UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) was established in 1945. It is at the forefront of international relations in the field of cultural heritage protection. Adopted in 1972, the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage is based on the fact that certain cultural and natural values are part of the world heritage of all mankind.
Belarus became part of UNESCO in 1954. And in 1988, our country joined the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Currently four objects located on the territory of the republic are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
For a considerable number of students and employees of BSMU, these places, widely known outside the Republic of Belarus, are a small homeland. In the framework of the Small Homeland Year declared in our country, the Department of Occupational Health of the Belarusian State Medical University gave virtual tours with students around UNESCO sites in Belarus.
The National Park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" (natural heritage site) - a unique protected forest in Europe, protected since XIV century became the first to enter UNESCO World Heritage List in 1992. These are the “remnants” of a primeval forest that once stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Bug River and from the Oder to the Dnieper. Bialowieza Forest is the largest forest in Central Europe.
The first written mention of it dates back to 983. At the end of XIV century, the Grand Duke of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Jagiello declared the forest to be a reserve and imposed a ban on hunting. In 1588, a Forestry charter was issued prohibiting logging here as well. Since 1795, the territory of Belovezhskaya Pushcha became part of the Russian Empire, after the First World War – part of Poland, since 1939 it is part of Belarus. All major wars that took place in these countries caused significant damage to the protected forest. It especially suffered during the Patriotic War of 1812, as well as the First and Second World Wars. In 1939, Belovezhskaya Pushcha was declared a state reserve, and in 1945 part of it was transferred to neighboring Poland.
In 2000, the Mir Castle complex built at the beginning of the 16th century also entered the UNESCO World Heritage List. It survived a turbulent history and has been ruining for almost a century. It was restored at the end of the 19th century, preserving the elements of the Renaissance and Baroque and creating a beautiful park and waterways. Mir Castle is a vivid example of defensive architecture of the 16th century and a unique architectural monument with elements of European styles . In the castle, which was the property of the princely families of the Radziwills and Svyatopolk-Mirsky, gorgeous receptions were given, balls were an integral part of the princes' social life. The structure of the complex, in addition to the Mir Castle and the tomb, includes an Italian Renaissance garden, an English park and a pond.
Two more objects of Belarus joined the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2005. This is the architectural and cultural complex of the Radziwills residence in Nesvizh and the points of the geodetic Arc Struve. For centuries, the palace in Nesvizh was the residence of one of the richest and most influential dynasties of Europe - the Radziwills. The Radziwill family, whose representatives built and preserved this ensemble from the 16th century until 1939, is known for a number of major figures in European history and culture. Thanks to their efforts, Nesvizh had a great influence on the development of science, arts, crafts and architecture. The complex includes a residence castle, Farny (parish) church of the Most Holy Body of God and the buildings surrounding them. Currently, the castle consists of ten interconnected buildings that form a single architectural entity around a hexagonal courtyard. The buildings of the castle and the church became prototypes that had a great influence on the development of architecture in this part of Europe and in Russia. The first stone in the foundation of Nesvizh castle was laid in 1583. It was rebuilt many times, resulting in the appearance of a magnificent palace, combining the features of many architectural styles: Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Classicism, Neo-Gothic and others. In 1764 and 1768, due to the anti-Russian position of the then owner of the castle, Karol Stanislav Radziwill, nicknamed Panet Kohanku, Nesvizh was occupied by Russian troops. All the castle’s valuables were confiscated, a library of 10 thousand books and an archive were taken to St. Petersburg. At the end of the 19th century, one of the largest landscape parks in Europe was laid near Nesvizh Castle. In 1939, when the Red Army entered Nesvizh and Soviet power was established, the Radziwills left the castle. After the Second World War, the sanatorium was located in the castle. In 1993, the National Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve was created in Nesvizh, which included the castle. In 2004, restoration works began in the castle, which were completed in 2011. Currently, Nesvizh Castle and a park with decorative lakes and shady alleys is one of the most beautiful palace and park ensembles, which is a visiting card of Belarus.
The Struve Arc is a world-famous geodetic structure erected on the initiative of the Russian astronomer, founder of stellar astronomy Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve (1793–1864) to study the parameters of the Earth, its shape and size.The Struve Arc is a network of 265 points (stone cubes of a certain size laid in the ground) with a length of more than 2820 kilometers, located in 10 countries of the world - Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova. Research on the Struve Arc has been conducted for 40 years, which allowed us to accurately determine the size and shape of our planet and was an important step in the development of Earth sciences and topographic mapping. This was an exceptional example of cooperation in the scientific field between scientists from different countries and between the ruling monarchs. According to historical data, there were 34 points in Belarus, of which 20 were preserved, five of which, equipped with special signs, were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
In 2003, the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage was adopted. Intangible cultural heritage is customs, forms of presentation and expression, knowledge and skills transmitted from generation to generation, constantly recreated and forming a sense of identity in people.
In 2009, the unique Belarusian folk rite “Kolyadnye Tsars”, which exists only in the village of Semezhevo, Kopylsky district, Minsk Region, was inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
The history of the ritual “Kolyadnye Tsars” dates back to the 18th century, when units of the Russian army stood near the village of Semezhevo. In compliance with local legend, during the New Year's Eve celebrations according to the old style (Julian calendar), soldiers and officers walked around the yards, showing a cheerful performance and the owners presented them with refreshments. After the detachment “left” the village, local residents not only preserved the tradition, but also developed it into a unique Christmas action. The ritual “Kolyadnye Tsars” combined elements of carnival and folk drama. Original folklore, arts and crafts (costumes, household items), special Christmas dishes of national cuisine became its decoration. The rite was revived in 1996: documentary materials, testimonies of old-timers were collected, and in the village of Semezhevo they began to conduct "Kolyadny Tsars" every year. The ceremony involves young men and youths - “kings”. They are dressed in white trousers and shirts, red Semezhevsky belts with a traditional ornament are tied on their chests, high hats decorated with colorful ribbons are on their heads. Each participant performs his role - a healer, a drummer, etc.
Among other characters - the main character is King Maximilian, King Mamai, Grandfather and Baba. Moving along a village street, participants in a high-profile festive procession enter the house and play the historical and religious drama Tsar Maximilian with “battle” scenes and the secrets of folk medicine. With the onset of darkness, the “kings" light torches. The ceremony is held once a year - on Generous evening ("Shchadrats", "Shchodryk") - from January 13 to 14. The people say: the house which was visited by "kings" will be full of peace, harmony and wealth for the whole year.
Authors: Candidate of Medical Sciences, Associate Professor Igor P. Semenov, Elena A. Chigrinova;
Translation: Anastasiya Karnacheva.