SMOLENSK, TOWN, a town of Russia, capital of the government of the same name, on both banks of the Dnieper, at the junction of the railways from Moscow to Warsaw and from Riga to Orel, 252 m. by rail W.S.W. of Moscow. Pop. (1900) 57,405. The town, with the ruins of its old kreml, or citadel, is built on high crags on the left bank of the Dnieper. Its walls, built during the reign of Boris Godunov (1598-1605), are rapidly falling into decay. But the city has much improved of late years. It has monuments in commemoration of the war of 1812 and of the Russian musical composer, M. I. Glinka (1885). It has three public libraries, an historical and archaeological museum, a people's palace, and several scientific societies. The cathedral was erected in 1676-1772, on the site of a more primitive building (dating from 1101), which was blown up in 1611 by the defenders of the city during a siege by the Poles. The picture of the Virgin brought to Russia in 1046, and attributed to St Luke, which is kept in this cathedral, is much venerated throughout central Russia. Two other churches, built in the 13th century, have been spoiled by recent additions. Smolensk is neither a commercial nor a manufacturing centre.
Smolensk is one of the oldest towns of Russia, and is mentioned in Nestor's Chronicle as the chief town of the Slav tribe of the Krivichis, situated, on the great commercial route " from the Varyaghs to the Greeks." It maintained a lively traffic with Constantinople down to thenth century, when the principality of Smolensk included Vitebsk, Moscow, Kaluga and parts of the present government of Pskov. The princes of Kiev were often recognized as military chiefs by the iiyeche (council) of Smolensk, who mostly preferred Mstislav and his descendants and Rostislav, son of Mstislav, became the ancestor of a series of nearly independent princes of Smolensk. From the 14th century these fell under the influence of the Lithuanian rulers, and in 1408 Smolensk was annexed to Lithuania. In 1449 the Moscow princes renounced their claims upon Smolensk; nevertheless this important city, with nearly 100,000 inhabitants, was a constant source of contention between Moscow and Lithuania. In 1514 it fell under Russian dominion; but during the disturbances of 161 1 it was taken by Sigismund III. of Poland, and it remained under Polish rule until 1654, when the Russians retook it. In 1686 it was definitely annexed to Russia. In the 18th century it played an important part as a basis for the military operations of Peter the Great during his wars with Sweden. In 1812 it was well fortified; but the French, after a two days' battle, defeated the Russians here and took the city, when it suffered much.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)