Brest area is located in the South-Western part of Belarus. It shares a border with Ukraine and Poland. This is the place of wonderful wildlife and unique culture.
The territory of the Brest area is also known as Polesie, the main rivers are Pripyat and Western Bug. There are many swamps and small rivers here. Besides the abovementioned two, the important local rivers are also Yaselda and Mukhavets. The most noticeable lake is Vgonoshchanskoe, located on the territory of the reserve of the same name.
More than a third of the territory of the Brest area is occupied by forests. There are specially lots of woodlands in Gantsevichi, Ivatsevichi and Malorita districts, reaching 50% or more. Belovezhskaya Pushcha, an ancient forest which is a National Park now, is famous all over the world. Also Pribuzhskoe Polesie should be mentioned as a part of the trans-boundary biosphere sanctuary.
Zvanets, Sporovsky, Olmanskie bogs and Middle Pripyat reserves play an important role in the conservation of rare species, including the Aquatic Warbler (Acrocephalus paludicola). There are dozens of wildlife areas of national importance on the territory of the Brest region. No wonder that eco-tourism is quite developed here.
The administrative center of this area is Brest city. There are 16 districts in the Brest area. It’s populated by 1,384,476 people (as of January 1, 2018), more than 70% of them live in the cities..
Unique and rich wildlife
As we already mentioned, Brest area has many places attractive for the wildlife lovers and birdwatchers. Belovezhskaya Pushcha, which is included in the UNESCO world cultural heritage List, is known far beyond the borders of Belarus. It is considered to be the last primeval woodland in Europe, everyone who is fascinated by nature should visit it at least once to see the majestic European bison (Bison bonasus), as well as giant trees that remember the times of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the hunts of the Russian tsars.
Each December-January many Belarusians are attracted to the residence of Santa Claus, which is also located in Belovezhskaya Pushcha: during the New Year holidays it turns into one of the most visited places of the country.
The natural heritage of Brest area is not limited to Belovezhskaya Pushcha. In the South-West there is the reserve “Pribuzhskoe Polesie”. This is the only place in Belarus where the majestic Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis) grows. It’s a unique species of ferns, which look like it has descended from the pages of books about dinosaurs. The local landscapes are striking in their beauty, and not less unique either.
The Zvanets fen and the Yaselda floodplain are famous as the places where the world's largest population of the Aquatic Warbler lives. Hundreds of foreign tourists come to Belarus every year to see this seemingly unremarkable bird. It is one of the rarest species on the European continent.
"Vygonoshchansky" sanctuary is located around the lake of the same name; it was founded to preserve the unique woodlands, which is home to the Great Grey Owl (Strix nebulosa), Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus), Great Snipe (Gallinago media), Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus), and the Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus). In recent years it became possible not only to observe the animals, but also to take photos of them. The reserve is well known among the wildlife photographers.
The Olmansky bogs amaze by its size everyone who gets here for the first time. Beautiful, almost impassable area attracts fans of extreme hiking. But the real hallmark of Polesie is the Pripyat River with its floodplain oak forests and meadows, and old lakes overgrown with white water lilies. Rafting or canoeing on the river allows you to see these beautiful landscapes and animals that live here. To preserve the unique nature of Polesie the reserve "Middle Pripyat" was established.
Brest region is also famous for its cathedrals, the oldest of which date back to the XVI century. Experts distinguish several schools of wooden architecture in Polesie, each of them has its own unique features, although the inexperienced tourists often find it difficult to discern the differences.
While in the Eastern part of the Brest region, which is dominated by swamps and forests, wood was the main building material, in other regions with well-developed agriculture, mainly stone temples were constructed.
Looking at them it is possible to trace the ways how one architectural style was replacing another one. As a result, a whole constellation of churches and cathedrals has been preserved, many of them are gorgeous examples of religious architecture. Some travelers will surely appreciate the opportunity to see in one relatively short trip a variety of temples, reflecting the diversity of local building traditions.
No less interesting is the interior of those temples. While the wooden churches are often remarkable for their wood carving, the ancient stone cathedrals are amazing for the carved gilded altars and magnificent stucco moldings.
The war history
The sophisticated past of Brest area included plenty of armed conflicts, which have left a bright mark on the architectural heritage of this region. Perhaps the oldest and one of the most famous buildings of this type is Kamenets Vezha (Tower). The red brick donjon remains from the Medieval fortification complex (most of the buildings here were wooden). The settlements scattered throughout its territory are even earlier examples of fortification art. One of them is located near the Gorodische village in the Baranovichi district.Kamenets vezha
Ancient settlers used natural elevations, building the fortresses there. The remains of earthworks and ditches can still be seen. The settlements were abandoned, but the fans of history still visit them to imagine how people of the past used to live.
In the Renaissance and later times, two fortifications played a huge role: Jaber on the Yaselda River and The so-called Fort of Lyakhovichi. Both were advanced fortresses, which embodied the best achievements of those days engineering, but both were destroyed in the course of numerous wars.
It is impossible to imagine the modern history without the Brest Fortress, which was built on the territory of the ancient Berestye in the 1830s. Since that time it has been involved in all significant conflicts until the Second World War. Many forts and batteries of the Brest Fortress, scattered over a large area, are also of interest for tourists.
A special attention should be paid to the German fortifications located along the Oginsky canal. They appeared here during the WW I. The goal was simple: to turn the waterway into an impregnable line of defense. No wonder this place was selected for the military-historical festival "Vygonoshchansky fortress".
To experience the unique Poliesie culture
Polesie is a special region with a unique culture that could become a real tourist brand. At least, the first steps in this direction have already been made: there are enough places in Brest area where you can get acquainted with the traditions and folklore of the “poleshukes” – native people of Polesie.
Perhaps the best among those places is Motol. This old settlement is famous not only for its cuisine with its various smoked meats (there is even an annual food festival dedicated to those). As well there is a local ethnography Museum narrating about the life of “poleshukes” in Motol. During the tour, various rituals are demonstrated and songs are performed.
Another good way to get acquainted with the local culture is to visit the village of Kokoritsa, which is better to do in spring: if you are lucky and the water level in the Vygonoshchanky Lake rises high enough, the village turns into a place where you can move through the streets only by boat.
Sporovo settlement is famous for its fish dishes. There are unique ways of smoking it in almost every village located next to a lake or a river. One recipe involves cooking fish in the oven on a bed of dill and fresh hay.
Many ceremonies and old traditions have been preserved in Brest area – our days they make the Belorussian cultural heritage. Taking part in those is a good way to experience the Belarusian folk culture: residents of large cities have usually forgotten how the peasants’ life looks like…
Brest is the third oldest city in Belarus after Polotsk (862 AD) and Turov (980 AD). It is first mentioned in an ancient manuscript from the year 1019 as a large, well-fortified settlement.
At the very beginning of its history it was the cause of constant conflicts between The Polish Principality and Kievan Rus, and later between The Galicia-Volyn Principality and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
The important trade routes that connected Western Europe with the Middle East and the black sea region were going through the Brest Area. In the XIV century, it became part of the on, and then The Polish State (Rzeczpospolita).
In 1596 the Church Union was signed in Brest, which United Orthodox and Catholics. The uprising of 1794, provoked by the next partition of Rzeczpospolita, was initiated in the territory of the future Brest area. After the defeat of the rebel the administrative reform was carried out. Brest as an ordinary town used to be a part of different provinces at different times: of the Slonim province (since 1794), of Lithuania (since 1797) and of Grodno province (since 1801).
A landmark event was the construction of the Brest Fortress, which started in the 1830s. It was designed to become one of the largest and most modern fortifications of those days world. At the same time, the old Brest was destroyed – it had to be actually built anew in another place.
In parallel a whole network of new roads appeared. Its further development led to the emergence of the Brest-Moscow highway, as well as the Moscow-Brest railway. They not only helped to improve the transport links with other cities of the Russian Empire, but also opened new markets, which contributed to the development of the local economy. By the beginning of the twentieth century Brest had become a prosperous city, whose population was constantly increasing (partially because of the migrants).
The beginning of the World War I was a severe ordeal for the entire population of Brest region. The fortress did not help to restrain the Kaiser's troops. The occupation started, which forced many local residents to become refugees. As the front passed through the Brest region, many settlements were destroyed during the long positional battles. Military cemeteries as well as fortifications that have survived along the Oginsky canal and in many other places, are the tracks of those events.
The peace Treaty between the Soviet and German was signed near Brest in the village of Skoki. As a result of the Polish-Soviet war, the Brest, Kamenets and Malorita areas became parts of the Polesie District of Poland. Only in 1939 this territory was annexed to the USSR. Soon the Brest region was formed.
The heroic defense of the Brest fortress became a part of the World War II history. However, the territory of the region itself was occupied by Nazi soon after their invasion into the USSR. The troops of the First Byelorussian front liberated Brest area by 28 July 1944. The following years were marked by industrialization. The draining of the marshes helped to increase the agricultural output, but at the same time seriously changed the wildlife of these places.
In addition to the Kamenetz Vezha and the Brest Fortress there are many other objects worthy of a visit in this region. Perhaps the place No. 1 is the Palace of Puslovskie’s. In the XIX century, when it was built, this palace was one of the most luxurious in the lands of the former Rzeczpospolita. The Palace is reminiscent of the British castles. The World War II did not spare this architectural miracle. It started getting restored relatively recently. And although the restoration work is still ongoing, at least the Puslovskie’s Palace has already returned its previous external magnificent look.
Soon it will be possible to see one more residence in its former splendor: the Palace of Sapeg’s in Ruzhany. It was built at the end of the XVI century. In the XX century the Palace was damaged, and its park lost some of the exotic plants. Nevertheless its restoration has also been started. Although it will take more than one year, the entrance gates have already regained their former appearance.
The former estate of Nemtzevicies, located near Brest, in the village of Skoki, although it’s smaller than other residences of Polish gentry, is no less interesting. It has not only a well preserved park, but also the manor house. It was built in the fashionable style of those days, which was a transition from baroque to classicism, combining the features of both directions. Every year a festival dedicated to the tragic events of the World War I takes place in the vicinity of the Nemtsevichies estate.
Another significant object is the ruins of the Carthusian monastery in Bereza. The monastery was founded in the XVII century by representatives of the Sapega’s family, who owned these lands. Over time, it became the cultural center of the entire region and was famous for its advanced economy. Fame didn’t not save the monastery in Bereza of decline. Its buildings were dismantled into bricks, of which the barracks were later built. In the 1920s and 1930s, when the city was part of Poland, they were used as a camp for political prisoners.
In the village of Grushevka in Lyakhovichi district there is an estate, which once belonged to the family of Rathens. Its representatives were known as prominent political figures as well as patrons. They owned the estate until 1939, when Grushevka became part of the USSR, and the last owner of the estate was exiled to Kazakhstan. To this day, despite all the trials, came the yard, which bears the features of classicism.
There is a famous chapel in Zakozeli village nearby. This building is all that remains of the estate, which once belonged to the Ozheshko family. According to legend, the chapel served as a shelter for the participants of the uprising of 1863 after it was defeated.
In Ishkoldi today you can visit one of the most unusual churches in Belarus. We are talking about the oldest example of the gothic style in Belarus (this local church preserved features that were characteristic of the early stages of gothics). This makes a good reason to visit this village, which is located near the highway Minsk-Brest.
The church located in another village, in Chernavchitsy (Brest district) is only a century older than the previous one. It was built in 1583, which allows this church to be considered as one of the oldest in Belarus. Despite its advanced age, it is perfectly preserved. This church has repeatedly changed its confessional affiliation.
Pinsk is also famous for its cathedrals. Unfortunately, the Church of St. Stanislaus, which amazed contemporaries with its size and richness of decoration, was destroyed in the XX century. However, an equally impressive building of the Jesuit Collegium has been preserved. Built in the middle of the XVII century, it is still the architectural dominant and a decoration of the historical center of Pinsk. This city is also worth a visit to see one of the largest architectural ensembles in the baroque style, located on the territory of Belarus. It's a Franciscan monastery. Its heart is the Cathedral of the Ascension of the Virgin Mary, which construction was completed in 1730.
The story about the churches of the Brest area would be incomplete without the Church of St. Nicholas, located in Kozhan-Gorodok. It is built of wood and is considered one of the masterpieces of Polesie folk architecture. In contrast to many other wooden churches, inside this one the rich decoration were preserved - many details of those are also carved from wood.
The age of the Church of St. Nikita in Zditovo (Zhabinkovsky district) exceeds 500 years, according to many researchers! A very impressive age for a wooden building - that allows to consider it as the oldest one in Belarus.
The Brest area is located on the watershed of the Black and Baltic seas. Once the idea to connect them into a common way was realized here. There were several channels making it possible to get from the tributaries of the Neman to the tributaries of the Pripyat. Today there is an opportunity to make a canoeing trip along the Dnieper-Bug canal and the Oginsky canal (along the way you can not only enjoy the natural beauty, but also to observe the partially restored hydraulic structures).
The last king of the Rzeczpospolita, Stanislav August Poniatowski was born In the Brest area, as well as the future classic of Belarusian and Polish literature Adam Mickiewicz.
The first President of Israel Chaim Weizmann hails from the Brest region, as well as another famous politician Menachem Begin (he was the Prime Minister of Israel, and later received the Nobel peace prize). It is also impossible not to mention Abraham Korelitz. This famous Rabbi and law teacher created a monumental work called "Hazon ish" (“Faith and hope”), which largely determines the way of life of ultra-orthodox Jews our days.
The artist Napoleon Orda is known for his paintings depicting various historical monuments of Belarus, Lithuania and Poland. A native of Bereza, Pavel Gorin-Kolyada headed the National Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Belarus in the 1930s. The nearby village of Komarovka is the place where Pyotr Klimuk was born – the first Belarusian who visited the Space.
Simon Kuznets - one of the most famous economists of the twentieth century, who was the first to suggest such economical measurement as the GNP (gross national product) originated from Pinsk. As well as Ryszard Kapustinski – a well-known Polish journalist, who actually was also born in Pinsk. Julia Nesterenko, the Olympic games champion of 2004 (100 m run) is from Brest.
One of the local annual events is the Bikers Festival that takes place in Brest at the end of each May. Other nation-wide events are the January musical evenings and the Belaya Vezha theatre festival. An unusual local event is the environmental festival "Sporovsky haymaking", which includes the “marsh football” competition.
There are also two military festivals, that take the Brest region every year: "Dances", and "Vygonoshchanskaya fortress". Be sure to visit the food festival "Motalskiya prysmaki" in Motol. Festival "Folklor without borders" takes place in the nearby village of Tyshkovichi
The estate of Santa Claus in Belovezhskaya Pushcha is very popular during the New Year holidays. Baranovichi hosts the international festival of sacred music "Belarusian fanfare" and the festival "Theatrical Zavalinka", which gathers children's amateur troupes. Fishing competitions "Gati Cup" takes place on the reservoir of the same name.
The regional festival "Telekhanskiy towpath " is hosted by the shore of the Volkovskoe Lake. Participants of the off-road rally "Drygva" conquer in the forests and on the swamps of Ivatsevichi district. Olmany are famous for their cranberry festival, and Gorodnaya village of Stolin district is a place of the potters competition once in two years.
The reviving Ruzhansky Castle hosts the festival "Ruzhanskaya Brama". The festival "Kamenetz Vezha" is also popular. The place of ecological and tourist festival "Secrets of Pribuzhsky Polesie" is the territory of the reserve of the same name.
In Ogdemir village of the Drogichy district the local enthusiasts have restored the interesting ceremony of the beginning of spring (it’s called Derkachi). On the night from the 13-th to the 14-th of January almost all inhabitants of David-Town participate in carnival, which known as Koniki. The Motol Museum organizes various folklore events related to the folk calendar throughout the year. Not only Belarusian but also foreign athletes take part in the Malorita marathon.
The products of local craftsmen can be a wonderful reminder of the visit to the Brest area – some of those masterpieces are very unique. Thus one of the residents of the Zhabinka district carves wood “kuksi” (the so-called traditional circles with hunting scenes) and entire panels. The tradition of weaving belts and making ceramics is still alive in the Gantsevichi district.
As for the various treats that can be brought from the trip, the fish should be mentioned first of all. Different kinds of cheese are produced by Berezovsky dairy plant, as well as by another enterprise located in Vysokoe.
The products of various eco-barns may also be interesting: for example, they offer the herbal teas (sometimes they are harvested in the famous woodland of Belovezhskaya Pushcha), honey, or unusual jam made from pine cones. Cranberries and various products that are produced on its basis should also be mentioned.
For hunters the trophies would be the most desirable souvenirs. However, in the Brest area there are enough places where you can make beautiful pictures of animals without hunting them. First of all, it is the nature sanctuary "Vygonoshchansky": every spring the birders make interesting photos of the lekking black grouses (Lyrurus tetrix) and great snipes (Gallinago media), while throughout the year one can also take a unique picture of a great grey owl (Strix nebulosa).
By Andrey Borodin
Translated by Michael Shaturin