Historical and old photos of Vitebsk, Vitebsk Region
Vitebsk developed from a river harbor where the Vićba River (Віцьба, from which it derives its name) flows into the larger Western Dvina, which is spanned in the city by the Kirov Bridge.
Archaeological research indicates that Baltic tribes had settlements at the mouth of Vitba. In the 9th century, Slavic settlements of the tribal union of the Krivichs replaced them. According to the Chronicle of Michael Brigandine (1760), Princess Olga of Kiev founded Vitebsk (also recorded as Dbesk, Vidbesk, Videbsk, Vitepesk, or Vicibesk) in 974. Other versions give 947 or 914. Academician Boris Rybakov and historian Leonid Alekseyev have come to the conclusion, based on the chronicles, that Princess Olga of Kiev could have established Vitebsk in 947. Leonid Alekseyev suggested that the chroniclers, when transferring the date from the account of the Byzantine era (since the creation of the world) to a new era, obtained the year 947, later mistakenly written in copying manuscripts as 974. An important place on trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks, Vitebsk became by the end of the 12th century a center of trade and commerce, and the center of an independent principality, following Polotsk, and at times, Smolensk and Kiev princes.
The official year of the founding of Vitebsk is 974, based on an anachronistic legend of founding by Olga of Kiev, but the first mention in historical records dates from 1021, when Yaroslav the Wise of Kiev gave it to Bryachislav Izyaslavich, Prince of Polotsk.
In the 12th and 13th centuries Vitebsk functioned as the capital of the Principality of Vitebsk, an appanage principality which thrived at the crossroads of the river routes between the Baltic and Black seas. In 1320 the city was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as dowry of the Princess Maria, the first wife of Grand Duke of Lithuania Algirdas. By 1351 the city had erected a stone Upper and Lower Castle, the prince's palace. In 1410 Vitebsk participated in the Battle of Grunwald. In 1597 the townsfolk of Vitebsk were privileged with Magdeburg rights. However, the rights were taken away in 1623 after the citizens revolted against the imposed Union of Brest and killed Archbishop Josaphat Kuntsevych of Polotsk. The city was almost completely destroyed in 1708, during the Great Northern War. In the First Partition of Poland in 1772, the Russian Empire annexed Vitebsk.
Under the Russian Empire the historic centre of Vitebsk was rebuilt in the Neoclassical style.
Before World War II Vitebsk had a significant Jewish population: according to Russian census of 1897, out of the total population of 65,900, Jews constituted 34,400 (around 52% percent). The most famous of its Jewish natives was the painter Marc Chagall (1887-1985).
In 1919 Vitebsk was proclaimed to be part of the Socialist Soviet Republic of Byelorussia (January to February 1919), but was soon transferred to the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and later to the short-lived Lithuanian–Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (February to July 1919). In 1924 it was returned to the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic.
During World War II the city came under Nazi German occupation (11 July 1941 – 26 June 1944). Much of the old city was destroyed in the ensuing battles between the Germans and Red Army soldiers. Most of the local Jews perished in the Vitebsk Ghetto massacre of October 1941.
In the first postwar five-year period the city was rebuilt. Its industrial complex covered machinery, light industry, and machine tools.
In 1959 a TV tower was commissioned and started broadcasting the 1st Central Television program. In the same year, during excavations on Liberation Square, a birch-bark scroll was found dating from the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries. It read:
From Stpana to Nezhilovi. Also, if hast sold trousers, buy me rye for 6 hryvnia. And if some didst not sold, send to my person. And if thou hast sold, do good to buy rye for me
Independence of Belarus
In January 1991 Vitebsk celebrated the first Marc Chagall Festival. In June 1992, a monument to Chagall was erected on his native Pokrovskaja Street and a memorial inscription was placed on the wall of his house.
Since 1992 Vitebsk has been hosting the annual Slavianski Bazaar in Vitebsk, an international art festival. The main participants are artists from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, with guests from many other countries, both Slavic and non-Slavic. In 1999 a free economic zone "Vitebsk" was established. The city built the Ice Sports Palace, and there was a remarkable improvement and expansion in the city. The central stadium was reconstructed and the Summer Amphitheatre for the international art festival, the Slavic Bazaar, the railway station and other historical sites and facilities were restored, and a number of new churches and other public facilities were built, together with the construction of new residential areas.