Many people associate Belarus with Minsk. And rightly so, as Minsk is by far the largest city in the Belarus. With a population exceeding 1.7 Million, it is more than three times larger than Hrodno, the next largest Belarusian city. What may come as a surprise to many is that Minsk, Belarus is the 12th largest city in Europe! Minsk is larger than Warsaw, Vienna, Munich and Milan and more than twice as large as Amsterdam, Athens, Stockholm and Lisbon. In fact, if you add the combine the populations of Oslo, Hannover and Amsterdam, you get a population equal in size to Minsk. But Belarus does not stop at the boarders of Minsk, there is much more to see. Belarus has a population of just around 10 million people though some sources say it is slowly declining. It is divided into six provinces (oblasts or voblasts). Each province is named after its capital city. Each province is approximately similar in area and population making up (very roughly) 15% of the population and territory of the country. With 1.1 million people Mogliev and Hrodna are the smallest provinces and with 1.4 million Brest, Minsk and Homel provinces are the largest. This overview of Belarus starts with Minsk Province, as it is the center of Belarus. Then we will go to the top, Vitebsk, and go clockwise. Cities with population of 100,000 or more are mentioned. Many of the sights mentioned below are described in more detail on our page “Things to Do and See”.
Minsk Province (Minskaya Oblast) is in the center of Belarus and Minsk is both the capital and economic heart of the republic. Most of the entertainment and cultural opportunities as well as finer hotels, restaurants and theaters can be found in the capital. Minsk is the only province that does not boarder another country. It includes lake Naroch, a pristine jewel it is the largest lake in Belarus. Important cities in the province other than Minsk include Barysau (founded in 1102. In 1802 it was the site of a battle with Napoleon’s troops), Salihorsk (founded in 1958) and Maladzyechna (setteled in 1388 and has a pretty orthadox church dating back to 1867). Dudutki Park, about 60km from Minsk is a nice day excursion. It is a 'hands on' outdoor museum / park, where you can make pottery with a master potter, pound out a horse shoe with a blacksmith, or simply taste homemade bread, honey and vodka. Everything is done by hand like it used to be done centuries ago. Nesvizh Castle and Church complex, a UNESCO monument, is located in Minsk Province, as is the monument to the village of Khatyn which was destroyed by the Nazis in World War II. Although located in the Hrodna Province, the Mir Castle is very close to the Nesvish Castle and Church, so visits to these two places can probably be combined.
Vitebsk Province (Vitebskaya Oblast) is situated in the North and has borders with Lithuania, Latvia and Russia. The largest cities are Vitebsk, Orsha and Navapolatsk. While Naroch of Minsk Province is the largest lake, Vitebsk is the home of 11 major lakes, more than any other province, and is therefore perhaps the fishing capital of Belarus. Probably the oldest town in Belarus, Polatsk first mentioned in 862, is located here. Polatsk is the location of the historic Saviour Transfiguration Church and St. Sophia Cathedral. Vitebsk, Belarus is the birthplace of Marc Chagall. His birth place and a museum which houses the series of illustrations to Nicolai Gogol's "Dead Souls" can be visited. Read more information about Vitebsk Province
Mogilev Province (Mogilevskaya or Mahilyowskaya Oblast) is in the Eastern part of Belarus and borders Russia. The largest cities are Mogilev and Babruysk. The town of Shklov in Mogilev Province is the birthplace of president Alexander Lukashenko. Mogilev Province and Gomel Province suffered most from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident. The city of Mogliev was founded in 1267. It is the home of the St.Nicholas Monastery Complex. Babrusyk is one of the oldest towns in Belarus as is home of a famous fortress which today is considered a national architectural monument. To read more about Mogilev Province . (The contents of this website are copyrighted by TravelsWise)
Homel Province (Homyelskaya Oblast), somtimes spelled Gomel, is in the South-Eastern part of Belarus, bordering Ukraine and Russia. Largest cities are Homel and Mazyr. The Homel region is the home of the Pripyatsky National Park. Homel city, with a population of nearly 0.5 million, is the second largest city in Belarus. It is believed to have been founded in 1142. The most interesting sight of the city is Homel palace and park. The city of Homel also has several older buildings which give the city a unique charm. Read more about Homel Province .
Brest Province (Brestskaya Oblast) is in the southwest corner of the country and shares borders with Poland and Ukraine. The largest cities are Breast, Baranovichi and Pinsk. The Breast Fortress, the hero fortress of world war II can be found in Brest. This famous castle was the site of the first resistance to the Nazi invasion in 1941. Though expected to fall within hours, it lasted for 4 days and the red brick castle has been a symbol of Belarusian resolve ever since. The town of Brest probably dates back to 1019. As a border town, it has changed hands many times. Sometimes being part of Poland and sometimes being part of Lithuania or Russia, the region became a permanent part of the USSR in 1939. The resurrection Church of Brest is the largest in Belarus. Pinsk is a historical city and together with the town of Stolin, it is the spiritual home of Hasidic Judaism. The “Belavezhskaya Pushcha”, the last virginal forest of the European lowlands is located 70 km north of Brest. Three of the five sites of the Struve Geodesic Arc (Ossownitza, Tchekutsk and Leskowitschi) are located in a cluster just outside of the city of Pinsk. The Kamyanets Tower is located about 40km North of Brest. For Jewish Historians, Menachem Begin, former prime minister of Israel, was born in Brest Province and Golda Meyer and Chaim Weitzman grew up near the town of Pinsk and attended school there. Read more about Brest Province.
The Hrodno Province (Hrodzyenskaya Oblast) somtimes spelled Grodno, is in the North-West of Belarus and has borders with Poland and Lithuania. The Hrodno Province has many things for tourists to see. The Mir Castles is in this province. In addition, Novogrudok Castle, the fortress-churches of Zeiveny (15th cent.) and Shchuchin (16th cent.), the Muravanka Church Fortress and the fived domed Boris and Gleb Church are all located in this province. Read more about Hrodno Province .