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Smolensk ( ; ; ; ) is a Russianmarker city and the administrative centre of Smolensk Oblastmarker, located on the Dnieper River. Situated west-southwest of Moscowmarker, this walled city was destroyed several times throughout its long history since it was on the invasion routes of both Napoleon and Hitler. Today, Smolensk is noted for electronics, textiles, and food processing. Population:


Origins of the name

The name of the city is derived from the name of the Smolnya Rivulet. The origin of the hydronym is less clear. One possibility is the old Slavic word "смоль" (smol) for black soil, which might have coloured the waters of the long-derelict Smolnya. An alternative origin could be the Russian word smola, which means resin, tar, or pitch. Pine trees grow in the area, and city was once a center of resin processing and trade.

Medieval origins

Principality of Smolensk within Kievan Rus in the 11th century

Smolensk is among the oldest of Russian cities. The first recorded mention of the city was 863 AD, two years after the founding of ancient Rus. According to Russian Primary Chronicle, Smolensk (probably located slightly downstream, at the archaeological site of Gnezdovomarker) was the capital of the Baltic Krivichs tribe in 882 when Oleg of Novgorod took it in passing from Novgorodmarker to Kievmarker. The town was first attested two decades earlier, when the Varangian chieftains Askold and Dir, while on their way to Kiev, decided against challenging Smolensk on account of its large size and population.

The first foreign writer to mention the city was the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus. In De Administrando Imperio (c. 950) he described Smolensk as a key station on the Road from Varangians to Greeks. The Rus sailed from the Baltics up the Western Dvina as far as they could then they pulled their boats out onto the ground and dragged them along to the upper Dnieper. It was in Smolensk that they supposedly mended any leaks and small holes that might have appeared in their boats from being dragged on the ground and they used tar to do that, hence the city name.

The Principality of Smolensk was founded in 1054. Due to its central position amid Russian lands, the city developed rapidly. By the end of the 12th century the princedom was one of the strongest in Eastern Europe, so that Smolensk dynasty frequently controlled the Kievan throne. Numerous churches were built in the city at that time, including the church of Sts Peter and Paul (1146, reconstructed to its presumed original appearance after World War II) and church of St John the Baptist (1180, also partly rebuilt). The most remarkable church in the city is called Svirskaya (1197, still standing); it was admired by contemporaries as the most beautiful structure to the east of Kievmarker.
Our Lady of Smolensk (11th century)

Between Russia, Lithuania and Poland

Although spared by the Mongol armies in 1240, Smolensk paid tribute to the Golden Horde, gradually becoming a pawn in the long struggle between Lithuaniamarker and Muscovy. The last sovereign monarch of Smolensk was George of Smolensk; during his disastrous reign the city was taken by Vytautas of Lithuania on three occasions, in 1395, 1404 and 1408. After the city's incorporation into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, some Smolensk boyars (e.g., the Sapiehas) moved to Vilniusmarker; descendants of the ruling princes (e.g., the Tatishchevs, Kropotkins, Mussorgsky, Viazemskis) fled to Moscowmarker.

With a population of tens of thousands of people, Smolensk was probably the largest city in 15th century Lithuania. Three Smolensk regiments proved decisive during the Battle of Grunwaldmarker against the Teutonic knights. It was a severe blow to Lithuania when the city was taken by Vasili III of Russia in 1514. To commemorate this event, the tsar founded the Novodevichy Conventmarker in Moscow and dedicated it to the icon of Our Lady of Smolensk.

In order to repel future Polish-Lithuanian attacks, Boris Godunov made it his priority to heavily fortify the city. The stone kremlin constructed in 1597–1602 is the largest in Russia. It features remarkably thick walls and numerous watchtowers. Heavy fortifications didn't prevent the fortress from being taken by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1611 after a long 20-month siegemarker, during the Time of Troubles and Dimitriads. Weakened Muscovy ceded temporarily Smolensk land to the Commonwealth in the Truce of Deulino and for the next forty three years it was the capital of the Smolensk Voivodeship.

To recapture the city, Muscovy launched the so-called "Smolensk War" against the Commonwealth in 1632. After a heavy defeat at the hands of king Wladislaw IV, the city remained in Polish-Lithuanian hands. In 1632, the Uniate bishop Lew Kreuza built his apartments in Smolensk; they were later converted into the Orthodox Church of St. Barbara. The hostilities resumed in 1654 when the Commonwealth was being rocked by the Uprising of Ukrainian Cossacks and Swedish invasion. After another siege, on September 23, 1654 Smolensk was recaptured by Russia as the Polish garrison left the city. In the 1667 Treaty of Andrusovo the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth finally renounced its claims to the Smolensk.

Modern history

Eagles monument in Smolensk, commemorating the centenary of the Russian victory over Napoleon

Smolensk has been a special place to Russians for many reasons, not least for the fact that the local cathedralmarker housed one of the most venerated Orthodox icons, attributed to St Luke. Building the new Cathedral of the Assumptionmarker was a great project which took more than a century to complete. Despite slowly sinking into economic backwater, Smolensk was still valued by tsars as a key fortress defending the route to Moscowmarker. It was made the capital of Guberniya in 1708.
Coat of arms of Smolensk

In August 1812, two of the largest armies ever assembled clashed in Smolensk. During the hard-fought battle, described by Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace, Napoleon entered the city. Total losses were estimated at 30,000 men. Apart from other military monuments, downtown Smolensk features the Eagles monument, unveiled in 1912 to mark the centenary of Napoleon's Russian campaign.

Immediately after the October Revolution, when Belarusmarker proper was still occupied by German forces, Smolensk ( ) became a notable centre of Belarusian political life, although remaining administratively a part of Russia. In 1918, German occupational forces declared Smolensk Governorate a constituent of the Belarusian People's Republic, which only lasted less than a year. On January 2, 1919 the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed in Smolensk, but its government moved to Minskmarker as soon as the Polish forces had been driven out of the Belarusian capital several months later.

During World War II, Smolensk was again chosen by history as a stage for one of its greater battles, the Battle of Smolensk. It was captured by the Germans on July 16, 1941. The first Soviet counteroffensive against the German army was launched here in August 1941 but failed. However the limited Soviet victories in the battles outside the city in August 1941 halted the German advance for a crucial two months, essentially allowing Moscow to be saved and through the Red Army's victory there, the Great Patriotic War to be won. Camp 126 was situated close to Smolensk and at this time Boris Menshagin was mayor of Smolensk, with his deputy Boris Bazilevskii. Both of them would be key witnesses in the Nurenburg trial over the Katyn massacre.Over 93% of the city was destroyed during the fighting. The ancient icon was lost forever. The city was finally liberated on September 25, 1943. It is no surprise that the title of Hero City was bestowed on Smolensk after the war.

After the Germans captured the city in 1941, they found the intact archives of Smolensk Oblast Committee of the Communist Party, the so-called Smolensk Archive. The archive was moved to Germanymarker, and a significant part of it eventually ended up in the United Statesmarker, providing Western scholars and intelligence specialists with unique information on the local workings of the Soviet government during its first two decades. The archives were returned to Russia by the United States in 2002 [15008] [15009]

As indicated by his name, the prominent 19th century Jewish novelist Peretz Smolenskin and his family originated from Smolensk, though he himself was born near Mogilevmarker.

As an added note, this is the part of Russia from which the paternal ancestry of the famous anarchist Peter Kropotkin originated.

Smolensk Today


Cathedral of the Assumption (Uspensky Sobor)
Smolensk has several factories including the Smolensk Aviation Plant and several electronics and agricultural machinery factories.


Smolensk's railway station

Smolensk is located on the M1 main highway and main railway between Moscow and Minsk. The city is also served by Smolensk Airportmarker. Local public transport includes buses and trolleybuses.Buses, trolleybuses, tram and marshrutka (passenger van) are the safest and cheapest way to travel around city. The cost is near by 8 to 10 rouble for 1 way ticket.


Smolensk is home to the Smolensk State University (SMOLGU) and the Smolensk State Medical Academy (SGMA); together with colleges of further education and other educational institutes.

International relations

Twin towns — Sister cities

Smolensk is twinned with:

People from Smolensk

Other pictures


External links

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