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Orsha (ôrˈshə), city (1989 pop. 123,128), NE Belarus, a port at the confluence of the Dnieper and Orshitsa rivers. One of Belarus's leading rail and water transport junctions and industrial centers, Orsha is the starting point of shipping on the Dnieper. The city's industries include machine building, metalworking, food processing, and the production of machine tools, and linen. First mentioned as Rsha in 1067, the city passed to Lithuania in the 13th cent. It was an important Polish fortress and trade center from the 16th cent. until its annexation by Russia in 1772, during the first partition of Poland.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a city under oblast jurisdiction and the administrative center of Orsha Raion, Vitebsk Oblast, Byelorussian SSR. Situated on the Dnieper at the confluence with the Orshitsa River. An important railroad junction for lines to Vitebsk, Lepel’, Minsk, Mogilev, Krichev, and Smolensk, it is on the Leningrad-Kiev highway. Population, 111,000 (1974; 54,000 in 1939; 64,000 in 1959, and 101,000 in 1970).

Orsha was first mentioned in the chronicle for the year 1067. Until the mid-13th century it was successively part of the Polotsk, Smolensk, and Vitebsk principalities. In 1359 it came under Lithuanian rule and later passed to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. After reunification with Russia in 1772, Orsha became the administrative center of Mogilev Province. From 1777 to 1919 it was a district center in Mogilev Province, except for a brief period (1796–1802) in which it was a district center in Byelorussia Province. In the 19th century the port of Orsha was an important transshipment trade center, primarily for grain. By the late 19th century the city had 15 enterprises, most connected with the food industry.

Soviet power was established in Orsha on Oct. 28 (Nov. 10), 1917. It became a district capital in Gomel’ Province in 1919, a district capital in Vitebsk Province in 1920, the administrative center of an okrug in the Byelorussian SSR in 1924, and the administrative center of a raion in the Byelorussian SSR in 1930. The Orsha-Unecha and the Orsha-Lepel’ railroads were built between 1922 and 1925. In the years of the prewar five-year plans, the city became an industrial center. Orsha was occupied from July 13, 1941, to June 27, 1944, by fascist German troops and suffered extensive damage. Underground activists and partisans headed by K. S. Zaslonov waged a heroic struggle in the city and the surrounding area. There is now a museum in Orsha named in honor of Zaslonov. The city was completely restored during the first postwar five-year plan (1946–50).

A developed industrial center of the Byelorussian SSR, Orsha is the chief textile center of its oblast, with a flax combine and factories that produce, among other things, knitted goods and clothing. It has plants producing machine tools, sewing machines, instruments, silicates, and reinforced-concrete structural members. Orsha is also a center for the food-processing industry, with a meat-canning combine, a processed-cheese plant, a cannery, and other plants. In addition, the city has railroad-transport enterprises.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.