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Polotsk(pô`lətsk), city (1989 pop. 76,837), W Belarus, on the Western Dvina River at its confluence with the Polota. It is a large rail junction and agricultural trade center. Manufactures include building materials, farm implements, processed foods, metal goods, and glass filaments. One of Russia's oldest cities, Polotsk was the capital of a principality of the same name from the 10th to 13th cent., when it passed to Lithuania. Polotsk became self-governing in 1498. A flourishing center for trade, first with Scandinavia, Novgorod, and Pskov and then (13th–16th cent.) with Riga, Polotsk was transferred to Russia in 1772. The city retains the Cathedral of Sofia (1044–66) and the Cathedral of the Spaso-Evfrosina monastery (12th cent.).
a city under oblast jurisdiction and administrative center of Polotsk Raion, Vitebsk Oblast, Byelorussian SSR. Situated on the Zapadnaia Dvina River at its confluence with the Polota. Major railroad junction, with lines to Daugavpils, Vilnius, Bologoe, and Vitebsk. Important highway junction, with roads leading to Minsk, Vilnius, Riga, Pskov, and Vitebsk. The city has an airport. Population, 72,000 (1974); 30,000 in 1939, 44,000 in 1959, and 64,000 in 1970.
Polotsk is mentioned for the first time in 862 as the center of the tribal federation of the Polochane. The city was captured by Lithuania in the second half of the 13th century. In 1563, during the Livonian War of 1558–83, it was taken by Russian troops and held until 1579. It was occupied by the Russian Army again in 1655 but passed to the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania by terms of the Armistice of Andrusovo. Annexed by Russia in 1772, the city became the administrative center of Polotsk Province in 1777 and served as administrative center of Polotsk Namestnichesto (Vicegerency) from 1778 to 1796. Polotsk became a district capital of Byelorussia Province in 1796 and a district capital of Vitebsk Province in 1802.
During the Patriotic War of 1812, the forces of Russia and Napoleon fought two battles near Polotsk. The first of these took place in August. After the battle at Kliastitsy, Marshal N. C. Oudinot’s corps retreated to Polotsk. To cover his left flank, Napoleon sent General Gouvion-Saint-Cyr’s corps to Polotsk. On August 4 (16), Russian troops, numbering 17,000 and commanded by General P. Kh. Vitgenshtein, reached Polotsk and the next day attacked the enemy, even though enemy forces were superior in number (30,000). After a fierce battle, Napoleon’s troops began retreating beyond the Zapadnaia Dvina; the wounded Oudinot was replaced by Gouvion-Saint-Cyr. On August 6 (18) three French divisions, supported by 60 guns, took the offensive and pressed the Russian troops slightly, but a further advance by Napoleon’s forces was stopped. By the end of the day, Gouvion-Saint-Cyr withdrew his troops to Polotsk and the Russian troops took up advantageous positions on the Drissa River.
The second battle took place some two months later. By October, the strength of Vitgenshtein’s troops had risen to 50,000 men and 170 guns. Polotsk was defended by Gouvion-Saint-Cyr’s corps, numbering 30,000, which covered the Minsk-Smolensk communication line from the north. Vitgenshtein’s troops launched an offensive on October 5 (17) and captured Polotsk on October 8 (20). On October 11 (23) they forced the Zapadnaia Dvina and mounted a pursuit of the enemy, who was retreating to the south and southwest.
Polotsk was a local commercial center in the 19th and early 20th centuries. During the prewar five-year plans (1929–41) the city developed wood-products, food-processing, and building-materials industries. Polotsk was occupied by the fascist German aggressors on July 16, 1941, and liberated on July 4, 1944. It was the administrative center of Polotsk Oblast from 1944 to 1954 and then came under oblast jurisdiction.
Polotsk is a major industrial center in the north of the republic. It has plants producing fiberglass, plastic goods, and rein-forced-concrete articles. It also has an automobile repair plant, a casting and metalworking plant, a building-materials combine, and factories producing furniture, clothing, and art objects. The food-processing industry is represented by meat-packing, bread-baking, and milling combines, a cannery, a milk plant, a winery, and a fish-processing plant.
The St. Sophia Cathedral in Polotsk was built either between 1044 and 1066 or between 1050 and 1060. Between 1738 and 1750 it was rebuilt into a three-nave basilica with two towers on the southern facade. The cathedral, which is oriented from south to north, preserves ornamental frescoes from the 11th and early 12th centuries. Other monuments include the cathedral of the Spaso-Evfrosiniia Monastery, designed before 1159 by the architect Ioann, with frescoes from the early 13th century. The complex of the Bogoiavlenskii Monastery dates from the second half of the 18th century.
The city was restored after the Great Patriotic War (1941–45). Large-scale construction is now under way according to a new general plan proposed in 1948 by G. V. Zaborskii, L. P. Mat-skevich, and other architects. The plan was modified in 1964 by V. A. Danilov, Z. S. Davgello, and other architects. In 1972 the plan was modified further by V. P. Chernyshov, G. V. Buldov, and other architects.
Educational institutions include polytechnic, forestry, and agricultural technicums and pedagogical and medical schools. There is a people’s amateur theater, a museum of local lore, and a republic museum of atheism. The Byelorussian educator F. Skorina was born (c. 1490) and lived in Polotsk; a monument to Skorina was unveiled in 1974 (bronze and granite, sculptors A. K. Glebov and others, architect V. S. Marokin).