The National Library of Belarus
The National Library of Belarus' current seat at Nezavisimosti 116 is undoubtedly one of the most iconic symbols of modern Belarus. This eccentric feat of architecture is in fact a giant rhombicuboctahedron (try saying that ten times fast), usually simply called a diamond, or by those feeling a little more provocative - the Death Star. Measuring up to 72-metres high, the National Library is a stunning sight, particularly at night when it's reflective glass surface is lit up with thousands of colourful lights.
The building was designed by architects Mihail Vinogradov and Viktor Kramarenko and first opening to the public in 2006. Prior to the construction of this building, the Belarusian National Library's history was a tumultuous one (not unlike the history of the city itself), with location changes, name changes, and complete closures plaguing the institution since its inception in 1922 as the Belarusian State and University Library.
Now, the library boasts a solid collection of over 8 million items of a variety of media, including newly introduced electronic media resources. Nearly one hundred thousand Belarusians are members of the library, with over two thousand visiting the library per day.
Visiting the interior of the National Library is, unfortunately, not easy for visitors to Minsk. It's possible to walk through the main doors to have a quick peek, but a library card is required to pass through the main gate - and library cards are only available to Belarusian nationals (or foreign students studying in Minsk).
But, if you do have a real thirst to explore the interior of the diamond, and its many attractions (including cafes, the Book Museum, and several galleries), it's possible to join a guided tour. The slight downside is that these tours are only available in Russian or Belarusian, so while you may see a lot, you'll obviously understand nothing if you don't speak the language. Stop by the official library website for more information on guided tours of the National Library. The cost of a guided tour is roughly 1 euro per person.
However, the primary tourist attraction for locals and international visitors alike, is the 22nd and 23rd floors, home to the only public observation deck in Minsk. The outdoor observation deck atop the diamond offers a breath-taking panorama of downtown Minsk, its rapidly expanding urban boundaries, as well as the sprawling forests surrounding the city. The top floor of the Library is also home to a cafe as well as an art gallery, complete with large windows and the same stunning views from the outdoor observation deck above.
To visit the library's observation deck, head to the back door of the library (helpfully marked with English-language signs). Pay the entrance fee (currently 7000 rubles/1 euro) at the ticket booth, and you'll be guided to the elevator which will zip you up the 22 floors to the very top of the library in a few minutes.
But if the idea of being perched on top of a 72 metre-high building sparks the acrophobia in you, there's always the beautiful open parks, huge square, and even a pond to explore, making the National Library not only a cultural landmark, but also a great place to relax.