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VITEBSK, a town of Russia, capital of the government of the same name, on both banks of the W. Dvina, and on the railway from Smolensk to Riga, 85 m. N.W. from the former. Pop. (1885) 54,676; (1897) 65,871. It is an old town, with decaying mansions of the nobility, and dirty Jewish quarters, half of its inhabitants being Jews. There are two cathedrals, founded in 1664 and 1777 respectively. The church of St Elias, a fine example of the Old Russian style of architecture, founded in 1643, was burned down in 1904. The manufactures are insignificant, and the poorer cksses support themselves by gardening, boat-building and the flax trade, while the merchants carry on an active business with Riga in Corn, flax, hemp tobacco, sugar and timber.

Vitebsk (Dbesk, Vitbesk and Vitepesk) is mentioned for the first time in 1021, when it belonged to the Polotsk principality. Eighty years later it became the chief town of a separate principality, and so continued until 1320, when it came under the dominion of the Lithuanians. In the 16th century it fell to Poland. Under the privileges granted to the city by the 1'ulish sovereigns it flourished, but it soon began to suffer from the wars between Russia and Poland, during which it was thrice taken by the Russians and burned. Russia annexed it finally in 1772.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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