Polotsk or Polatsk (Belarusian: По́лацк, Połack, Russian: По́лоцк, Polotsk, Polish: Połock) is a historical city in Belarus, situated on the Dvina River. It is the center of the Polatsk Raion in Vitebsk Voblast. Its population is more than 80,000 people. It is served by Polotsk Airport and during the Cold War was home to Borovitsy air base.
The Old East Slavic name, Polotesk, derives from the Polota River, that flows into the Western Dvina nearby. The Vikings rendered that name as Palteskja.
Paluota (luotas means dugout canoe in Lith. and pa- means "by/beside") is a Lithuanian name of ethnic Lithuanian river from which a Lithuanian name for today's Belorussian city Polotsk originates.
Polotsk is one of the most ancient cities of the Eastern Slavs. The Primary Chronicle (a history of Kievan Rus' from about 850 to 1110, compiled in Kiev about 1113) listed Polotsk in 862 (as Полотескъ, /poloteskŭ/), together with Murom and Beloozero. However, an archaeological expedition from the Institute of History of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus suggests that Polotsk did exist in the first half of the 9th century.
The first known prince of Polotsk was Rogvolod. He had two sons and a daughter named Rogneda. Rogvolod promised her to the prince of Kiev, Yaropolk, as a wife. But Yaropolk's brother, Vladimir, had attacked Polotsk before Yaropolk came. He killed Rogvolod, his wife and sons and married Rogneda.
Vladimir and Rogneda had five children and the eldest of them got the Polotsk throne.
Between the 10th and 12th centuries, the Principality of Polotsk emerged as the dominant center of power in what is now Belarusian territory, with a lesser role played by the Principality of Turov to the south. It repeatedly asserted its sovereignty in relation to other centers of Kievan Rus, becoming a political capital, the episcopal see and the controller of vassal territories among Balts in the west. Its most powerful ruler was Prince Vseslav Bryachislavich, who reigned from 1044 to 1101. A 12th-century inscription commissioned by Vseslav's son Boris may still be seen on a huge boulder installed near the St. Sophia Cathedral. For a full list of the Polotsk rulers, please see the list of Belarusian rulers.
In 1240, Polotsk became a vassal of Lithuanian princes. Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytenis annexed the city by military force in 1307, completing the process which Lithuanian princes had begun in the 1250s. Polotsk received a charter of autonomy guaranteeing that the grand dukes ′will not introduce new, nor destroy the old′. It was the earliest to be so incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. By doing so, the Lithuanians manage to firmly grasp the Dvina trade route into their hands, securing an important element for the surrounding economies. The Magdeburg law was adopted in 1498. Polotsk was a capital of the Połock Voivodship of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1772. Captured by the Russian army of Ivan the Terrible in 1563, it was returned to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania just 15 years later. It was again captured by Russian on 17 June 1654 but recaptured by Poles-Lithuanians on 30 October 1660 during Russo-Polish War (1654-67).
As in 1773 Polotsk (then Połock) became seized by Russia as the Russian Partition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, since the Russian Empress Catherine did not acknowledge the Papal Suppression of the Society of Jesus (1773–1814), the order branches in these lands were not disbanded, and Połock became the European centre of the Order, with the novitiate opening in 1780, the arrival of distinguished Jesuits from other parts of Europe who brought with them valuable books and scientific collections. Jesuits continued their pastoral work and upgraded the Jesuit College in Polotsk, opened in 1580 by decree of the Polish king Stefan Batory, with the Jesuit Piotr Skarga as its first rector, into the Połock Academy (1812–1820), with three faculties – Theology, Languages and Liberal Arts, 4 libraries, a printing house, a bookshop, a theatre with 3 stages, a science museum, an art gallery and a scientific and literary periodical, and a medical care centre. The school was also the patron of the college in Petersburg, the mission to Saratów and an expedition to Canton. When in 1820 the pressure from the Russian Orthodox Church influenced Tsar Alexander I to exile the Jesuits and close the Academy, there were 700 students studying there. The Academy's library, with its 40,000-60,000 volumes, the richest collection of 16th- to 18th-century books, was also disbanded by the Russian authorities, the books were taken to St. Petersburg, Kiev and other cities, 4000 volumes (along with books from other closed Jesuit schools) going to the St. Petersburg State University Scientific Library
That period of warfare started the gradual decline of the city. After the first partition of Poland, Polotsk was reduced to the status of a small provincial town of the Russian Empire. During the French invasion of Russia in 1812, it was the site of two battles, the First Battle of Polotsk and the Second Battle of Polotsk.
Polotsk was occupied by the German Empire between 25 February 1918 and 21 November 1918 in World War I, by Poland between 22 September 1919 and 14 May 1920 in the Polish–Soviet War and by Nazi Germany between 16 July 1941 and 4 July 1944 in World War II. Polotsk became the center of Polatsk Voblast between 20 September 1944 and 8 January 1954. After dissolving ones and dividing between Vitebsk and Molodechno ones, it is part of former.
The city's Cathedral of Saint Sophia in Polotsk (1044–1066) was a symbol of the independent-mindedness of Polotsk, rivaling churches of the same name in Novgorod and Kiev. The name referred to the original Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and thus to claims of imperial prestige, authority and sovereignty. The cathedral had been ruined by the troops of Peter I of Russia. Hence the present baroque building by Johann Christoph Glaubitz dates from the mid-18th century. Some genuine 12th-century architecture (notably Transfiguration Church) survives in the Convent of Saint Euphrosyne, which also features a neo-Byzantine cathedral, designed and built in 1893—1899 by Vladimir Korshikov.
Cultural achievements of the medieval period include the work of the nun Euphrosyne of Polotsk (1120–1173), who built monasteries, transcribed books, promoted literacy and sponsored art (including local artisan Lazarus Bohsha's famous "Cross of Saint Euphrosyne," a national symbol and treasure lost during World War II), and the prolific, original Church Slavonic sermons and writings of Bishop Cyril of Turaw (1130–1182).
The first Belarusian printer, Francysk Skaryna, was born in Polotsk around 1490. He is famous for the first printing of the Bible in an East Slavic language (in Old Belarusian) in 1517, several decades after the first-ever printed book by Johann Gutenberg and just several years after the first Czech Bible (1506).
In September 2003, as "Days of Belarusian Literacy" were celebrated for the 10th time in Polotsk, city authorities dedicated a monument to honor the unique Cyrillic Belarusian letter Ў, which is not used in any other Slavic language. The original idea for the monument came from the Belarusian calligraphy professor Paval Siemchanka, who has been studying Cyrillic scripts for many years.
The city has produced players for the Belarus national bandy team.Andrei of PolotskBryachislav of PolotskEuphrosyne of PolatskFrancysk SkarynaGabriel LenkiewiczIgor ShitovIzyaslav of PolotskMary AntinRogneda of PolotskRogvolodRogvolod VseslavichSofia of Minsk, Queen of DenmarkSymeon of PolotskVseslav of PolotskVyacheslav Gordanov