksander/Adobe Stock)
In the 16 th century Krzysztof Radziwiłł built a two-winged, three-story stately home along the northern and eastern walls as his private residence. These were all decorated in the Polish Gothic style and the facades were elaborately decorated with limestone portals. This magnificent residence was enhanced with balconies and porches built in an Italian Renaissance style. The residence, which is open to the public, allows visitors to get a sense of how aristocrats lived in the past.
An Italian-style garden was added in the 17 th century and ramparts were also connected to the walls. Some of the original walls still remain from the 16 th century.
An interior of the towers of Mir Castle (mikhail/ Adobe Stock)
After the sieges of 1655 and 1705, the castle needed extensive repairs. Baroque style elements were added to the fortress at this time. In the 1920s Art Nouveau design features were added to the complex. The castle’s design is unusual in this part of Europe with the combination of stone and brick a distinguishing feature. The color of the complex is another one of its unique features as the whitewashed towers and the red-bricked walls create a striking impression. All these remarkable design characters harmonize with the setting spectacular.
Visiting Mir Castle in Belarus
The fortress is some 12 miles (20 km) south-west of the Belarus capital of Minsk and not far from the very pretty and historic village of Mir which has some additional fine examples of architecture. There is plenty of accommodation near Mir Castle and if you want to feel like royalty, there are rooms available within the castle.
View of Mir Castle from the river (yuri4u80 / Adobe Stock)
An admittance fee is charged to enter the complex and guided tours are available. Mir Castle is located approximately 20 miles (29 km) from another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Niasviž Castle.
Top image: Mir Castle Complex, Belarus Source: dzmitrock87/ Adobe Stock
By Ed Whelan
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