The fabulously wealthy Radziwiłłs

Nesvizh Travel Blog

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Nesvizh

There is wealthy, and then there is Radziwiłł wealthy. The Radziwiłłs owned half of Belarus for over 500 years, with 23 palaces, 426 towns, 2032 estates and 10,053 villages. This made them richer than the Royal family, and far more long-lived - as Belarus was conquored over and over, the only stability was the wealth of the Radziwiłł family. One story of the Radziwiłłs includes a fabulously decadent dinner party. The guests went to bed satisfied, but concluding that the excesses of the Radziwiłł family were merely legend. When they woke up, they looked outside onto the summer estate to find it seemingly covered with snow - actually it was a layer of salt, bought in at enormous expense from Poland - with the Radziwiłłs racing around the winter-land on carriages pulled by bears.

 

We came to Belarus to see two of the Radziwiłł’s estates, Nesvizh Castle and Mir Castle.

Mir Castle
They are called castles, but with the Radziwiłł’s habit of colluding with any conquorers in order to keep their wealth, they were rarely used for defence and both have been remodelled into decadent residential palaces. There appears to be remarkably little non-Russian tourism to Belarus. We made separate inquiries into getting a Belorussian visa, booking a tour and reserving a hotel, and in each case the same tourist information officer, Lyudmila, answered our inquires. When we booked an English-speaking tour around Belarus, we expected a large mini-bus full of people, instead we had a taxi driver and a personal guide, Natasha, who told us that she only gets non-Russian speakers 3-4 times a month.

 

Nesvizh Castle was owned by the Radziwiłłs from 1533.

Outisde Mir Castle
From 1582 Mikołaj Krzysztof "the Orphan" started to convert the castle into a renaissance-baroque palace, surrounded by gardens and lakes. The palace was sacked in 1706 during the Great Northern War, but the Radziwiłłs survived and built it up again, even larger and more decadent. In 1770, the Russians seized the castle, and the famous Radziwiłł library was moved to Saint Petersburg, but again the Radziwiłłs reclaimed the site and restored it, until they were finally expelled for good by the Red Army in 1939.

 

Mir Castle was built by Duke Ilinich around 1500, and in 1568 it fell into the hands of Mikołaj Krzysztof "the Orphan", who was “adopted” by the wealthy, and childless, owner of the Castle. The Orphan was less concerned with defence than the original builder, and finished off the castle in Renaissance style. A dark chapter in the Castle’s history was its use during WWII as a ghetto for the local Jewish population. As one of the most Jewish countries in the world before WWII (most cities in Belorus were around 50% Jewish), some of the most horrendous mass murders of the war occurred here.

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Nesvizh
Nesvizh
Mir Castle
Mir Castle
Outisde Mir Castle
Outisde Mir Castle
Nesvizh
Nesvizh
Nesvizh Castle
Nesvizh Castle
Nesvizh Castle
Nesvizh Castle
Nesvizh Castle
Nesvizh Castle
Nesvizh Castle
Nesvizh Castle
Nesvizh
photo by: Adrian_Liston