Brest (Belarusian: Брэст, romanized: Brest, pronounced [brɛs̪t̪]; Lithuanian: Brasta; Polish: Brześć; Russian: Брест, romanized: Brest, pronounced [brʲes̪t̪]; Ukrainian: Берестя, romanized: Berestia; Yiddish: בריסק, romanized: Brisk), formerly Brest-Litovsk (Belarusian: Берасце, Берасце Літоўскі (Брэст-Лiтоўск); Lithuanian: Lietuvos Brasta; Polish: Brześć Litewski, Yiddish: בריסק דליטא), Brest-on-the-Bug (Polish: Brześć nad Bugiem), is a city (population 350,616 in 2019) in Belarus at the border with Poland opposite the Polish city of Terespol, where the Bug and Mukhavets rivers meet. It is the capital city of the Brest Region.
Brest is a historical site for many cultures, as it hosted important historical events, such as the Union of Brest and Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Furthermore, the Brest Fortress was recognized by the Soviet Union as a Hero Fortress in honour of the defense of Brest Fortress in June 1941.
From late middle ages to 1795, the city was of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which later became a part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1569. In 1795, it was occupied by the Russian Empire with the Partitions. After World War I, the city was conquered by the Second Polish Republic. In 1939, during the Invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, the city was first captured by the Wehrmacht and soon passed on to the USSR per the German–Soviet Frontier Treaty. In 1941, it was retaken by the Germans during Operation Barbarossa. The city was in the Belarusian SSR until the breakup of the USSR in 1991. Since then, Brest is part of Belarus.
Several theories attempt to explain the origin of the city's name. It may have the Slavic root beresta meaning "birch", or "bark". The name could also originate from Slavic root berest meaning "elm". It could likewise have come from the Lithuanian word brasta meaning "ford".Once a center of Jewish scholarship, the city has the Yiddish name בריסק (Brisk), hence the term "Brisker" used to describe followers of the influential Soloveitchik family of rabbis. Traditionally, Belarusian-speakers called the city Берасце (Bieraście).
Brest became a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1319. In the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth formed in 1569 the town became known in Polish as Brześć, historically Brześć Litewski (literally: "Lithuanian Brest", in contradistinction to Brześć Kujawski). Brześć became part of the Russian Empire under the name Brest-Litovsk or Brest-Litovskii (Russian: Брест-Литовск, Брест-Литовский, literally "Lithuanian Brest") in the course of the Third Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795. After World War I, and the rebirth of Poland in 1918, the government of the Second Polish Republic renamed the city as Brześć nad Bugiem ("Brest on the Bug") on March 20, 1923. After World War II the city became part of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic with the name simplified as Brest.
Brest's coat of arms, adopted on January 26, 1991, features an arrow pointed upwards and a bow (both silver) on a sky-blue shield. An alternative coat of arms has a red shield. Sigismund II Augustus, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, first granted Brest a coat of arms in 1554.
The city was founded by the Slavs. As a town, Brest – Berestye in Kievan Rus – was first mentioned in the Primary Chronicle in 1019 when the Kievan Rus took the stronghold from the Poles. It is one of the oldest cities in Belarus. It was hotly contested between the Polish rulers (kings, principal dukes and dukes of Masovia) and Kievan Rus princes, laid waste by the Mongols in 1241 (see: First Mongol invasion of Poland), and was not rebuilt until 1275. Later it was part of the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
In the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
In 1390 Brest became the first city in the lands that now are Belarus to receive Magdeburg rights. In 1419 it became a seat of the starost in the newly created Trakai Voivodeship.
Its suburbs were burned by the Teutonic Knights in 1379. In 1409 it was a meeting place of King Władysław II Jagiełło, Grand Duke Vytautas the Great and a Tatar khan under the Archbishop Mikołaj Trąba's initiative, to prepare for war with the Teutonic Knights. In 1410 the town mustered a cavalry banner that participated in the Polish-Lithuanian victory at the Battle of Grunwald.
= 17th Century
In 1500 it was burned again by Crimean Tatars. In 1566, following the decree of Sigismund II Augustus, a new voivodeship was created - Brest Litovsk Voivodeship.
During the union of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and Sweden under king Sigismund III Vasa (Polish–Swedish union), diets were held there. In 1594 and 1596, it was the meeting-place of two remarkable councils of regional bishops of the Roman-Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church. The 1596 council established the Uniate Church (also known as the Belarusian Greek Catholic Church in Belarus and Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine).
In 1657, and again in 1706, the town and castle were captured by the Swedes during their invasions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Then, in an attack from the other direction, on January 13, 1660, the invading Muscovite army under Ivan Andreyevich Khovansky took the Brest Castle in an early morning surprise attack, the town having been captured earlier, and massacred the 1,700 defenders and their families (according to an Austrian observer, Captain Rosestein).
On July 23, 1792, the defending Lithuanians and the invading Russian Imperial Army fought a battle.
On September 19, 1794, the area between Brest and Terespol was the site of another battle won by the invading Russian Imperial army led by Suvorov over a Polish-Lithuanian division under General Karol Sierakowski. Thereafter, Brest was annexed by Russia when the Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth was partitioned for the third time in 1795.
During Russian rule in the 19th century, Brest Fortress was built in and around the city. The Russians demolished the Polish Royal Castle and most Old Town "to make room" for the fortress. The main Jewish synagogue in the city, the Choral Synagogue, was completed c. 1862.
World War I
During World War I, the town was captured by the Imperial German Army on August 25, 1915, during the Great Retreat of 1915. Shortly after Brest fell into German hands, war poet August Stramm, who has been called "the first of the Expressionists" and one of "the most innovative poets of the First World War," was shot in the head during an attack on nearby Russian positions on September 1 1915.
In March 1918, in the Brest Fortress on the western outskirts of Brest at the confluence of the Bug River and Mukhavets Rivers, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed, ending the war between Soviet Russia and the Central Powers and transferring the city and its surrounding region to the sphere of influence of the German Empire. This treaty was subsequently annulled by the treaties which ended the war and even more so by events and developments in Germany and Eastern Europe. During 1918, the city became a part of the Podolia Governorate of the Ukrainian People's Republic as a result of negotiations and own treaty between delegation of the Ukrainian Central Rada and Central Powers.
The Second Polish Republic
Following the Polish–Soviet War Brest became part of the Second Polish Republic, with borders formally recognized by the Treaty of Riga of 1921. It was renamed Brześć nad Bugiem on March 20, 1923 (Brest on the Bug) in Poland, and named the capital of the Polesie Voivodeship in accordance with the pre-1795 tradition. In the twenty years of Poland's sovereignty, of the total of 36 brand new schools established in the city, there were ten public, and five private Jewish schools inaugurated, with Yiddish and Hebrew as the language of instruction. The first-ever Jewish school in Brześć history opened in 1920, almost immediately after Poland's return to independence. In 1936 Jews constituted 41.3% of the Brześć population or 21,518 citizens. Some 80.3% of private enterprises were run by Jews. The Polish Army troops of the 9th Military District along with its headquarters were stationed in Brest Fortress.
During the German Invasion of Poland in 1939, the city was defended by a small garrison of four infantry battalions under General Konstanty Plisowski against General Heinz Guderian's XIX Panzer Corps. After four days of heavy fighting, the Polish forces withdrew southwards on September 17. The Soviet invasion of Poland began on the same day. As a result, the Soviet Red Army entered the city at the end of September 1939 following the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact's Secret Protocol, and a joint Nazi-Soviet military parade took place on September 22, 1939. While Belarusians consider it a reunification of the Belarusian nation under one constituency (BSSR at that time), Poles consider it the date when the city was lost. During the Soviet control (1939–41), the Polish population was subject to arrests, executions and mass deportations to Siberia and the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic.
The city had an overwhelmingly Jewish population in the Russian Partition: 30,000 out of 45,000 total population according to Russian 1897 census, which fell to 21,000 out of 50,000 according to the Polish census of 1931.
Operation Barbarossa and beyond
On June 22, 1941, Brest Fortress and the city were attacked by Nazi Germany on the first day of Operation Barbarossa, Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union. The fortress held out for six days. Abandoned by the Soviet army, nearly all its defenders perished. The Germans placed Brest under the administration of the Reichskommissariat Ukraine. The remaining municipal Jewish population (about 20,000) was sequestered in the Brest ghetto established by the German authorities in December 1941 and later murdered in October 1942. Only seven Jews survived the Nazi executions. The city was liberated by the Red Army on July 28, 1944.
In early 2019, a mass grave containing the remains of 1,214 people were found in the Brest Ghetto area during a construction project. Most are believed to have been Jews murdered by Nazis.
Brest lies astride the Mukhavets River, which is known to Bresters as "the river". The river flows west through the city, dividing it into north and south, and meets the Bug River in the Brest Fortress. The river flows slowly and gently. You can hop into a tire innertube and take a relaxing float down this river. Today the river looks quite broad in Brest. The terrain is fairly flat around Brest. The river has an extremely broad floodplain, that is about 2 to 3 kilometres (1 to 2 miles) across. Brest was subject to flooding in the past. One of the worst floods in recorded history occurred in 1974.Part of the floodplain was reclaimed with hydraulic mining. In the 1980s, big cutter-suction dredgers mined sand and clay from the riverbed to build up the banks. After dredging, the river deepened and the riverbanks heightened. Today the river does not overflow its banks.In the 2000s, two new residential areas were developed in the southwest of Brest.
To the east of Brest, the Dnieper–Bug Canal was built in the mid-nineteenth century to join the river to Pina, a tributary of the Pripyat River which in turn drains into the Dnieper. Thus Brest has a shipping route all the way to the Black Sea. If not for a dam and neglected weirs west of Brest, north-western European shipping would be connected with the Black Sea also.
Brest has a humid continental climate but slightly leans towards oceanic due to the irregular winter temperatures that mostly hover around the freezing point. However, summers are warm and influenced by its inland position compared to areas nearer the Baltic sea.
Points of interest
A majestic Soviet-era war memorial was constructed on the site of the 1941 battle to commemorate the known and unknown defenders of the Brest Fortress. This war memorial is the largest tourist attraction in the city. The Berestye Archeological Museum of the old city is located on the southern island of the Hero-Fortress. It has objects and huts dating from the 11th – 13th century that were unearthed during the 1970s.
The Museum of Rescued Art Treasures has a collection of paintings and icons. Brest City Park is over 100 years old and underwent renovations from 2004 to 2006 as part of a ceremony marking the park's centennial. In July 2009, the Millennium Monument of Brest was unveiled. Sovetskaya Street is a popular tourist destination in Brest; it was dramatically reconstructed in 2007–2009. Other important landmarks include the Brest Railway Museum.
Białowieża National Park is located 70 km (43 mi) north of Brest. This old-growth forest is home to rare European bison. There is a museum and a zoo where animals can be seen in enclosures. Two hotels and some restaurants and bars are there. Excursions can also be taken by horse and cart into the interior of the forest. The forest also features the residence of Ded Moroz ("Grandpa Frost", or the Eastern Slavic equivalent of Santa Claus). Kamyanets, Belarus, which lies on the way to the National park from Brest, features a landmark, the 13th-century tower of Kamyanets. The town of Kosava, near which Tadeusz Kościuszko was born, is also in the Brest region and features a 19th-century palace and a Roman Catholic church.
Brest is home to two Universities: A.S. Pushkin Brest State University and Brest State Technical University.
Being situated on the main railway line connecting Berlin and Moscow, and a transcontinental highway (the European route E30), Brest became a principal border crossing after World War II in Soviet times. Today it links the European Union and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
The city of Brest is served by Brest-Tsentralny railway station. Because of the break-of-gauge at Brest, where the Russian broad gauge meets the European standard gauge, all passenger trains, coming from Poland, must have their bogies replaced here, to travel on across Belarus. The freight must be transloaded from cars of one gauge to cars of another. Some of the land in the Brest rail yards remains contaminated due to the transhipment of radioactive materials here since Soviet days. However, cleanup operations have been taking place.The local airport, Brest Airport (code BQT), operates flights on a seasonal schedule to Kaliningrad in the Russian Federation and seasonal charter flights to Burgas and Antalya.
HC Meshkov Brest is the most successful team of the Belarusian Men's Handball Championship, as well as the current (2018-19)
champions. Also, there is a Women's handball club in Brest - HC Victoria-Berestie.
HK Brest of the Belarusian Extraleague are the local pro hockey team.
The sports venues are located on the northern riverside on the hydraulic fill, consisting of an indoor track-and-field centre, the Brest Ice Rink, and Belarus' first outdoor baseball stadium. On the opposite riverside is a large rowing course opened in 2007, home of the National Center for Olympic Training in Rowing. It meets international requirements and can host international competitions. Moreover, it has accommodation and training facilities, favourable location, 3 kilometres (2 miles) away from the border crossing along Warsaw Highway (the European route E30).
There are some newspapers in Brest: Brestskaya Gazeta, Brestskiy Kurier, Vecherniy Brest.
Visa-free entrance to Brest
From 1 January 2018, residents of 77 countries can travel to Brest without a visa and stay there for up to 10 days.
Sister cities of Brest include:
Other forms of cooperation
Brest maintains partnership with:
A minor planet, 3232 Brest, discovered by the Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Ivanovna Chernykh in 1974, is named after the city.
Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin, Rabbi of Brisk
Menachem Begin, late Prime Minister of Israel
Jarosław Dąbrowski, Polish revolutionary and general
David Dubinsky, head of the International Ladies Garment Workers' Union
Louis Gruenberg, composer
Nikolay Karpol, Russian women's volleyball coach
Pyotr Masherov, secretary of Belarusian committee of the Communist Party of Soviet Union
Yulia Nesterenko, Olympian women's 100 m titlist
The Soloveitchik rabbinical family associated with the Brisk yeshivas, and descendant Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik
David B. Steinman, American structural engineer; the designer of the Mackinac Bridge called "Big Mac"
Ganna Walska, Polish opera singer
Liubov Charkashyna, Belarusian bronze medallist in the individual all-around rhythmic gymnastics competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics
Rabbi Aaron ben Meir of Brest, eighteenth-century rabbi
Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, haredi rabbi in Israel
Sara Szweber, Bundist
Kristian Gantser [Christian Ganzer], Irina Yelenskaya, Yelena Pashkovich [et al.] (ed.): Brest. Leto 1941 g. Dokumenty, materiyaly, fotografii. Smolensk: Inbelkul’t, 2016. ISBN 978-5-00076-030-7