Belarus has 4 places that are included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. Belavezhskaya Pushcha National Park was added to the list in 1979 when Belarus was still a part of USSR. That’s why it’s possible to say, that in the year 2000, the Mir Castle in Grodno region was the first to join the list of UNESCO World Heritage List in independent Belarus. This article will prepare you for a visit to the Mir Castle.
Mir, as a village, was first mentioned in 1434 when it became a private estate. It passed from one family to another, until Yury Ilinich decided to become a count of the Holy Roman Empire. One of the requirements was to have a stone castle. The rules of the medieval fantasy games are not so ridiculous, aren't they? So, he started building the first private stone castle in the Grand Dutchy of Lithuania in 1510, but the whole family died out from an illness before the building was completed.
The Radzivil family, critical players in Belarusian history, inherited the castle, finished the construction, added earth mounds, bastions, and a fosse. This family owned the castle for almost 300 years until complicated inheritance disputes came to an end with the introduction of the new law of the Russian Empire in 1897. The law prohibited any foreigners from having a property on the empire's territory. In 1891, it was bought by a Cossack chieftain Nikolay Sviatopolk-Mirsky. Although USSR nationalised the castle after the revolution, chieftain's son Mikhail was in charge of restoring the fort from 1922 to 1938. Turned into a Jewish ghetto during WWII, it housed Mir citizens who lost their houses until 1962. The long and complicated restoration process started in 1982 until the castle was finally opened for the public in 2010.
The towers in the castle were supposed to be independent centres of resistance. The stairs made it impossible for the enemy knights in full armour to get up, and now we’re facing the consequences – the stairs are tough to climb even for the regular visitors. I mean REALLY HARD. This fact was also ridiculed by a local writer, Olga Gromyko, in one of her fantasy books.
The building complex is an architectural cocktail of gothic, baroque, and renaissance features. That’s one of the reasons for including it in the World Heritage Sites List. Three floors contain more than 20 different showrooms and expositions, including arms hall, brewery, ghetto, hunting, and falconry room. You can also book a night at the castle to celebrate a special occasion with your significant one or even a whole family. There are different sets of rooms available for you to feel like a medieval duke with prices ranging from 125 to 300 BYN per night (60-150 USD/EUR).
The castle complex is open all days from 10:00 to 18:00, but you can only buy a ticket till 17:20. Tickets cost 14 BYN (around 6-7 USD/EUR). Add 3 BYN (1,5-2 USD/EUR) for an audio guide. If you’re in a group of up to 25 people, it will be much cheaper to book an official guide with the price of only 17 BYN (7-8 USD/EUR) for a 45-minute tour. It's advised to join and learn the local legends, including the one about the sheep's head built in the wall, the lake's curse, and strange stories about the owners.
Mir is like a pie. Apart from the main building, the castle complex includes the shrine of Svyatopolk-Mirski, the Chapel of Zaslauski, a pond, and a park. Although dining in the castle’s restaurant is an excellent option, as an alternative you can choose the Mirum Cafe, recommended by many tourists. If you have some time for a walk around the town, you can also visit the Holy Trinity Church, the St. Nicolas Church, and the private museum “Mirski Posad”. If you’ve planned this trip to last a whole day, then you can also check Jewish and Orthodox cemeteries near the St.George Church, a bit to the outskirts of the town.
All the buses from the Minsk Central Bus Station that are leading to Korelich, Novogrudok, Dyatlovo and Lida (via Novogrudok) are stopping at Mir. They depart almost every 2 hours with a higher frequency on weekends. Consider inquiring about the schedule at the bus station or asking a local to check the timetable online; it will be much easier for a Russian speaker to get through a complicated interface. Price for one way ticket is up to 7 BYN (3-4 USD/EUR). You can also rent a car, and organise your journey by yourself, or book a tour to visit several castles in one day, including the Mir Castle - the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Belarus.
Cover Picture © Credits to iStock/Tsvibrav
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