Map of Brest Fortress
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I have visited Brest on a sunny August day in 2007, after a trather disappointing „guided tour” to the Belovezhsjkaya Pushcha National park. (See the review there.)
The city of Brest is not a real eye candy – it was destroyed at least twice in the 20th century and reconstructed during the Soviet era. Grey concrete blocks stand on both sides of the unreasonably built four lane streets, were there is almost no traffic. The importance of the city is in its strategic location, during the Soviet times the bridge near Brest was the only border crossing between the Soviet Union and Poland – most of the commerce (legal and illegal) to and from the West went this corridor. Nice not, but it is a bustling commercial town with smugglers and whores. The only place of historical or touristic interest is the fort, now a patriotic historical monument nicely placed in a charming park.
The importance of the fortress comes from its role in the first ansd the second world war. Originally it was the largest 19th century fortress of Russian Empire, one of the western Russian fortresses. The final works were carried out in 1914, the first year of World War I resulting in a fortified area 30 km in circumference. The huge it was, it could not withstand the Blitz. During World War I the fortress was captured by the German army in August, 1915, after the Russian army abandoned it during its general withdrawal from Poland that summer. In march 3, 1918 the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was singed in this fortress by the Bolshevik Russian and the Central Powers. According to the terms of this treaty one third of the territory of the former Russian Empire ceded to the Central Powers (i. e. mainly Germany). The rusian troops withdrew from the Baltic states Belarus and Ukraine – opening the way for the independence of these territories. (That was not the aim of the Germans, but the treaty did not last for a year, as the Central Powers lost the war in autumn.) Later he fortress changed hands twice during the Polish-Soviet War and eventually stayed within Polish borders, a development that was formally recognized by the Treaty of Riga in 1921. During the Invasion of Poland in 1939 the fortress was defended for 4 days by a small garrison. On 17 September 1939 the Soviet Union invaded Poland in accordance with the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact and occupied the Eastern part of Poland including the Brest Fortress. In the summer of 1941 it was defended by Soviet soldiers against the German Wehrmacht in the first days of Operation Barbarossa, earning it the title of Hero Fortress. The fortress had become a symbol of the Soviet resistance during the German-Soviet War along with Stalingrad and Kursk.
The builing was heavily damaged, and never reconstructed. A pert of it - e. g. the palace where the Berst Litovsk Treaty was signed - is still in state it was after WWII, left so as a memento of the war. Other parts are restored. A new gateway forming a red star was built and a gigantic statue of the unknown Soviet solder was erected in the middle of the courtyard. (The biggest WWII monument in the whole former Soviet Union) In from of it there is the eternal flame commemorating the defenders of Brest. (The last couple of sentences, I think, give enough explanation why ICOMOS rejected the site, and why is it sure, that Brest will never find its way into the WH.)
May be not intact from the architectural point of view, but it is a very authentic experience. Not touristy at all – I am sure that day we ere the only foreigners there. If we say that Belarus is now a living museum of the Soviet era (where else you can find a metro station called Lenin square?) – the Brest fort is twice as much. At the entrance loudspeakers play WWII marches – when we entered I heard the best of all, the Sviashchennaya Voina (Holy War), a song I remember from my childhood’s Russian lessons. Inside, like in the Soviet movies just married couples wait to make a picture in front of the gigantic soldier. Like Brezhnev were still alive.
It is definitely not a must see, but for those who want to dip in the memories of the Soviet past can be fun experience.