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From KGB building to Dinamo Stadium: How post-WWII Minsk was rebuilt

Minsk was literally restored from ashes. Famous architects Mikhail Parusnikov from Moscow and Mikhail Barshch from Leningrad came to Minsk, destroyed after WWII, to create sheer miracles. Together with Belarusian architects, they began to create a city, filled with the spirit of rebirth and triumph of the victory. The idea was embodied in the architecture.

Minsk became a unique example of a city of modern times, which deeply absorbed the heritage of antiquity and the Renaissance. The image of the city was being formed for centuries.

It was the economic miracle of those times. One of the most ruined cities in the Soviet Union and Europe was restored in the shortest possible time. By 1952, the ruins had been removed, and residential areas grew around the city center so quickly that their number soon exceeded that of the pre-war times. Moreover, up to 80% of the buildings had been constructed anew.

Ivan Turlay, author of the book ’’Minsk. Little-known pages’’, Candidate of Economic Sciences:
Postwar Minsk was restored in the Stalinist Empire style, or so-colled the Soviet neo-classicism. The founder of this style in the Soviet Union was the architectIvan Zholtovsky, a Belarusian from Pinsk (Brest Region). In the 1930s, the building "House on Mokhovaya Street", which is situated in the city center of Moscow, was built according to his drafts. In fact, this house became the first example of the new style. Other architects from the Soviet Union were guided by his works. Mikhail Barshch and Mikhail Parusnikov were among them. Buildings on the main avenue were built upon their design.

In 1947, one of the first buildings of the antique Minsk on the main avenue was the building of the KGB (at that time the BSSR’s Ministry of State Security). Its monumental portico was copied by Parusnikov from the facade of the House of Authorized Representative in Sochi (today’s Museum of Art), built in the 1930s by an architect Ivan Zholtovsky.

In Minsk, the image of the ancient temple-prostyle (a rectangular building with four columns on the main facade) was reproduced,  and it is very reminiscent of that created in the ancient Roman town of Pula two thousand years ago.

Ivan Turlay, author of the book ’’Minsk. Little-known pages’’, Candidate of Economic Sciences:
Orientation in the construction of an antique and renaissance city influenced  the works of Ivan Zholtovsky. His famous ’’House” became an example to follow in the construction of a number of buildings in the center of Minsk. By the way, two Italian palazzos, del Capitanio and Valmarana in Vicenza, served as a model for ’’House on on Mokhovaya Street”. The buldings of Dzerzhinsky Club, the National Bank, the Post Office, and the Ministry of Agriculture were erected based exactly on these buildings’ model.

If Andrea Palladio had found himself in postwar Minsk, he would probably have remained satisfied with the picture. 

By the way, another building in Moscow, designedby Zholtovskiy, is the house on Kaluzhskaya Street, which, according to researchers, is the analogue to Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence. Architects were guided by that very form, erecting the capital’s residential buildings, with the building of the cinema theatre Tsentralnyi among them.

The building of the Institute of [Communist] Party History was erected in the florentine style. At the moment, it is an administrative entity, located on the corner of Krasnoarmeyskaya Street and Kirova Steet.

Ivan Turlay, author of the book ’’Minsk. Little-known pages’’, Candidate of Economic Sciences:
Among the buildings of that period, we should highlight the majestic Palace of Trade Unions. It is probably the best example of a public building in the Soviet Union thoroughly embodied the features of a temple of antique architecture. The building of the Palace of Trade Unions has the form of a temple-peripter (or, to be more exact, pseudo-peripter) with a colonnade passing around its perimeter, part of which is closed by the protruding wall on each side.

The building is encircled by 60 columns and semi-columns. The number of semi-columns of the Palace of Trade Unions corresponded to the antique formula 2n - 1, where n is the number of columns on the main portico. This formula calculated the number of columns, which encircled the central parts of many ancient Greek and Roman temples on each side, including the legendary Athenian Parthenon. Therefore, the Palace of Trade Unions got named Minsk’s Parthenon.

Its facade was decorated with sculptures of Minsk gods of their day: the working class, the peasantry and the intellectuals. They say the author of the building Vladimir Yershov and the opera singer Larisa Alexandrovskaya were reflected in them. These sculptures were supposed to symbolize the idea of ​​work and creativity, a happy and peaceful life.

Ivan Turlay, author of the book ’’Minsk. Little-known pages’’, Candidate of Economic Sciences:
Besides the temple-prostyle (the KGB building) and the temple-periptera (the Palace of Trade Unions) the temple-rotunda, another ancient temple, was erectedin Minsk. It was a round bulding, topped by a dome, the most famous example of which is, of course, the Roman Pantheon. In Minsk, the main building of thePost Office and the building of the circus became such temples-rotunda.

However, the rotunda of the Post Office was located behind the central facade of the building.

The city had the chance to have its own amphitheater, Minsk Coliseum, surrounded by a magnificent arcade. Now it is Dinamo Stadium. It was the largest of the sports facilities of the Soviet era, built in the neoclassical style. Symbolically, the stadium, the shape of which refers to the times of antiquity, in 1980 received the status of the Olympic one.There, the fire of the Moscow Olympics was lit, and the arena even hosted a couple of football matches of those Olympic Games.

Ivan Turlay, author of the book ’’Minsk. Little-known pages’’, Candidate of Economic Sciences:
In Minsk, triumphal archs and propylaea, typical of antique times, were erected.They are festive entrances to the Gorky park, botanic garden, Dinamo Stadium, colonnades between buildings on Victory Square.

The portrait of Minsk in the late 1950s was inconceivable without monuments dedicated to the heroes of those times. Thus, on the main avenue a monument to Stalin was erected. Opposite the building of the Ministry of Security, there was installed aportrait sculpture of Felix Dzerzhinsky, a revolutionary and  the founder of Soviet intelligence. Alsoin Minsk, there appeared a bust of Sergei Gritsevets, a pilot and adouble hero of the Soviet Union, along with a monument to the national poet of Belarus Yanka Kupala.

The pedestals for these monuments were made in traditional antique forms oftruncated pyramids with asocle, trunk and pedestal for a sculpture. The same structure was used for pedestals for vases, light masts and granite lamps, which resemble triumphal columns of Antique Rome. For example, the light columns near AlexandrovskyGarden Square, today named after Yanka Kupala,can be compared with the Column of Phocas in Rome.

Ivan Turlay, author of the book ’’Minsk. Little-known pages’’, Candidate of Economic Sciences:
Along with the monuments, sculpted statues, Minsk got its own obelisk, looking like a traditional Roman one. It is Victory Monument, tapering upward. At the foot of the monument, the Eternal flame was lit, which since pre-Christian times has been considered the symbol of victory of light over darkness, and the symbol of immortality. In such a way, Minsk embodied the spirit and ideas of the city of antiquity and renaissance times.

Minsk, as an antique and renaissance city, was being built until the late 1950s. After Stalin's death, his successor Khrushchev launched a campaign of mass construction in the USSR on standard and low-cost projects. A resolution, adopted in November 1955, put an end to the era of the Soviet neoclassical style. But by that time the beautiful classic portrait of Minsk had already been created.

From KGB building to Dinamo Stadium: How post-WWII Minsk was rebuilt