—  City  —
Smolensk 1912
View of Smolensk in 1912
Flag of Smolensk Oblast
Coat of Arms of Smolensk (Smolensk oblast) (2001)
Coat of Arms of Smolensk
Map of Russia - Smolensk Oblast (2008-03)
Location of Smolensk in Russia

Smolensk is located in Smolensk Oblast
Red pog
Location of Smolensk in Smolensk Oblast
Coordinates: 54°47′N 32°03′E / 54.783, 32.05Coordinates: 54°47′N 32°03′E / 54.783, 32.05
Country Russia
Federal subject of Russia Smolensk Oblast
Urban okrug Smolensk
Established 863
 • Body City Duma
 • Mayor Konstantin Lazarev
 • Total 288.5 km2 (111.4 sq mi)
Population (2010)
 • Total 326,863
 • Rank 54
Postal code 214XXX
Area code(s) 4812

Smolensk (Russian: Смоле́нск) is a city and the administrative center of Smolensk Oblast, Russia, located on the Dnieper River. Situated 360 kilometers (220 mi) west-southwest of Moscow, this walled city was destroyed several times throughout its long history since it was on the invasion routes of both Napoleon and Hitler. Today, Smolensk is noted for electronics, textiles, food processing and diamonds facetting. Population: 326,863 (2010 Census);[1] 325,137 (2002 Census);[2] 341,483 (1989 Census).[3]


Origins of the name[]

The name of the city is derived from the name of the Smolnya Rivulet. The origin of the hydronym is less clear. One possibility is the old Slavic word "смоль" (smol) for black soil, which might have coloured the waters of the long-derelict Smolnya. An alternative origin could be the Russian word смола smola, which means resin, tar, or pitch. Pine trees grow in the area, and city was once a center of resin processing and trade.

Another possibility is that it is named after the Swedish region of Småland, where it is theorized that a large number of the Norse Rus (Varangian) travellers most likely originated from in the 9th and 10th centuries ie: Småländsk (modern Swedish) - Smolensk.

The Byzantine emperor Constantine VII recorded its name as Μιλινισκα.

Medieval origins[]

Assumption Cathedral in Smolensk

A view of the Assumption Cathedral


Principality of Smolensk within Kievan Rus in the 11th century

Smolensk is among the oldest of Russian cities. The first recorded mention of the city was 863 AD, two years after the founding of ancient Rus. According to Russian Primary Chronicle, Smolensk (probably located slightly downstream, at the archaeological site of Gnezdovo) was the capital of the Slavic Krivichi tribe in 882 when Oleg of Novgorod took it in passing from Novgorod to Kiev. The town was first attested two decades earlier, when the Varangian chieftains Askold and Dir, while on their way to Kiev, decided against challenging Smolensk on account of its large size and population.

The first foreign writer to mention the city was the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus. In De Administrando Imperio (c. 950) he described Smolensk as a key station on the Trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks. The Rus sailed from the Baltics up the Western Dvina as far as they could then they pulled their boats out onto the ground and dragged them along to the upper Dnieper. It was in Smolensk that they supposedly mended any leaks and small holes that might have appeared in their boats from being dragged on the ground and they used tar to do that, hence the city name.

The Principality of Smolensk was founded in 1054. Due to its central position amid Russian lands, the city developed rapidly. By the end of the 12th century, the princedom was one of the strongest in Eastern Europe, so that Smolensk dynasty frequently controlled the Kievan throne. Numerous churches were built in the city at that time, including the church of Sts Peter and Paul (1146, reconstructed to its presumed original appearance after World War II) and church of St John the Baptist (1180, also partly rebuilt). The most remarkable church in the city is called Svirskaya (1197, still standing); it was admired by contemporaries as the most beautiful structure to the east of Kiev.

Smolensk had its own veche since the very beginning of its history. Its power increased after the disintegration of Kievan Rus, and although it was not as strong as the veche in Novgorod the princes had to take its opinion into consideration, a few times in 12th-13th centuries there was an open conflict between them.[4]


Our Lady of Smolensk

Between Russia, Lithuania, and Poland[]

Although spared the Mongol armies in 1240, Smolensk paid tribute to the Golden Horde, gradually becoming a pawn in the long struggle between Lithuania and Grand Duchy of Moscow. The last sovereign monarch of Smolensk was Yury of Smolensk; during his reign the city was taken by Vytautas the Great of Lithuania on three occasions, in 1395, 1404 and 1408. After the city's incorporation into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, some of Smolensk's boyars(e.g., the Sapiehas) moved to Vilnius; descendants of the ruling princes (e.g., the Tatishchevs, Kropotkins, Mussorgskys, Viazemskis) fled to Moscow.

With tens of thousands of people living there, Smolensk was probably the largest city in 15th-century Lithuania. Three Smolensk regiments proved decisive during the Battle of Grunwald against the Teutonic Knights. It was a severe blow to Lithuania when the city was taken by Vasili III of Russia in 1514. To commemorate this event, the tsar founded the Novodevichy Convent in Moscow and dedicated it to the icon of Our Lady of Smolensk.

Juliusz Kossak Odsiecz Smolenska

Relief of Smolensk (by Polish forces), during the Polish–Muscovite War (1605–1618), by Juliusz Kossak; a painting reflecting the Polish view of the city's history

In order to repel future Polish-Lithuanian attacks, Boris Godunov made it his priority to heavily fortify the city. The stone kremlin constructed in 1597–1602 is the largest in Russia. It features thick walls and numerous watchtowers. Heavy fortifications did not prevent the fortress from being taken by the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1611 after a long 20-month siege, during the Time of Troubles and Dimitriads. Weakened Muscovy temporarily ceded Smolensk land to the Commonwealth in the Truce of Deulino and for the next forty-three years it was the capital of the Smolensk Voivodeship.

To recapture the city, the Tsardom of Russia launched the so-called "Smolensk War" against the Commonwealth in 1632. After a defeat at the hands of king Wladislaw IV, the city remained in Polish-Lithuanian hands. In 1632, the Uniate bishop Lew Kreuza built his apartments in Smolensk; they were later converted into the Orthodox Church of Saint Barbara. The hostilities resumed in 1654 when the Commonwealth was being affected by the Khmelnytsky Uprising and the Swedish invasion. After another siege, on September 23, 1654 Smolensk was recaptured by Russia. In the 1667 Truce of Andrusovo, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth finally renounced its claims to Smolensk.

Modern history[]

Smolensk eagles

Eagles monument in Smolensk, commemorating the centenary of the Russian victory over Napoleon

Smolensk has been a special place to Russians for many reasons, not least for the fact that the local cathedral housed one of the most venerated Orthodox icons, attributed to St Luke. Building the new Cathedral of the Assumption was a great project which took more than a century to complete. Despite slowly sinking into economic backwater, Smolensk was still valued by tsars as a key fortress defending the route to Moscow. It was made the capital of Guberniya in 1708.

In August 1812, two of the largest armies ever assembled clashed in Smolensk. During the hard-fought battle, described by Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace, Napoleon entered the city. Total losses were estimated at 30,000 men. Apart from other military monuments, downtown Smolensk features the Eagles monument, unveiled in 1912 to mark the centenary of Napoleon's Russian campaign.

In March 1918, while the city remained a part of Russia, Belarusian People’s Republic, proclaimed in Minsk under the German occupation, declared Smolensk a part of it. In February–December 1918, Smolensk was home to the headquarters of the Western Front, North-West Oblast Bolshevik Committee and Western Oblast Executive Committee. On January 1, 1919, the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed in Smolensk, but its government moved to Minsk as soon as the German forces had been driven out of Minsk several days later.

During World War II, Smolensk once again saw wide-scale fighting during the first Battle of Smolensk when the city was captured by the Germans on July 16, 1941. The first Soviet counteroffensive against the German army was launched in August 1941 but failed. However, the limited Soviet victories outside the city halted the German advance for a crucial two months, granting time to Moscow's defenders to prepare in earnest. Camp 126 was situated close to Smolensk and at this time Boris Menshagin was mayor of Smolensk, with his deputy Boris Bazilevsky. Both of them would be key witnesses in the Nuremberg Trials over the Katyn massacre.[5] Over 93% of the city was destroyed during the fighting; the ancient icon of Our Lady of Smolensk was lost. The city was liberated on September 25, 1943. The rare title of Hero City was bestowed on Smolensk after the war.

After the Germans captured the city in 1941, they found the intact archives of Smolensk Oblast Committee of the Communist Party, the so-called Smolensk Archive. The archive was moved to Germany, and a significant part of it eventually ended up in the United States, providing Western scholars and intelligence specialists with unique information on the local workings of the Soviet government during its first two decades. The archives were returned to Russia by the U.S. in 2002.[6][7]

On 10 April 2010, a Tu-154 military jet carrying Polish president Lech Kaczynski, his wife, and many notable political and military figures crashed in a wooded area near Smolensk while approaching the local military airport. All 96 passengers were killed immediately on impact. The purpose of the visit was to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, in which some 22,000 Polish POWs were murdered by the NKVD.

Modern Smolensk[]


Uspensky cathedral

Cathedral of the Assumption (Uspensky Sobor)

Smolensk has several factories including the Smolensk Aviation Plant and several electronics and agricultural machinery factories.


Smolensk Station

Smolensk's railway station

Smolensk is located on the M1 main highway and main railway between Moscow and Minsk. Local public transport includes buses and trolleybuses. Buses, trolleybuses, tram and marshrutkas (passenger van) are the safest and cheapest way to travel around the city. The cost is 9-12 roubles for a 1-way ticket. There are two airports located in the outskirts of the city; Smolensk South (civilian) and Smolensk North (military), however, there are no regular flights scheduled to Smolensk South Airport.


Smolensk is home to the Smolensk State University (SMOLGU) and the Smolensk State Medical Academy (SSMA); together with colleges of further education and other educational institutes.

International relations[]

Twin towns/sister cities[]

Smolensk is twinned with:

People from Smolensk[]

A smolensk

The Devil's Ravine in Smolensk

  • Alexander Belyayev, Soviet SF writer
  • Natalia Ischenko, Russian synchro swimmer
  • Mikhail Glinka, composer
  • Maria Leontyavna Itkina (born 1932), runner
  • Sergey Konenkov, sculptor
  • Semyon Lavochkin, aircraft designer
  • Anatoly Lukyanov, politician
  • Gregori Maximoff, politician
  • Grigory Potyomkin, statesman
  • Aleksandr Tvardovsky, writer
  • Eduard Khil, singer


  1. ^ "Всероссийская перепись населения 2010 года. Том 1 [2010 All-Russian Population Census, vol. 1)]" (in Russian). Всероссийская перепись населения 2010 года (2010 All-Russia Population Census). Federal State Statistics Service. 2011. Retrieved June 29, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Численность населения России, субъектов Российской Федерации в составе федеральных округов, районов, городских поселений, сельских населённых пунктов – районных центров и сельских населённых пунктов с населением 3 тысячи и более человек [Population of Russia, its federal districts, federal subjects, districts, urban localities, rural localities—administrative centers, and rural localities with population of over 3,000]" (in Russian). Всероссийская перепись населения 2002 года (All-Russia Population Census of 2002). Federal State Statistics Service. May 21, 2004. Retrieved February 9, 2012. 
  3. ^ Demoscope Weekly (1989). "Всесоюзная перепись населения 1989 г. Численность наличного населения союзных и автономных республик, автономных областей и округов, краёв, областей, районов, городских поселений и сёл-райцентров. [All Union Population Census of 1989. Present population of union and autonomous republics, autonomous oblasts and okrugs, krais, oblasts, districts, urban settlements, and villages serving as district administrative centers]" (in Russian). Всесоюзная перепись населения 1989 года (All-Union Population Census of 1989). Institute of Demographics of the State University—Higher School of Economics. Retrieved February 9, 2012. 
  4. ^ Алексеев, Л. В. (1980) (in Russian). Смоленская земля в IX-XIII вв.. Moscow: Наука. pp. 111–115. 
  5. ^ Sanford, George. "Katyn and the Soviet massacre of 1940: truth, justice and memory, Part 804", 2005, p140. ISBN 978-0-415-33873-8.
  6. ^
  7. ^

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