“The Water and Green System is the masterpiece of urban planning and architecture in Minsk. Nothing similar can be found in any other Soviet city,” the author of Minsk Architectural Guide Dimitrij Zadorin wrote. One notices easily that Minsk is a rather green city, with a water reservoir and a park in almost every district.
That was the idea of Soviet general planners – people will live in micro-districts and rest in the parks close to home.
For those not familiar with landscape architecture, these parks are just green spots on the city’s map – some bright and pleasant to walk in, some shady and deserted. But after meeting Igor Korzun, a man who knows almost every tree in Minsk, it transpires how much is hidden from our view.
One of the Minsk parks is found on the pages of “World Encyclopedia of Architecture”, another has super rare trees and creative landscape planning. All that one can learn to notice.
Igor Korzun is an activist of the Urban Forester public campaign. In five years of its existence, the campaign has advocated the preservation of many trees in Minsk and other cities. Igor organizes unusual walking marathons in Minsk parks and neighborhoods to give people an opportunity to see the city as a whole, not fragmentarily, to see how one neighborhood is replaced by another, how parks turn into streets and streets into parks.
One day I followed him and his stories, noting down every single word.
Slyapyanskaya Water System, a masterpiece of Soviet landscape architecture
The water system stretching over the eastern part of Minsk is included in the “World Encyclopedia of Architecture” as a unique landscape and park complex.
This is the longest park in the world – 24 km! Minsk city planners split it into four separate parks, giving a name to each one, so even Minsk residents often do not suspect that it is just one park.
The Slyapyanskaya water system originates from the Tsnyansky reservoir and ends in Chizhovka, and there are 14 original cascades perfectly located between these two spots. All the waterfalls of the water system are built in the style of brutalism, defined by open bare concrete, which cannot be plastered or painted.
Not without purpose, the terminology of park architecture is similar to theatrical terminology. Parterre, backstage, balcony, stage and many other theatrical terms are used in landscape architecture. And the function of these elements in a park also remains the same as in a theater. We have some action on stage, backstage is necessary in order to cover the details that emphasize the scene.
Be sure to have an entrance in the park or the entrance group. Theater begins with a hanger, same way a park gradually “leads” the spectator to the overture. In the Slyapyanskaya water system, the overture will be a waterfall near the intersection of the Lahoisky trakt and Karbysheva street.
There is always a compromise – a park should agree with the buildings, or the buildings should fit the landscape
After that, there are more modest, reserved cascades, and then loud oratorios of waterfalls arise again with a complex system of water falling, structures and compositions. And around all these, there is a composition of residential buildings, which are part of the entire landscape composition. When people say: “Oh, these houses, they spoil the view!”, I retaliate: “Guys, this is a city!”
The architects who built these parks planned not only waterfalls and trees but also the composition of buildings that have already been built or were under construction.
If the park is built into an existing micro district, then with the help of landscape architecture, it is possible to emphasize some interesting buildings and hide others behind the crowns of trees. During the construction, even the color of the facades is envisaged so that it wouldn’t be in conflict with the park. This is a compromise – parks should agree with the buildings.
Druzhby Narodau Park and Twin Peaks
Druzhby Narodau Park, designed in the mid-70s, is unique from the point of view of European landscape architecture.
When landscape architects from Germany saw this park with a huge space reminding a circus in the southern terrace, with compact groups of different plants around it, and learned when the park was designed, they said that German landscape architects came to such huge open spaces 10 years later.
Open space is one of the essential elements of a landscape park. Indeed, without such open spaces, we simply cannot see the park – we are in a forest in that case.
Druzhby Narodau Park consists of two terraces, the northern and the southern.
The northern terrace is located between Niakrasava and Arlouskaya streets, and the southern one is between Arlouskaya and Kulman. There are many open areas in the park that look like frying pans on a hot summer afternoon, so people used to sunbathe there. The ground of the park has a lot of peat, that is why it is warmer in the park – you will not freeze walking there until the first snow!
There are trees from the Twin Peaks movie! “Man … smell those trees. Smell those Douglas Firs,” agent Cooper says
In this park, one can enjoy the view of the dark gloomy spruce forest; and on this background, three birches with white trunks, look just like the Adidas stripes. Visitors will also find a natural graffiti in the park, a birch grove. At sunset it reminds a movie: you watch the stripes of light that makes its way through these birches.
In Druzhby Narodau Park you will find such a rare thing as an aspen grove.
It is amazing because it is always bright there, despite the fact that the treetops are closed. It is a real aesthetic pleasure to walk among smooth columns of aspen trunks.
There are also groups of maple, oak, pine and spruce trees.
And the trees from the Twin Peaks movie – Douglas firs! “Man … smell those trees. Smell those Douglas Firs,” agent Cooper says. This is a North American tree, which people tried to grow on the territory of Belarus.
The northern terrace of the park is deprived of attention, very few people know about it, even locals. But here you will find a Manchus nut, a red oak, a birch grove. This is a paradise for birds and small animals. The southern terrace is louder and brighter because of its circus space in the middle.
Here is what you can do while walking in the park: stand in the center of the circus space and spin around its axis – you will be surprised how beautiful the composition of the trees is.
Drazdy and the most romantic sunset in the city
One of the best restorations in Minsk parks is Drazdy Park, formerly called Park Magistral, located along Pieramozhzau Avenue.
I recommend to take a walk along the Svislach River, starting from Arlouskaya Street (Vesninka Park), on the left shore and move north.
Walk along the popular alley of the old road in the Viesninka park, sit on the trees which are leaning over the water, admire the islands and oxbows, and then walk under the bridge to find yourself in the Drazdy park.
Start observing not only the constructed objects but also the entire landscape, these slopes, correctly left for the formation of compositions, panoramas, and perspectives.
There are amazingly beautiful waterfalls, intricate bridges and closed treetops over the water
The park itself has a very good structure, it is combined with a pine forest. There are amazingly beautiful big and small waterfalls, intricate bridges and almost closed treetops over the water. By the way, in the summer the park can be explored from the water with Kayak Minsk tours.
An outstanding view opens up from the hill if we go through a bright dam and get to the side opposite to the park. From this spot, visitors can enjoy the urban view of the Lebyazhy micro district.
Of course, it makes sense to take a walk in this place among the aspen trees and the slopes overgrown with thyme, which smell sweet in the midday afternoon, around amazing beauty and silence.
If you walk further, behind Minsk ring road, you reach Belarusian Palanga – Minsk Sea (as Minsk residents call Zaslauskae reservoir).
Drazdy Park is good in any of the seasons. The brightest impression is the summer sunset when one can watch the sun sitting down against the background of the Drazdy reservoir, framed by a ring road and a residential neighborhood Lebyazhy.
Text by Karina Sitnik, manager at Walk To Folk, ecotourism and cultural tours in Belarus.