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Puscha: Historical outlook

The words "Belavezhskaya Puscha" are familiar to every Belarusian. The word Puscha is one of the most expressive and euphoneous in the Belarusian language. The word's sounds make the listener imagine a primeval forest which has preserved its prehestoric nature. As for the name Belavezhskaya Puscha, it appeared in Lithuanian and Polish chronicles in 1409 and lived till today. Its name the forest acquired  thanks to the white tower (Belaya Vezha) which was erected more than 700 years ago (between 1276 and 1288) near the small town of Kamianiec. The original name of the tower is Kamyaneckaya Vezha - after the name of the town. The tower ( vezha) had a strategic military purpose - to watch the approach of enemy troops.

The White Tower (Belaya Vezha)
in Kamianiec

That time the tower was surrounded by dense forest which spread from its walls for many kilometers. Now only from the top of the tower  can one see an immense stretch of forest. Nowadays Belavezhskaya Puscha is what is left of the primeval forest which in 12th century stretched from the Baltic sea to the Buh river and from Oder to the Dniepr river.

The first mentions of the Puscha appeared in 983. An archeological investigation showed that in prehistoric times bull, cave bear, north elk, and mammoth lived on the territory of today's Puscha. As for man, science is silent as to when he appeared in the Puscha. Only a tribe of Yacviahs are mentioned in the Kievan chronicles. The origin of Yacviahs is unknown. Some believe that they were Lithuanian, others consider them Slavs. In 983 Kievan Prince Uladimir began to force Yacviahs out of Puscha. Lithuanian Prince Traiden in 1281 "succesfully" finished the extermination of the ancient tribe. The rest of the Yacviahs were assimilated by Belarusians.

First attempt to profit from the Puscha dates from the middle of  the 16th century. During the reign of Polish King Sigizmund August, four iron producing plants were built on the territory of Puscha. At the same time collection of resin, distilling of tar, and burning of coal started. The industrial development of the Puscha flourished during the reign of the last Polish King Stanislav August. Rivers flowing through the Puscha were cleared and the floating of timber to Dancig began.

In 1795 after the division of Poland Belavezhskaya Puscha found itself a part of the Russian empire. The emperess  Katherine the Great distributed the Puscha among her servants who took part in the subjugation of the forest territory. Since then the ancient forest has suffered from both natural disasters and human activities. In May 1811 the Puscha suffered from a conflagration which was extinguished only in the middle of October by rains. The fire caused  the number of animals living in the Puscha to decrease sharply. But not only the fire was the cause of the decrease in the number of animals. In 1812 the forest became one of the theaters of the martial operations of Napoleon. The French troops were followed by the Austrian troops of Schwartsenberg. All these troops needed food, which they found in the Puscha. In the thirties the Puscha was often visited by boat builders from Petersburg who found in the forest very rich resources of timber. Three thousand people were involved in the cutting of the oaks and pines there. At the end of the forties of the last century the Puscha suffered another mass cutting. In 1864 the first twenty noble elks, which were exterminated by 1705, were brought from Germany and released into the terrain of the Puscha. In 1888 the Russian tzar Nicolai II took Puscha's lands under his patronage. Word War I did not bypass the ancient forest. German invaders constructed 300 km of rail roads and in two years cut down and took to Germany 4.5 mln cubic meters of the best timber. Exploitation of the forest did not terminate after the war when the Puscha was acquired by Poland. Every year more than a milion  cubic meters of timber were taken to England. In 1939, after the Soviets "liberated" Western Belarus, Puscha was declared a state reserve. The silence did not last long. World War II began and the Puscha was again occupied by Germans. During the war the library and scientific archive of the forest reserve were burnt down. After the Puscha was cleared from Nazis the forest  resumed its reserve status. Many well known scientists came to study the natural heritage of the Puscha. In 1944 part of the reserve was given to neighboring Poland.

The building of the Nature Museum

In 1957 the reserve entered another stage when it was turned into reserve-hunting area. Power keepers treated Puscha not as a natural heritage but as a place for rest and hunting. However,  it is worth mentioning that the new status contributed to the improvement of the living and working conditions of the workers of the forest reserve. A hotel, school, museum, and administrative buildings were erected very quickly. At the same time governmental a residence was built in the part of Puscha called Viskuli.

The World learnt about Viskuli in December, 1991 when the USSR ceased to exist. It is in Viskuli  where the leaders of three Slavonic republics of the USSR were summoned to dissolve the Soviet Union. Belavezhskaya Puscha proved its historical significance, having become a noticeable point on the political map. The same year the hunting status of the Puscha was terminated. Belavezhskaya Puscha was declared a national park. The residence in Viskuli acquired the status of governmental residence of the Republic of Belarus.

On December 14, 1992  UNESCO included the ancient forest on the list of the World Heritage of Humankind. A year later  UNESCO gave the Puscha the status of biosphere reserve. Thus the Puscha entered a world system for surveying changes in the environment.

Belavezhskaya Puscha gives strenth to all of us. It carries the feeling of eternity, kindness and peace.

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