These days, Belarus is a truly European country, but emerge from the Metro onto Independence Square in Minsk and you would be forgiven for thinking you’d been transported to Russia. Construction on the square began in 1964, well before the breakup of the Soviet Union, and in some ways it perfectly reflects the Russian penchant for function over form. First, the square is immense. It was designed for rallies, ceremonies, and military parades. Second, a number of monumental buildings scream Soviet Brutalist style, including the high-rise Belarusian State University (left in the above photo) and the former Supreme Soviet of Belarus (now the Supreme Council of Belarus), in the center of the photo.
But like Moscow’s Red Square, which features the red and green crenellated Kremlin and an onion-domed St. Basil’s Church, the severe lines of the institutional buildings on Independence Square are softened by more fanciful structures. The Church of Saints Simon and Helen, a Roman Catholic church that was completed in 1910, is often called the Red Church because of the red bricks used in its construction. The glass domes in the photo are skylights for the Stolitsa shopping center that lies directly beneath the square. The mall, which opened in 2007, features 807,000 square-feet of shops, restaurants, and entertainment on three levels. Still today, Independence Square in Minsk is one of the largest squares in Europe.