First mentioned in 1067, it became the seat of a principality in 1101. Minsk passed to Lithuania in the 14th century and later to Poland and was regained by Russia in the Second Partition of Poland, in 1793. The city has suffered many disasters, including frequent destruction by fire, sacking by the Crimean Tatars in 1505, occupation and damage by French troops in 1812, German occupation in 1918, Polish occupation in 1919–20, and almost total destruction in World War II, especially during the Soviet advance in 1944. Nevertheless, Minsk steadily increased in importance, first as a provincial centre after 1793 and later as an industrial centre after the building of the Moscow-Warsaw and Liepaja-Romny railways through Minsk in the 1870s. In 1919 it became the capital of the Belorussian republic.
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The city’s large Jewish community was systematically massacred during the German occupation (1941–44) in World War II. Minsk itself was almost completely demolished in the course of the war, and it was subsequently rebuilt with abundant parks, wide boulevards, and many blocks of multistory apartment buildings. Minsk grew in population faster than any comparable Soviet city in the period 1959–89, its inhabitants more than tripling from 500,000 to nearly 1,600,000 during that time.
Commonwealth of Independent States headquarters, Minsk, Belarus.
Minsk remained the capital when Belarus gained independence in 1991. That same year the city became the administrative centre of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Although political protest was not uncommon in Minsk, the city remained free of the violence that had sometimes plagued Belarus’s neighbours. That changed in 2011, when a bomb exploded in one of Minsk’s busiest metro stations during the evening rush hour. More than a dozen people were killed, and some 200 were injured. Pres. Alyaksandr Lukashenka was quick to link the attack to opposition forces.
Parliament building, Minsk, Belarus.
The present-day city, sprawling over gently hilly relief, is almost entirely of new construction; most of the principal buildings in the centre are in the ponderous architectural style of the early Soviet period. The Mariinsky Cathedral and the church of the Bernadine monastery survive as relics of the past.
A statue of Francysk Skaryna, an early Belarusian printer, standing in front of the the National Library of Belarus in Minsk, Belarus.
Minsk is the major industrial centre of Belarus. The economy is based on machine building, particularly the manufacture of trucks and tractors. Other products include electric motors, bearings, machine tools, radio and television equipment, refrigerators, watches, textiles, and foodstuffs. The city is also a major educational, cultural, and printing centre, with the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, a university founded in 1921, and numerous other institutions of higher education. In 2006 the National Library of Belarus expanded to a visually striking diamond-shaped building that quickly became one of the city’s most prominent landmarks. Minsk has a music conservatory, a palace of winter sports, and a number of theatres, including the Belarus State Theatre of Opera and Ballet. Pop. (2021 est.) 2,009,786.
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This article was most recently revised and updated by Michael Ray.
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