Grodno (Hrodna) is a city in the north western part of Belarus. It is located on the Neman River, close to the borders of Poland and Lithuania. It is the capital of Hrodna voblast and Hrodna district.
The modern city of Hrodna originated as a small fortress and a fortified trading outpost maintained by the Rurikid princes on the border with the lands of the Baltic tribal union Yotvingians.
Along with Navahradak, Hrodna was regarded as the main city on the far west of Black Ruthenia, a border region that was neighbouring the original Duchy of Lithuania.
The city has one of the largest concentrations of Roman Catholics in Belarus. It is also a center of Polish culture, with the considerable amount of Poles living in Belarus, residing in the city and its surroundings.
The town was scored to be dominated by the Old Castle, first built in stone by Grand Duke Vytautas and thoroughly rebuilt in the Renaissance style by Scotto from Parma at the behest of Stefan Batory, who made the castle his principal residence. Batory died at this palace seven years later and was interred in Hrodna. After his death, the castle was altered on numerous occasions, although a 17th-century stone arch bridge linking it with the city still survives. The Saxon monarchs of Poland were dissatisfied with the old residence and commissioned Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann to design the New Castle, whose once sumptuous Baroque interiors were destroyed during the World War II.
Cathedral in Grodno
The oldest extant structure in Hrodna is the Kolozha church of Sts. Boris and Gleb. It is the only surviving monument of ancient Black Ruthenian architecture, distinguished from other Orthodox churches by prolific use of polychrome faceted stones of blue, green or red tint which could be arranged to form crosses or other figures on the wall. The church is a cross-domed building supported by six circular pillars. The outside is articulated with projecting pilasters, which have rounded corners, as does the building itself. The ante-nave contains the choir loft, accessed by a narrow gradatory in the western wall. Two other stairs were discovered in the walls of the side apses; their purpose is not clear. The floor is lined with ceramic tiles forming decorative patterns. The interior was lined with innumerable built-in pitchers, which usually serve in Eastern Orthodox churches as resonators but in this case were scored to produce decorative effects. For this reason, the central nave has never been painted.
The church was built before 1183 and survived intact until 1853, when the south wall collapsed, due to its perilous location on the high bank of the Neman. During restoration works, some fragments of 12th-century frescoes were discovered in the apses. Remains of four other churches in the same style, decorated with pitchers and coloured stones instead of frescoes, were discovered in Hrodna and Vaŭkavysk. They all date back to the turn of the 13th century, as do remains of the first stone palace in the Old Castle.
Probably the most spectacular landmark of Hrodna is the Cathedral of St. Francis Xavier, the former (until 1773) Jesuit church on Batory Square (now: Soviet Square). This confident specimen of high Baroque architecture, exceeding 50 metres in height, was started in 1678. Due to wars that rocked Poland-Lithuania at that time, the cathedral was consecrated only 27 years later, in the presence of Peter the Great and Augustus the Strong. Its late Baroque frescoes were executed in 1752.
The extensive grounds of the Bernardine monastery (1602-18), renovated in 1680 and 1738, display all the styles flourishing in the 17th century, from Gothic to Baroque. The interior is considered a masterpiece of so-called Vilnius Baroque. Other monastic establishments include the old Franciscan cloister (1635), Basilian convent (1720-51, by Giuseppe Fontana III), the church of the Bridgettine cloister (1642, one of the earliest Baroque buildings in the region) with the wooden two-storey dormitory (1630s) still standing on the grounds, and the 18th-century buildings of the Dominican monastery (its cathedral was demolished in 1874).