Nesvizh
Fot. Jakub Gałęziowski

Nesvizh (in Polish Nieśwież), a legendary centre of the vast Radziwiłł estate, is located on the Usha River in western Belarus. Today, it has 20,000 inhabitants, including some 3,000 Poles. Just before the outbreak of World War II Nesvizh had 7,000 inhabitants of which Poles accounted for 50 percent. From 1998 the town has the “Reduta” Polish Community Centre.

The monuments which survived in the town include the monumental Radziwiłł Castle, 100-hectare park surrounding the former stronghold (the largest one in Belarus), and the Corpus Christi Jesuit Church standing in the immediate vicinity — the first baroque church building built in the Commonwealth. This extremely valuable architectural complex was put on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2005. The earliest mentions of Nesvizh come from the 12th century. From the 13th century it belonged to the Duchy of Lithuania. In 1533, it became the Radziwiłł property through the marriage of Jan Radziwiłł with Ann of the Kiszka family. The first member of the Radziwiłł family to settle in the town for good was Mikołaj Radziwiłł nicknamed The Black, a cousin of Barbara Radziwiłłówna. A huge defensive residence was built by his son Mikołaj Krzysztof “The Orphan.” It was designed by an Italian architect, Jezuit Giovanni Maria Bernardoni. It was extended over centuries and its capacity is larger than that of the Royal Castle in Warsaw or the castle in Łańcut. The local portrait gallery, which had more than 170 paintings at its best, and the huge armoury were among the richest ones in the former Commonwealth. Nesvizh remained in Radziwiłł’s hands for more than 400 years until it was seized by the Red Army on 17 September 1939. The castle survived but its entire furnishings and all the works of art were taken to Minsk and deep into Russia in September 1939. A dozen or so portraits from the Radziwiłł gallery are on display at the National Art Museum in Minsk. A large part of the collection was handed over to Poland in the 1950s and is stored in the National Museum in Warsaw. Single portraits are stored in museum holdings in Kraków, Poznań, and Vilnius. The fate of the works of art taken to Russia is not known. After the war a sanatorium for the “working people” was arranged in the castle. The former ballrooms were divided by ceilings into several storeys, and studies, dining rooms and guest rooms converted into small rooms. Wooden panelling, a few fireplaces, and the 18th century plafond called the Morning Star are the only things which have survived from the old interior decoration. The castle has been under renovation since 2001. The works are carried out without elementary respect for the antique substance, with entire parts of the castle being torn down and built anew, often in a completely different style. The baroque cupola of the castle’s tower was replaced with an onion dome resembling the finials of orthodox churches. The causeway between two huge ponds leads from the castle to a post-Jesuit church. The church was founded by Mikołaj Krzysztof “The Orphan” and designed, just like the castle, by Bernardoni. Today, it is one of the most valuable churches in Belarus. Its beautiful interior has baroque altars, paintings, murals, and gravestones, e.g., the gravestone of “The Orphan” in a pilgrim’s dress which has survived in a perfect condition. In the church there is also a plaque in honour of a poet and translator, Ludwik Kondratowicz, known under his pen-name of Władysław Syrokomla, who studied in Nesvizh at the monastic school of the Dominicans. An extensive crypt filled with nearly 100 coffins sealed with the Radziwiłł coat of arms, situated in front of the church, is an extremely valuable monument. Mikołaj Krzysztof “The Orphan”, Michał Kazimierz “Rybeńko” and Karol Stanisław “Panie Kochanku” are buried in the crypt which is a unique single family necropolis in Europe. Nesvizh also has a 16th century church and convent of the Benedictine Nuns founded by “The Orphan.” As part of repressive measures after the January Uprising the church was given to members of the Orthodox Church, and the convent converted into barracks. It houses a pedagogic school and a dormitory today. The only thing which has survived from another Nesvizh monastery — that of the Benedictine Monks — is a section of the main body. Old Nesvizh can be still seen at the town hall museum: old photographs show the cobbled market square with the town hall without its tower (burnt in fire in the 19th century and rebuilt only a few years ago), dirt streets with one-storey wooden houses, and a hospital for the poor built by the Radziwiłł family.
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