The Primeval forest of Belovezhskaya pushcha
The words «BelavezhskayaPushcha» are familiar to every Belarusian. The word Pushcha is one of the most expressive and euphonic in the Belarusian language. This word makes the listener imagine a primeval forest which has preserved its prehistoric nature. As for the name Belavezhskaya Pushcha, it appeared in the Lithuanian and j Polish chronicles in 1409 and has lived till today. It is | interesting that the forest acquired its name thanks to the f white tower (Belaya Vezha) which was erected more than 700 ? years ago (between 1276 and 1288) not far from the small V town of Kamianiec. The original name of the tower is KamyaneckayaVezha — after the name of the town. The tower (vezha) had strategic military purpose — to watch the approach of the enemy troops. At that time the tower was surrounded by a dense forest. Now you can see an immense space of forest only from the top of the tower. Nowadays Belavezhskaya Pushcha is what is left of the primeval forest which in the 12th century stretched from the Baltic sea to the Bug river and from the Oder to the Dnieper.
Archaeological excavations proved that in prehistoric times on the territory of today’s Pushcha there lived bulls, cave bears, north elks, and mammoths. There isn’t enough evidence to prove when man first appeared in Belavezhskaya Pushcha. Only a tribe of Yacviahs was mentioned in the Kievan chronicles. The origin of the Yacviahs is unknown. Some people believe that they were Lithuanians; others consider | them Slavs. In 983 the Kievan Prince Vladimir began to I force the Yacviahs out of the Pushcha. And the Lithuanian I Prince Traiden «successfully» finished extermination of the| ancient tribe in 1281. The rest of the Yacviahs assimilated to the Belarusians.
The first attempt to profit from the Pushcha dates back to the middle of the 16th century. During the reign of the Polish King Sigizmund August four iron producing plants were built on the territory of Belavezhskaya Pushcha. At the | same time collecting of resin, distilling of tar, and burning of coal was started. The industrial development of the Pushcha flourished in the reign of the last Polish King Stanislav August. The rivers flowing through the Pushcha were cleared and timber-rafting to Dancig began.
In 1795 after the division of Poland Belavezhskaya Pushcha became part of the Russian empire. The empress Katherine the Great distributed the Pushcha among her servants who took part in the subjugation of the forest territory. Since then the ancient forest has suffered from both natural disasters and human activities. In May 1811 Belavezhskaya Pushcha suffered from a conflagration which was extinguished only in the middle of October by rain. The l ire decreased the number of animals living in the Pushcha greatly. But not only the fire was the cause of the decrease in the number of animals. In 1812 the forest became the arena of military operations of Napoleon. The French troops needed food and they found it in the Pushcha. In 1830-s Belavezhskaya Pushcha was often visited by ship builders from Petersburg who were attracted by rich resources of timber in the forest. Three thousand people were involved in cutting down oaks and pines there. In 1840-s the Pushcha suffered another mass cutting down. In 1864 the first twenty noble elks, which had been exterminated by 1705, were brought from Germany and set free to breed in the Puscha. In 1888 the Russian tsar Nicolai II took Belavezhskaya Pushcha under his patronage. World War I did not bypass the ancient forest. The German invaders constructed 300 km of rail ways in their country and in two years they cut down and took to Germany 4,5 million cubic meters of the best timber. Exploitation of the forest did not stop after the war when the Pushcha was acquired by Poland. Every year more than a million cubic meters of timber was exported to England. In 1939, when the Soviets «liberated» Western Belarus, Belavezhskaya Pushcha was declared the State Reserve.
World War II began and the Pushcha was occupied by the Germans again. During the war the archives of the forest were burnt down. When the Nazis were driven away, the forest resumed its reserve status. A lot of well-known scientists came to study the natural heritage of Belavezhskaya Pushcha. In 1944 part of the reserve was given to Poland.
In 1957 the reserve was turned into a hunting reserve. No one cared for its natural heritage. It was a place for restand hunting for people in authority. However, it is worth mentioning that the new status contributed to the improvement of the living and working conditions of those who worked in the forest reserve. A hotel, school, museum and some offices were built very quickly. What is more a governmental residence (Viskuli) was built in the Pushcha.
The world heard about Belavezhskaya Pushcha in December 1991 when the USSR ceased to exist. It was in Viskuli where the leaders of the three republics of the former USSR: Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine gathered to take an important decision — to dissolve the Soviet Union. Belavezhskaya Puscha was declared the National Park. The residence in Viskuli acquired the status of a governmental residence of the Republic of Belarus.
On December 14, 1992 UNESCO included the ancient forest in the list of the World Heritage of Humankind. A year later UNESCO gave Belavezhskaya Pushcha the status of a biosphere reserve. Thus the Pushcha entered the world system for surveying environmental changes. Belavezhskaya Pushcha gives strength to all of us. It carries the feeling of eternity, kindness and peace with it.