The first recorded mention of the city is in 863 AD. It was the capital of Slavic Krivichs tribe in the ninth century. Smolensk is a city with great history. Since XII century it was a capital of the princedom, but since 1522 it became a city of Moscow kingdom. In 1596 the great fortress was built to protect people. Now this fortress is the most interesting sight of the city. It's bigger than Moscow fortress (the Kremlin). The length of its walls is about 6.5 km.
Several kilometers from Smolensk lies the Katyn (Russian: Катынь; Polish: Katyń) forest. In 1940, the forest was the site of a massacre of some 4,410 of Poland's intelligentsia, political elite, soldiers and high-ranking military officials. The term "Katyń massacre", however, has come to encompass a series of massacres of Poles by directive of Joseph Stalin. In total, 21,768 Poles of various professions (professors, doctors, soldiers, lawmakers, and police officers) were murdered at the hands of the Soviet Union's NKVD. In 2007, Andrzej Wajda, one of Poland's most esteemed film directors, whose father had been murdered in Katyń, released a dramatic film titled Katyń that examines the massacre and its effects on Poles in the years immediately after.
On April 10, 2010, nearly 70 years to the day after the massacre, Polish President Lech Kaczyński along with an entourage of high ranking officials and other notable Poles were en route to a memorial service to be held in honor of the victims of the Katyń massacre when the their plane crashed in Smolensk, killing everyone on board. Amongst those killed, were the President's wife; the commanders of Polish Army, Navy, Air Force, Polish Special Forces; the President's Undersecretary of State, multiple government ministers, and representatives of intelligentsia. A shocked Poland mourned for weeks for the 96 victims. The President and the First Lady were later buried in Kraków's Wawel Castle.
From Moscow several trains from Belorusskiy train station reach Smolensk in 5-6 hours. Some of them reach into Europe as far as to Paris and Nice (in summer only). The same trains can be used to reach Smolensk from Belarus. Daily express connects Smolensk with Bryansk; there are regular trains to and from Saint Petersburg.
Several times a week there are buses connecting Smolensk with European cities, such as Berlin, Warsaw, Madrid, Riga and some others, the timetable is subject to change, though. Other buses run to Mogilev, Kaluga, Velikiye Luki, Kursk and Tver. Daily buses run to Mstislavl, Belgorod, Bryansk, Moscow, Oryol, Saint Petersburg and Tula. The road from Moscow to Smolensk takes about 4.30-6 hours (depending on possible traffic jams in Moscow), a single ticket costs 700 rubles (approximately 14.5 Euros or 20 USD).
By car and by thumb
Smolensk is situated on the M1/E30 and A141 highways. Both are good for hitchhiking as well, though note, that M1 is about 6km north from the city.