13th – 17th centuries
As the image of the Belarus capital is defined by the districts built after World War II, Minsk looks much younger than many of its contemporaries.
In the Middle Age, Minsk was at the crossroads of main European routes and, subsequently, was destroyed numerous times by various conquerors: Tatars, Russians, Swedes, French, Germans... Communists finished off virtually all remaining historical sites and monuments. The World War II and after-war period turned Minsk into a totally new city on the grounds of the Old Minsk…
In the first half of the 14th century, Minsk became part of the Great Duchy of Lithuania. In 1499, Minsk was granted the Magdeburg Law. Its first coat of arms depicted the icon of Virgin Mary reportedly painted by Saint Luke himself. The legend says that the icon was brought to Minsk by rivers floating all the way down from Constantinople. At the times of war and diseases, the Minsk icon of Virgin Mary is said to shed tears in order to warn Minskers about the forthcoming hardships. Nowadays, you can observe the icon in the Holy Spirit Cathedral that belongs to the Orthodox Church.
In 1566, Minsk became the center of the voivodship. The Privilege of 1571 allowed Minskers to have ‘two fairs a year’. Those fairs attracted local craftsmen as well as merchants from all over the world.
The most significant period in the history of Minsk before the 20th century was triggered by the tragic event: during the Russo-Polish War of 1648-1667, the city was heavily destroyed and burned. After the ruthless Moscow troops left the city in 1655, only 150 families survived. A new city grew up on the ruins of destroyed Minsk in the next decades, with thousands of new Minskers settling in. The new city featured beautiful churches of different religious denominations, rich monasteries and exclusive palaces. Starting from the second half of the 17th century, Minsk hosted the meetings of Tribunal of Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The population of Minsk in 1667 was around 2 thousand people. However, the city was once again destroyed by Russian, Swedish, Polish and even Saxon troops during the Great Northern War of 1700-1721, and citizens were taxed with high war indemnities.