Mir Castle Complex, Belarus’ Stately Fortress

The Castle of Mir at its fullest glory

photography by: Omri Westmark

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The town of Mir might seem at first like an unassuming place with not much to see, but dig deeper and you will find one of Belarus’ most sumptuous edifices. Surrounded by a manmade pond, Mir Castle is a medieval fortified palace whose architectural splendor reflects the country’s tumultuous and rich history. Whereas in Belarus, the castle’s iconic stature earned it a nationwide fame, it still retains a global anonymity with only a few foreign tourists visiting its lavish grounds every once in a while.

Located about 85 kilometers southwest of downtown Minsk, the low-key townlet of Mir is of major historical importance despite its seemingly insignificant size these days. For centuries now, Mir has been synonymous with its stately castle, a fairytale-like medieval complex that far eclipses the village itself.


Constructed in the early 16th century over the ruins of a wooden farmstead, Mir Castle underwent major changes and modifications over the years, so much so, that if time travel to the past was possible, the building would hardly be recognizable by anyone today.


It was Duke Yury Ilinich who first erected the Gothic-style palace as his residence. A few decades later, in 1568, the castle was seized by Mikolay Radziwil, a Polish-Lithuanian nobleman who redesigned it as a Renaissance style mansion, replete with intricate ornaments. Due to the frequent raids by Tatar tribes as well as other feudal clans, both Ilinich and Radziwil fortified the palace with thick rampart walls, a series of guard towers, a moat and a drawbridge. In addition, the fort’s outer complex was beautified with an artificial lake and an Italian-style garden.


Following Napolean’s invasion of Russia and the subsequent Battle of Mir, the castle was heavily damaged and was abandoned for almost a century. In 1891, the then derelict castle was purchased by Russian ataman Nikolai Svyatopolk-Mirsky, whose son, Mikhail, restored the formerly lavish citadel which reclaimed some of its past glory at the beginning of the 20th century.


Unfortunately though, the palace’s miraculous rejuvenation was short lived as in 1939, the Soviet army took control of the property and converted it into a factory to aid the U.S.S.R’s war efforts. The Nazi troops who invaded Belarus in 1941, added their fair share of hideousness and used the fortified grounds as a ghetto for the town’s ample Jewish population.


After WWII ended, the castle functioned as a makeshift residence for the dozens of survivors who lost their homes during the war. It wasn’t until in 1983, when thorough restoration works took place, that the castle was on track to regain some of its former self after years of disrepair. A slew of architects, historians and workers successfully reconstructed the entire complex with the utmost attention to details. In 2000, their lofty endeavor paid off as the castle was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.


As of today, the castle and its surroundings are open for visitors all year round, and offer a glimpse of the town’s bygone era, including an exhibition about the once prosperous Jewish community of Mir, which prior to WWII accounted for half of its inhabitants.