Braslaw Lakes National Park
Belarus is often called blue-eyed. Only from a bird’s eye view this can be fully understood. The country has about 11,000 lakes and about 20,000 rivers and streams. Most of them are located in the Braslaw (Braslau) Lakes National Park, which covers a total area of 183 km². The density of lakes here is higher than in Finland, for example. Rivers and streams connect the central lakes, the largest lake district consists of 61 lakes.
The southern part of the national park is characterized by flat lowlands, forest areas alternate with extensive swamps. Forests cover a total area of 31,000 hectares. In the predominantly widespread coniferous and spruce forests there are many small picturesque forest lakes. One of the most beautiful of these forest lakes is called Bozhje Oko (english: Eye of God), which has the shape of an almost perfect geometric circle. In Braslaw the belief is widespread that God sees through these lakes and watches over the earth.
The many lakes are a result of the last ice age. About 18,000 years ago this area was still covered by extensive glaciers. As it slowly became warmer, enormous erosions occurred, which formed this unique system of lakes and gentle hills. This can best be admired at the viewpoint “Mayak” (see picture). Mayak is surrounded by numerous ridges of hills within a radius of about 50 square kilometres. Each of the ridges has its own name, together they form the Kesikowskie ridge (the name comes from the name of the nearby village). Mayak is the biggest hill of Kesikowskie, its height in relation to the nearest lakes is almost 50 meters, in absolute sea level it is 174 meters high.
Today there is a viewing platform on the hill, from which the visitor can enjoy a fascinating view. To the north one can see the border with Latvia, and nearby are the mast of a wind power station and the towers of the churches of the village of Plusy. In the east, a mosaic of hilltops of the Kesikovskie range of hills with extensive wooded valleys can be seen. To the south, the outlines of the Catholic church in the village of Ikazn and the castle hill in Braslau can be seen. In the foreground is the lake Strusto with its numerous islands. To the west, a Catholic church and the wooded Perwoloka peninsula can be seen, where there are beautiful bathing places in the surroundings of meadows and woods.
At dawn and in the evening hours the light is almost magical. Travel fans who are attracted to Scandinavia often compare these places with Finland. The attraction of the Braslaw lakes is that each of them has its own character and its own special shape, as can be seen at the lake Strusto. In the middle of the lake there is the second largest island of Belarus, called Tschajtschin (area 1.6 km²), which itself has its own small lake. Lake Wolosso is the deepest and cleanest lake in the National Park. Its depth is more than 40 meters and the water is so clear that you can see up to 8 meters into the depth.
The flora and fauna around the lakes is diverse. The region is home to more than 800 plant species, some of which are endangered and are on the Red List of Threatened Species of Belarus.
More than 30 species of fish live in the lakes, almost 40 percent of all birds in Belarus nest on the territory of the national park. 45 bird species are registered in the Red Book of Threatened Species. Among them, the Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) is particularly noteworthy. These sublime birds were almost extinct, but have recently been resettled on the Braslaw Lakes and are now strictly protected. Other rare bird species living on the lakes include the black stork (Ciconia nigra), the grey crane (Grus grus), the herring gull (Larus argentatus), the willow ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus), the Dunlin (Calidris alpina), and the Ural Owl (Strix uralensis).
As far as the local fauna is concerned, the European badger (Meles meles), the Eurasian lynx or northern lynx (Lynx lynx), and the brown bear (Ursus arctos) are under special protection.
All these animals live in the National Park, the heart of which lies in one of the oldest cities of Belarus, Braslau. The city is surrounded by five lakes, Lake Drivjaty is the largest in the National Park (see picture).
In the heart of Braslau rises the castle hill, of which fortified settlements from the 5th to the 18th century can be traced. Today you can walk through the picturesque little streets of the city. Unfortunately, hardly any excavations have taken place, so little is known about the history of Braslau. However, it is known that the settlement was inhabited until the 11th century by the Latgals, the ancestors of the Latvians. With the expansion of the Slavic peoples in the early Middle Ages, however, the Latgalians were displaced. The town is a little younger than Vitebsk or Polotsk and was first mentioned in a chronicle in 1065. The castle hill in the centre of the town was named in honour of Prince Bryachislav of Polotsk in the 11th century. This is where the actual roots of the city name lie.
At the top of the already mentioned castle hill stands a white obelisk. The obelisk is dedicated to the famous Belarusian doctor Stanislav Narbut. In 1906 he founded a very modern hospital in Braslau, where patients from all over the country came to. The doctor had the opportunity to work in other places, but remained loyal to his small homeland throughout his life.
At the foot of the mountain you can see the Church of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, which is considered an excellent example of neo-Romanesque architecture. The present church was built in 1897 on the foundations of the destroyed 15th century church. During the Soviet period it was used as a storeroom for a long time, only in 1967 it became a place of prayer for the faithful again.
Another religious attraction of the city is the Orthodox Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, built in 1897 in pseudo-Russian style. Today the church houses over a hundred icons, some of them very old, to which believers from all over the country make pilgrimages.
The military cemetery from the First World War has been preserved until today. In the vicinity there is also a tomb from the 19th century.
The so-called Braslau Switzerland is a unique region, whose beauty and historical wealth attracts many visitors.