Vitebsk is a city in Belarus, near the border with Russia and Latvia. The capital of the Vitebsk Oblast, in 2004 it had 342,381 inhabitants, making it the country's fourth largest city. It is served by Vitebsk Vostochny Airport and Vitebsk air base.
In the 12th and 13th centuries Vitebsk was the seat of a minor principality, which thrived on the crossroads of the river routes between the Baltic, Black and Mediterranean seas. In 1320 the city was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania; in 1569 it became a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1597 Vitebsk was granted the Magdeburg Rights. In 1772 it was taken over by Russia in the First Partition of Poland.
Vitebsk, town center
Under Imperial Russia the ancient center of Vitebsk was rebuilt in the Neoclassical style. The town was a significant shtetl in the Pale of Settlement, with around half its population Orthodox Jewish at the turn of the 20th century. The most famous of its Jewish natives was the painter Marc Chagall. In January 1991, Vitebsk celebrated the first Marc Chagall Festival. In June 1992, a monument to Chagall was erected on his native Pokrovskaja street and a memorial inscription placed on the wall of his house.
Since 1992, Vitebsk has been hosting the annual Slavianski Bazaar in Vitebsk, an international art festival. Its main program is devoted to Slavic music. The main participants are artists from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, with guests from many other countries, both Slavic and non-Slavic.
Vitebsk, town center
The city long preserved one of the oldest buildings in the country, the Annunciation Church. This magnificent six-pillared building dates back to the period of Kievan Rus. It was constructed in the 1140s, rebuilt in the 14th and 17th centuries, repaired in 1883 and destroyed by the Communist administration in 1961. Scarce remains of the church were conserved until 1992, when it was restored to its presumed original appearance, although it's a moot point how the church looked like when it was first built.
Churches from the Polish-Lithuanian period were likewise destroyed, although the Resurrection Church (1772-77) is now being rebuilt. The Orthodox cathedral, dedicated to the Intercession of the Theotokos, was erected in 1760. There are also the town hall (1775); the Russian governor's palace, where Napoleon celebrated his 43rd birthday in 1812; the Neo-Romanesque Roman Catholic cathedral (1884-85); and an obelisk commemorating the centenary of the Russian victory over Napoleon.