As a settlement, Vitebsk has been known since the X century. Then, an ancient hillfort was the city basis, and after that the castle was built here. At the beginning of the XII century, the town was already considered a major trading centre and an independent principality. In XIII-XIV centuries, new fortifications - Upper and Lower castles were built. At this time, the town joined the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1410 a banner from Vitebsk participated in the Battle of Grunwald.
At the beginning of the XVI century Vitebsk province was formed, half a century later it was divided into Vitebsk and Orsha powiat, and a little later, the province expanded its territory by adjoining Velizh volost. At the end of the century Vitebsk was granted the Magdeburg Right and the first coat of arms by King Sigismund the Third.
In 1623 people in Vitebsk revolted, demanding free choice of religion when the rulers imposed Uniatism. Uniate archbishop was killed, and the town suffered severe punishment for it. Vitebsk lost the Magdeburg Right, 19 people were executed, 2 stewards were among them. The town was obliged to pay more than 3 thousand zlotys.
The town managed to return the self-governing right in 1654. However, the quiet life of Vitebsk had not last for long: in 1708 the Swedish army burned the town during the Great Northern War.
The town’s plan in the middle of the XVI century
A bridge was built across the river of Vitba, which connected the posad with the Lower Castle. The town’s centre of trade and social life - Gostiny Dvor and the Town Hall were located not far away from it. Next to it was a trading area with many shops. Churches and monasteries were also located in the centre. The major at that time street - Velikaya passed here. In the same century several main roads were formed. They subsequently formed the basis on which the Vitebsk centre was built and developed.
In the XVIII century Vitebsk was the second town in power after Gomel on the contemporary territory of Belarus.
As a part of Russia
Vitebsk and its region were ceded to Russia after the first partition of Poland (1772). About 3 thousand people lived there then. By 1785 the number of residents had increased to 10.5 thousand people.
In 1777, the first Vitebsk enterprise – the Garnovsky skin production plant was completed. Later metalwork and wood manufacturing crafts were developed in the town and a small library was opened. By the beginning of the XIX century, the first gimnasium and religious school had opened their doors, a meteorology station began to function.
The noble Sapiega family owned significant landholdings in Vitebsk region.
Napoleon celebrated his 43-th birthday in Vitebsk
Vitebsk was captured by the French army in July-October 1812. Further the town development went up - new enterprises, educational institutions were opened, trade was actively carried on. In 1866 the town was connected with the capitals of Russia and Ukraine via the Riga-Oryol railway, passing through Vitebsk.
The first in contemporary Belarus trolley car was launched in Vitebsk In 1898. In 1905, the cinema began its work, and in 1926 - the theater.
In July in 1941 Fascist troops entered the town
By autumn 20 thousand prisoners had been already killed in the Vitebsk ghetto’s territory. The liberation came in Vitebsk in June 1944. More than 90% of the town’s population was killed by military actions. Only 118 residents were left.
Robert Rozhdestvensky and Ivan Bunin wrote about Vitebsk
Vitebsk is a birthplace of the Belarusian artist Marc Chagall. More than 376 000 people live in the regional centre today, around 300 companies are opened, and the most famous among them - "Marco", "Belwest" and "Vityaz". An international Festival of Art "Slavic Bazaar" has been held in Vitebsk since 1992.
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