Praspekt Francyska Skaryny

sights / Architecture

Lonely Planet review

Minsk's main thoroughfare impresses in its sheer girth. Hectic and huge, it tripled in width when it was rebuilt after WWII and extends over 11km from the train station to the outer city. The busiest section - with the best architectural examples of Soviet monumentalism - is sandwiched between pl Nezalezhnastsi and pl Peramohi, with the block between vul Lenina and vul Enhelsa doubling as a popular evening youth hangout.

The stubbornly austere and expansive ploshcha Nezalezhnastsi (Independence Square; ploshchad Nezavisimosti in Russian) is dominated by the Belarusian Government Building (behind the Lenin statue) on its northern side, and the equally proletarian Belarusian State University on its southern side. A massive, underground shopping centre was built in 2005 in front of the one element that breaks the theme of Soviet classicism dominating the square: the 1910 red-brick Catholic Church of St Simon & Elena. The KGB building is ominous and occupies an entire block overlooking Independence Square. The Museum of the Great Patriotic War is also on this street and graphically depicts the Nazi atrocities against Jews during the war. Across the street is Tsentralny Skver (Central Square), a small park on the site of a 19th-century marketplace. People gather around the small statue of a boy and a swan, play guitar and drink beer until the last metro. The dark grey building on the far side of the square is Dom Ofitserov (Officer's Building) - you can't miss the tank outside it, a memorial to the Soviet soldiers who liberated Minsk from the Nazis. Behind Tsentralny Skver, well lit and peering through the trees, is the Presidential Administrative Building, where Lukashenka makes most of his wise decisions. It's also his residence and as such is well guarded. It's best seen from afar.

As pr Francyska Skaryny crosses the Svislach River, it passes two of the city's main parks; Park Janki Kupaly on the southwestern bank opposite the circus and the larger Horkaha Central Children's Park, where there's a section with rides, attractions and fast-food kiosks. Just across the bridge, in a green wooden house by the banks of the river, is the Museum of the First Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party , where the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party - Russia's original Marxist party - held its illegal founding congress in 1898.

Diagonally opposite is the apartment building where Lee Harvey Oswald - the alleged assassin of US president John F Kennedy - lived for a few years in his early 20s. Just 100m northeast of here, ploshcha Peramohi (Victory Square; ploshchad Pobedy in Russian) is hard to miss. A giant victory obelisk rises up from the centre of the busy intersection, the eternal flame at its feet. Parades on 9 May (Victory Day) and 7 November (Anniversary of the October Revolution) often end up here. The eternal flame is accessible from the underground passageway. Further north is ploshcha Jakuba Kolasa, another expansive square, this one softened by pleasant parkland and a sitting area near the elephantine monument to the Belarusian writer.