Minsk was first mentioned in the 12th-century Primary Chronicle: “The three sons of Yaroslav arrived before Menesk, but the citizens barricaded themselves in the city. Then the brethren captured it, put the men to the sword, sold the women and children into slavery, and proceeded to Nemiza River. Vseslav came forward to meet them. The two forces thus collided at the Nemiza on March 3, with heavy snow on the ground. They thus attacked, and the carnage was severe. The casualties were numerous.”
What destiny could have a city, the story of which starts with such words? This first mention of Minsk tells us about the 1067 battle of Kiev and Polack dukes on Nemiza (currently Nemiga, or Niamiha) River that is now hidden in the pipes and falls into a bigger Svislač River in the city center.
Around 1101, Minsk became the capital of its own Principality of Minsk and was ruled by Duke Hleb Usiaslavič. Kiev dukes ruled the city for just over 20 years: from 1119 to mid-1140s.
Minsk is one of the oldest Slavic cities. Legends say that the first Slavic bard Boyan, considered to be the author of The Lay of Igor’s Campaign, lived here.
However, Slavs were not the first to settle on these lands. Balts – the hairy tribes that decorated their braids with feathers – left behind a diverse geographical heritage. Even ‘nemiga’ itself literally means ‘sleeplessness’ in the modern Lithuanian language. Menka, the river that gave Minsk its name, is translated as ‘insignificant, small’. In fact, the oldest settlements of Minsk were founded in the 5th-6th centuries between Dunaj Creek and Menka River, 15 kilometers off modern Minsk. Nowadays, there’s a skansen there – Belarusian State Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Lifestyle.
In the 11th century, the city center moved to the confluence of Niamiha and Svislač rivers – it has stayed there till our days. 26-feet-tall walls protected the Minsk Castle. To get inside, the Southern Gate crowned with the tower was used. Archeologists have found here the basement of the stone Castle Church from the 12th century that was built not like Slavic churches but rather like Northern European ones. The name of this church is unknown – as well as the reasons why the Earth swallowed it.