Smolensk Travel Guide
For lovers of wildlife, Smolensk is the perfect holiday destination. The city attracts visitors with its parks, reserves and lakes. Breathe in the cleanest forest air and explore the interesting corners of the Smolensk Lake District national park whose virgin nature is still preserved. Smolensk is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in Russia. You’ll fall in love with it as soon as you walk along its shady green streets and see the beauty of its ancient architecture. Today, the glorious past and architectural monuments of olden times fit harmoniously into the ensemble of modern buildings.
The history of the city goes back to the 9th century. Travellers who saw Smolensk in the second half of the 16th century note that the fortress protecting the city was built of oak and protected by deep moats.
In 1593, one of the foreigners who visited Smolensk called it the most famous border town and noted that its walls were very high.
The country saw an influx of masons, bricklayers and even potters who poured into Smolensk.
The fortress became the largest one around. The city was turned into a gigantic, unprecedented building site, and lots of people came from all around to work here. In 1602, the construction of the fortress was completed.
On 13 September 1609, seven years after the construction of the fortress was completed, Polish King Sigismund III approached Smolensk with a huge army and attacked it. The defenders of the city resisted the onslaught of this well-equipped army for more than 20 months. In the summer of 1708, the troops of Swedish King Charles XII approached the southern borders of Smolensk’s lands, and it was through Smolensk that he threatened to march to Moscow. But Peter I arrived in the city, and great efforts were taken to repair the fortress and confront the enemy before they reached the city.
In 1812, when Napoleon outstripped the second Russian army, it was decided to unite near Smolensk. In the summer of 1812, the Russian armies led by Barclay de Tolly and Bagration united on Smolensk’s lands. This destroyed Napoleon’s strategic plan to break them apart. The French soldiers wanted to enter the city on the emperor’s birthday, 4 August, and a fierce battle took place. The city was attacked with hundreds of shells and grenades from 250 guns and thousands of bullets. The French almost captured the gates, but the Russians ran outside the wall and drove the French out of the serf ditch.
Many townspeople took part in the battle, helping the soldiers and taking the wounded to the city. Women brought water to the weary soldiers. The French attacked the city again and again, but every time without success. Then Napoleon ordered his troops to burn the city with bombs, and Smolensk was in flames. On the morning of 6 August, the French entered Smolensk and found it empty. Napoleon drove on into the Nikolsky Gates. After four days, Napoleon’s troops continued on to Moscow. But two Russian armies united and defeated Napoleon on Borodino Field.
During the Second World War, Smolensk survived difficult times. On the night of 29 July 1941, Smolensk was bombed. In September, German troops occupied the Smolensk region. When the city was under temporary occupation, its remaining population continued to struggle with the enemy. Throughout the country’s history, Smolensk was considered to be the key to Moscow. All invaders, including the Poles,Napoleon and the fascists, inevitably had to first conquer Smolensk, and only then move on to Moscow.
The inhabitants of Smolensk fought bravely, and the enemy always suffered heavy losses beneath the city’s defences.
Where to Stay
Located on the Dnieper, on the road from Moscow to Belarus, Smolensk is an important transportation hub. You can stay in one of the hotels located in Zadneprovsky, Industrial and Leninsky districts. All of them have good guest reviews, and visitors are offered various types of rooms, swimming pools and saunas, as well as a variety of cuisine in the hotel restaurants. You can also book all kinds of apartments, mini-hotels or budget hostels. Have a look at Guberniya Hotel, Respect Hotel or City Apart Hotel.
Bars and Restaurants
To try local specialities, visit Tirol, which looks like your granny’s house with its old wallpaper and porcelain animals. They offer an inviting menu with hearty main dishes and creamy soups. The other charming restaurants with Russian cuisine are Temnitsa and Russky Dvor. To try traditional sweet pies and tea, visit Samovar.
What to See
- Smolensk Fortress was built from 1595 till 1602 during the reign of Fyodor Ioannovich and Boris Godunov. The architect Fyodor Kon worked his magic to create what was by the standards of that time an impregnable defensive structure. Its length is 6.5 km, the width of the walls is about six metres, their height from 13 to 19 metres. In addition, the Smolensk fortress was also very beautiful. For example, its loopholes are decorated with platbands following the example of windows of apartment buildings.
- Smolensky Cathedral survived the two Patriotic Wars – the armies of Napoleon and Hitler did not touch the building. Moreover, the Germans guarded the cathedral so that nothing happened to it. The present cathedral stands on the spot where previously stood an ancient temple for the wonderworking icon from Constantinople and the Catholic church. Its final form of Holy Assumption was acquired during the reign of Catherine II.
- From the Smolensk embankment, you can enjoy wonderful views of the Nizhne-Nikolsky temple complex, the Holy Assumption Cathedral, and the Orthodox Church of Peter and Paul located on the other shore.
- Blonje Park appeared in Smolensk in 1830 on the site of the former parade ground in the centre of the city. Visitors especially like the colourful lights and musical fountain.
- Bolshaya Sovetskaya Street in Smolensk is definitely one of the most beautiful and important places for tourists and residents of the city. It stretches from the Dnieper to the south of the city. Here, you can see elegant mansions dating from the 19th century.
- In the Historical Museum, you will find unique weapons, frescoes from city temples, European denarii, ancient jewellery and other interesting items. Here, visitors can learn more about the peculiarities of the life of its citizens, see part of an 800-year-old house and 3D models of Smolensk churches.
The city’s public transport includes trolleybuses, buses, trams and a fixed-route taxi. According to the timetable, urban transport runs until 11 p.m. The most accessible type of public transport is a fixed-route taxi. The waiting time is from 5 to 10 minutes. In the evening, this time increases to 15-20 minutes. In Smolensk, there are three tram routes that go to the city centre and the railway station. Three trolleybus routes cover only part of the city. The most comfortable way to travel around the city is by taxi. The city has many taxi services, and you can use these services in any part of Smolensk.