Vitebsk, also known as Viciebsk or Vitsyebsk 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.
Vitebsk developed from a river harbor where the Vitba River flows into the larger Dvina, which is spanned in the city by the Kirov Bridge.
Its official founding year is 947, based on an anachronistic legend that it was founded by Olga of Kiev, but the first mention in historical record is in 1021, when Yaroslav the Wise of Kiev gave it to Bryachislav Ezyaslavovitch, Duke of Polotsk.
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.
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.
In the years 19191991 Vitebsk was part of the Soviet Union. During World War II, the city was under German occupation (1941-44). Up to 150,000 Jewish people were murdered during this time. Much of the old city was destroyed in the ensuing battles between the Nazis and the Red Army.
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.
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.
At Vitebsk, there is a lattice steel TV tower carrying a horizontal cross on which the antenna mast is guyed. This tower, which is nearly identical to that at Grodno, but a few metres less tall was completed in 1983.
The Annunciation Church is a six-pillared building with one apse. It is built of hewn limestone quadras, each row being separated by two rows of brick, covered with a thin layer of stucco so as to emulate large blocks of stone. This technique was widespread in Byzantium but there are only two examples north of Crimea one in Vitebsk and another, unfinished and long ruined church in Navahradak, probably by the same team of Byzantine builders. Another extraordinary feature of the church is that its bays are equal and the central nave is square in plan. The choir gallery occupies the western bay it adjoins two secluded chapels over the lateral aisles. Stairs leading to the gallery are built into the western wall.