Messages from a Lost Civilization

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Minsk, Belarus – June 2014

The birch forests and rolling hills give way to an expanse of austere, uniform structures. The proletarian dwellings in Minsk lack the dinginess of counterparts in neighboring countries. At least on the outside.

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Color appears as one penetrates deeper into this concrete orchard. (There is too much order to be a wilderness.) Cryptic depictions adorn several of the monoliths. They are lined up along the side of the boulevard like sentinels. Stoic, lofty. I turn to stare at them as we pass.

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Two days later, I find myself standing before them. I lift my eyes and try to decipher the vibrant hieroglyphics. Messages from a lost civilization.

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What is it that they want to tell us?

I see the mythical being, the one who reached for the stars. The other figures are prototypes of utopia. Androgynous, transcendent. Their aloof expressions are tinged with desolation. How do you fill the empty space of time if there is nothing left to strive for?

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Across the boulevard, a much more recent arrival. It has come to rest before them, as if conjured from another dimension. A shimmering crystal. Vessel of knowledge.

Where do civilizations go when they vanish? Catastrophe has a way of keeping the fascination alive. Assimilation into a reorganized and diluted society is a much more effective form of extinction. Better to fade away than to burn out.

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48 thoughts on “Messages from a Lost Civilization

    • Thanks! Minsk totally exceeded my expectations. It is a lovely city, although in an unconventional way. The visa process is intimidating and flights are expensive, but it was worth it. I’m so glad I went before it opens up, as it inevitably will one day.

      • Unlike other Eastern European capitals, Minsk is absolutely spotless. No tags, no rubbish. None. I didn’t see one homeless person. The buildings in the city center have been very well-maintained so that they look new. We could learn something from them in that regard.

  1. Fascinating … and not at all what I expected. I hope you will share more from this visit to open our eyes even more to a rather mysterious destination … at least to me.

    • Hi Patricia – Belarus is indeed mysterious to us Westerners. If we hear anything about it at all, it’s almost always negative. The most surprising thing is how calm and pleasant Minsk is. There will definitely be more posts about it in the future.

    • I was certainly fascinated by the city. I spent my whole trip just walking around and taking photos. I left feeling like I didn’t capture it all. It is some kind of mosaic on the buildings, something set into the concrete. I have a feeling that those images have been there for quite a while, but, like everything in Minsk, they’ve been super well-maintained so that they look new.

  2. Where do civilizations go? A very insightful question. I think they remain within our collective consciences and mythologies. It is a celebration. Great photography. What a magnificent city.

    • That would have been an unforgettable trip. I know someone who was formerly married to an ex-military man. Even though they’ve been divorced for years, she still can’t get a visa to visit Russia. The Cold War endures…

  3. More than just vanilla, reinvigorated imagery. Unflattening layers still part of a civilisation’s image and heritage, out from underneath organised groups that have sort to dominate throughout the latest eras with their disconnect from and exploitation in an environment that sustains us. Recovery, perhaps is possible, if but a little at a time.

    • Thank you so much. This trip (and one to Transnistria just before it) really opened my eyes. There’s so much distortion in the media, including so-called objective travel guides. I no longer have an opinion about any place until I’ve visited for myself.

      • Dear Julie, I very much appreciate this opinion but on the same time, if I had, somehow, shut my eyes in front of all the interesting places I have read about, also on your blog, but not had the opportunity to go there, I would have excluded from my eyes and soul many interesting moments, like this. Thank you so much.
        I have had the luck to know a teacher from Minsk, whose student wrote the following article about the city for my blog. I was then very much suprised and thankful by her offer.
        https://rivella49.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/weissrusslandbelaruswitebsk/

        • Thank you very much, Martina. I try to be objective and show people what I’ve seen and felt. Everyone’s experience is unique.

          I believe the article on your blog is about Vitebsk (another city in Belarus) not Minsk. I wanted to go there, but didn’t have the time. Maybe next time. 🙂

    • That’s for sure. It was completed in 2006. There’s lot of construction going on in Minsk and much of it has a space age feel, though this one gets the prize for originality.

    • Thank you. I was there during a beautiful early summer weekend. The block apartments that I saw were less grimy than those in neighboring countries, so they must clean them somehow. It is a very interesting and pleasant city. I really hope to go back one day and explore more of the country.

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