table of contents:
1. Vilnius Castle Complex
2. Royal Palace and Cathedral
3 . The castle of Kaunas
4. The castles of Trakai
5. The castle of Medininkai
8. List of resources
Vilnius Castle Complex
I would like to start my individual project with describing of Vilnius Castle Complex. I have been living not far away and can wonder time, when I see it. How beautiful and interesting it is!
The Vilnius Castle Complex is a group of defensive, cultural and religious buildings on the left bank of the Neris River, near the inflow the Vilnia Riiver, in Vilnius. The complex evolved between the 10th and 18th century
Romantics discovered the old castles, which they mentioned in their creation. It was started to research the castles just in the 20th century. Everybody understood importance of castles and other historical monuments, but there was a lack of capital for restoration and preservation. The castles were poor studied already because of these reasons. How it was mentioned the news about the first castles appeared just in the 20th century. Itt is impossible to restore the castles like it used to be built. But the most important is to restore the purpose of castle and when it was built.
At the beginning of the 16th century it was started to bu
The reliable news about the castles of Vilnius appeared just in the 14th century, with more frequent becoming invasions of Cross-bearer into Lithuania. In that ti
After the 16th century the upper castle was not maintained and it suffered from neglect. Until the early 17th century, a prison for noblemen was located in the upper castle. It was used as a fortress for the last time during the invasion of Russian army in 1655, when for the first time in Lithuanian history, a foreign army captured the entire complex. Just after six years Lithuanian army managed to recapture Vilnius and the castles. Afterwards the upper castle stood abandoned and was not reconstructed.
Upper Castle: 1. Western tower; 2. Southern tower; 3. Castle Keep. (Enclosure 2)
Lower Castle: 4. Gates and bridge to the city (Pilies Street); 5. Road and bridge to Tiltas Street; 6. Vilnius Cathedral; 7. Palace of Supreme Tribunal; 8. Palace of bishops; 9. Royal palace; 10. Palace garden; 11. The New Arsenal; 12Gates of the Old Arsenal; 13. Yard of Old Arsenal.
Royal Palace and Cathedral
The two principal buildings of the lower castle are the Royal palace and Cathedral. The remains of
At the beginning of the 15th century most probably after the fire in 1419, a big cathedral was built by Vytautas in the castle and between it and the hill – a new gothic palace. The grand Vytautas prepared for celebrations of his crown in this palace. The stone buildings of the 13-14th century were pulled down by building of the palace. The east building with three cellars was on the slope of the hill. The southern building was on the southern slope of the terrace and the west building leant against the end of cathedral. The wall closed the inneryard of the palace in the north. There are left bricks, which are decorated with paintings of fantastic animals and glazed arms, figured bricks and tiles of the 15th century.
At the end of the 15th century and at the beginning of the 14th century the stoves of tiles, which were covered with many-coloured glaze, are characteristic for the Renaissance, decorated the gothic palace. The cornices of stoves were decorated with arms of lords and noblemen and with fantastic scenes as well.
Kazimieras Jogailaitis and his son, the guardian of Lithuania – St. Kazimieras – had been living in the castle of Vilnius for a few years. In the junction of the 15th and 16th centuries there lived Aleksandras, whose remains rest in the mausoleum of the cathedral until now. About 1520-1530the Italian architects invited by Bona Sforca, the wife of Žygimantas Senasis, rebuilt the palace in the Renaissance style and expanded it. The east building was made longer. It is supposed that the southern and east buildings became higher, there was built the second floor. Most probably at the time the north building was built too. The squared stones were used for the building, the polished bricks of limestone and marble – for the floor.
The interior was decorated with stoves of many-coloured tiles. Nine-year-old Žygimantas Augustas was declared the grand duke of Lithuania in this palace. He met and fall in love with Barbora Radvilaitė. Žygimantas Augustas accumulated the library and collection of paintings and jewels, which were the richest in Europe. There, in the palace, was celebrated the solemn wedding of Kotryna, the sister of Žygimantas Augustas, and Jonas Vaza, the sun of Sweden king Gustav. After the fire in 1610 marble and especially sandstone were used a lot by repairs of palace. The cornices, made from sandstone and decorated with arms of Vaza’s dynasty, adorned openings of windows, fireplaces and walls. The stoves were decorated not only with arms of Vaza’s dynasty but with arms of other noblemen too. At the end of the 15th century – in the 17th century many the same architects and sculptors, who worked in Krokuva, worked in this palace too, but still they got a peculiar style for the palace.
In 1634 at the time of king Vladislovas Vaza, the first play of opera took place in the theatre of palace. The opera was a new genre, reached not every capital-city of Europe. In August of 1655 the Russian army occupied the city and the castle without big battles, robbed it and burnt down a part. Just in December of 1661 after a few months of siege and fights, the Lithuanian army took back the damaged a lot castle. The palace, which was robbed and damaged in the battles, was not suited for a living of dukes. About 100 years it was abandoned. In the 18th century there were allowed to settle for a few tens of town-dwellers. In 1794, when the rebellion, led by Tadas Kosciuška, was suppressed and in 1795, after the third division of Lithuania – Poland state, Lithuania was annexed to the empire of Russia. Soon, in the autumn of 1799, the magistrate of Vilnius, according to the order of czar, gave over it to the trader of Keremenčiug to knock down it. In 1801 the palace was pulled down, bricks and stones sold and its foundation and remains of cellars were filled up with ruins. There is left just a part of east building (cellars and a part of wall in the ground floor) which was rebuilt into a living house. After1931 rebellion the Russian czar’s power pulled down the foundation of palace again, when it dig a protective ditch of fortress. When the fortress was abolished, about 1880 the ramparts were dig off, the ditch was filled up and the place of palace became a park. In 1987 the institute of monuments restoration started the investigation of palace territory and from 1988the research centre of castles, founded by history institute of Lithuania, took it over. Architects, archaeologists, historians have been working in this centre for 10years. In these years there are accumulated over 200000 finds: tiles, fragments of architecture, household utensils and articles of glass and iron. On the 10th of May 2002 it is officially started a reconstruction of the Royal Palace.
The Royal Palace and Cathedral formed a complex and stood side by side during the centuries, but the two buildings have different histories. There is evidence that in pre-Chistian times the pagan god Perkūnas was worshipped at this place. In 1251 the king of Lithuania, Mindaugas, built the original cathedral. In 1387 a second gothic cathedral with five chapels was built. It was burnt down and rebuilt again for a several time. In 1783 the cathedral was reconstructed according to a design by Laurynas Gucevičius in the neoclassical style and the church acquired its strict quadrangular shape. This design survived to the present day. And this design keeps eyes of mine and of many tourists, who stays astonished at the Cathedral.
The castle of Kaunas
The second castle, which I am writing about, is Kaunas castle, located in Kaunas. Archaeological evidence suggests that it could be built during the 15th century by Kęstutis to defend a road to Trakai. This castle, built in the gothic style, was the country’s first defensive bastion and the only double – walled castle in Lithuania. Its site is strategic – a rise on the banks of Nemunas near its confluence with Neris. So it served as a strategic outpost and guarded nearby cities as well as trade routes.
According to the chronicles of Bychovc and Stryjkovskyj, the castle and the city was built by legendary Palemonas son Kaunas in 1030. Until 1280 there is no news about this castle, so we can make decision, it was not of great importance. One of the first mentioning of castle is in the chronicle of M. Stryjkovskij at the time of Gediminas rule. There was written, it was occupied by crusaders in 1317. In 1362 after a siege crusaders managed to destroy it. Legend has it that the castle was not destroyed and that 36 survivors remained. These survivors along with the knights are still burning in an eternal fire which can only be extinguished by an innocent person, who enters the castle via a secret cave. However, history books say that the castle was destroyed. In 1362 the siege of the castle lasted three weeks. During this attack, the crusaders constructed a siege tower and erected wall-penetration machinery. Primitive fire arms might have been used. At that time, the castle were 9 meters high and 2.1 meters in width. According to Marburgietis, the castle was of stone with high walls, surrounded by ramparts and ditches. It was surrounded be 5-6 m depth canal, which was not filled up with water. There were shooting-openings on top and from yard – wooden galleries. In parallel there was one wall more, but it was in two thiner. It was a supporting wall – it fortified the slope and at the same time it was a defensive wall. It hindered enemies to get into the yard. Most probably this castle had no defensive towers. In 1383 in island of Neris, there was built a new castle, called a new Kaunas. After 1398, the Teutonic Knights were no longer able to recoquer the castle. Thanks to Vytautas the Great, who gave rights of Magdeburg to the city, Kaunas became one of the most important economic and administrative centre. After the Vytautas’ death there were administrative institutions. About 1533 – 1536 Kaunas fell to queens Bona lot, who imposed taxes to the city – dwellers, who had lots – they had to pay tribute in food – stuffs. In 1549 Žygimantas Augustas gave this castle to his wife Barbora Radvilaitė. After the Battle of Žalgiris the castle lost its strategic military importance and defensive function. It was used as s residence and because an administrative centre. In the middle of the 16th century the castle was strengthened and adapted to new defensive purposes by the construction of an artillery bastion near the round tower. The diameter of the bastion was about 40 metres and the height of the bastion’s walls was about 12 metres. The wall worked in conjunction with a defensive trench. At the bottom of the bastion a firing gallery was installed, which was linked with the tower. In spite of this the castle started to come undone. In 1611 part of the castle was flooded by the Neris and one tower fell down. In the forth decade of the 17th century the river reached the walls of castle and little by little pulled down the most part of buildings. The castle was used as a prison in the 18th century. Later the Russian administration gave a permission to build houses in the castle’s territory. The bricks of castle were used for cable – stone road, the bakery was built. Just in 1925 it was started to take care of ruins. In 1930 the local administration of Kaunas bought buildings, which surrounded the castle and after a few years, when hovels, built on the territory of castle, were pulled down, archaeological excavations started. During the excavations it turned out, that castle was rebuilt at least twice. The castle had, the scientists guess, a plan of trapezium, defensive walls, round towers.
The wooden and later stone buildings stood in the yard. The whole castle was surrounded by ditch, which was filled up with water of Neris and it was strengthened by stone wall from castle side.
Further efforts to preserve the castle were made in the 1950s. At this time the round tower underwent some repair. Later the firing bastion was excavated from beneath several overlying strata. The excavated bastion was in very good condition. As part of its protection there was put roofing, as well as on the remaining towers and walls. The remaining portions of the round tower were not reconstructed to their original height, nor were the castle walls. The bigger part of them are only remaining foundation of the walls. Archaeological excavations continued at Kaunas Castle interrupted by periods of inactivity. The evidence from these archaeological works suggests that the configuration of the castle, excluding the bastion, has remained in the from it took during its reconstruction in 1376. The war museum of Vytautas the Great was founded in the southern-east tower, but it was closed because of bad condition sin the ninth decade. For many years afterwards Kaunas Castle stood abandoned. Today the round tower of Kaunas castle houses an art gallery. Plans have been prepared for a major castle reconstruction project. It is open to tourism and hosts occasional festivals. Someday I will go there with my family without fail.
The castles of Trakai
It would be shame on me if I would not write about Trakai and its castles.
Tourists coming to Vilnius are likely to visit Trakai, the ancient capital of Lithuania. Trakai is one of the oldest Lithuanian settlements. Archaeological excavations testify that the area had been inhabited as far as several thousands years ago. Trakai is encircled with a chain of castle hills. It is supposed that wooden castles stood on top of each of them at the beginning of our era. Gediminas, the Grand duke of Lithuania, build a castle in old Trakai in 1321 and transferred the state capital from Kernavė to Trakai. The castle of old Trakai was not particularly safe for it lacked favourable natural conditions for defence. Duke Kęstutis started looking for a spot to build another, more powerful castle. The new Trakai emerged on the shore of lake Galvė. Until the second half of the 14th century no distinction was made between old and new Trakai. The history of tow towns often lacks reliable information.
Also in the name of Trakai there are called three castles: one of the old Trakai and two of new one: of peninsula and of island. In the island of Galvė there is one castle and in the peninsula – the second one. The castle of peninsula was between two lakes – Galvė and Bernardinų (sometimes called Lukas).The lake of Galvė rinses the castle from the north and Bernardinų – from east and south – east. In south – west and north – west the castle lent upon the land. This castle consists of three parts: front, upper and lower parts. Most probably in the 14th century the castle had six towers, two of them were gates.
The south-east tower, stood on the bank of Bernardinai, was with contra forcing. The stone wall of castle is mostly of gothic style, but in some places it has unknown binding system. In the 15th century a few living houses were built on the hill. The separate parts of these buildings – enclosed walls, a tower and a scheme of palace laying out remind castle of gothic style. In the middle of the 15th century nobody took care of this castle and its reconstruction and very soon it was pulled down.
The castle of island was built in the 14th century. Its place and architecture is original. By investigation of castle ruins it was established that the castle was built in two periods. The building of dukes palace in north-west were built in the first period and the others – in the second period. The castle was adapted to defence of fire arms. Two defensive towers are a witness of that. Before the castle was built there were three little islands and a boggy territory between them. As it was said the castle was built in two periods. But we could mention about the third period of building, which was at the beginning of the 15th century. By that time the front part, surrounded by defensive wall with towers, was formed. A little bit later the west part and then the east part of the castle. The building of castle as a defensive and residential object was finished. The walls of the castle were built of field stones of various size. The walls of upper floors, openings borders corners and inside of rooms were decorated with bricks, which binding was of gothic style. By building of residential palace there were used profiled bricks. The castle was surrounded by high wall with three powerful towers, which were quadrangular below and round on top. In the southern wall there was a gate tower, which had an irregular form of quadrangle. On its ground floor there was an entrance with complicated close-up system: with a raising bridge and two gates. The ground floor of the castle was covered with beam coat. A garrison used to live on the first floor, which had starry arches. The yard of the castle was paved and had a rain sewerage. On the first floor of south-east building there was a big representative hall with a starry arch. At the beginning of the 14th century the walls of this hall were painted. The windows of hall and other rooms had stained glass. The castle of Trakai is a gothic defensive representative building. The architecture of outside is quite simple and reserved, and façades of yard and inside – smart.
In the first period of building, probably in the first half of the 14th century, it was started to build on the biggest northern island. At that time the castle consisted of two front buildings and a residential palace of half-closed plan. The outside walls of palace were built up to windowsills of the first floor and switches were left as cross walls. But the castle burnt down. The second period of gothic building started at the end of the 14th century. At that time a residential palace with inside yard, defensive walls were built, a terrace was poured, where a drink water was dig up in the southern corner.
In the third period the front building was formed. It was surrounded by defensive wall with towers. Later there were built the west and east buildings. In the middle of the 17th century, during the war, the castle was destroyed and stood abandoned a long time, but because of bad approach it remained better than other castles of the 15th century.
The ruins of the castle were investigated in 1905, 1929-1939. During these works there were found a lot of plate’s shivers, figures of chess, many tiles and coins. Unfortunately the finds were destroyed during the Hitler occupation. In 1951 preservation and investigation started. In 1962 the palace was restorated according the project of B.Krūminis and other architects. The finds of 1951-1967 are kept in the museum of castle.
The castle has an irregular plan. The palace of castle consists of two parallel not the same width building. The each building has a half cellar and two floors. The half cellars are covered with cylinder arches, the walls are built of stones. The whole ground floor of the palace building is a hall. In front of castle there is a yard, surrounded by towers, which are built in corners and by defensive walls. The towers have walls 5 meters in width, built of stones. The towers from the first floor are round. A big part of wall surface laid in bricks. In front of castle there were towers 18 meters in height. They had five high, tiled roof of cone from. The palace was surrounded by defensive wall. It was separated with a ditch from the front building of the castle. On the walls and openings of windows there were paintings, which has characteristic features of Bizantian style. In 1822 V.Smakauskas repainted the remains of wall paintings and described it.
Currently Trakai is the favourite outing place of Vilnius’ inhabitants and tourists as well. The Trakai insular castle museum presents an exhibition of prehistoric findings and the Lithuanian grand dukes. The museum collections also contain works of the folk and the applied art. (Enclosure 1)
The castle of Medininkai
The castle of Medininkai is kindred with castles of Lyda and Krėvė. It can be they built in the same period. Now the castle of Medininkai is a big, with the biggest territory, castle in Lithuania. The castle astonishes because of its size. Its buildings takes up almost two hectares. The castle had four towers: the big one and three small. The big tower had four floors and was a quadrangular building. On the upper floors there were windows of arch form. All four walls of castle had gates. In the castle of Medininkai functional elements predominated: massif wall and quadrangular towers. Its forms are reserved without distinctive style features. Just the gates and windows, which had arch’s form, can be ascribes to the gothic style. The wall of castle was built of field stones. All four inside walls were built in the same way, meanwhile the outside walls had an integument of bricks. The walls from inside have no an integument. The top of wall is built of various size bricks. The castle of Medininkai was adapted to frontal defence. Its walls have no leant out towers, from which would be possible to fire at enemies, broken till the wall.
Among all here mentioned castles the castle of Klaipėda cant be forgotten. Unfortunately it didn’t remain until our days. The castle was built by crusaders in the middle of the 13th century. The castle was built on a very important strategic place – near the outfall of Dane almost on the northern end of Kuršių Nerija. Today there is very little news about the architecture of Klaipėda’s castle, because that the castle don’t have its historian. All known fact about this castle are not well cleared up and are at issue. The first castle was wooden, the second one – stone. The majority of researchers thinks that the stone castle is castle of convent type, it means, the building with closed-up quadrangular or rectangular yard in the middle and with towers in the corners, surrounded by defensive wall, may be with towers too. But now there is a doubt if the castle was of convent type, because it is necessary much time to build a such castle and this castle was built really in short timeperiod. Most probably this castle was of stone and of fencive type. The walls of the castle were dark, of stone and red bricks. Grey and white, squared from limestone brick window – and door-frame diversity it. The castle of Kaipėda was suffering from constant crusader’s attacks and it was rebuilt again and again. In the middle of the 15th century the castle was damaged a lot and little mended. In the middle of the 16th century the modern round towers replaced the old quadrangular. Probably at that time the narrow high gothic windows openings were replaced with quadrangular, characteristic for the Renaissance.
The castle of Merkinė is quite well known in Lithuania. It was built in the second half of the 15th century on the confluence of Nemunas, Merkys and Stange. It was not only strategic but also economic and administrative centre. Not far away from this castle there was a castle of Liškiava. Its southern tower is alike the south-east tower of Kaunas castle. Which was rebuilt after 1362. The castle of Lyda was built at the beginning of the 14th century. The castle had a form of trapezium. Two quadrangular towers were built in the corners of south-west and north-east walls. The surface of one tower was adored with trimmed bricks. In the walls of second tower there were windows of semicircle arches. In the east wall of Lyda’s castle there were two gates: the big one – semicircle and the small one – becoming painting. The peculiar element of façades is arches from plastered and whitened semicircle arches.
The castle of Krėvė, built at the beginning of the 14th century, had two towers. The façades of the tower were of stone on the bottom and of bricks on top.
The castle of Gardinas was built on the confluence of Nemunas and Grandynė. In the fence of the castle there were five massif towers. A quadrangular gate’s tower with a archy opening and with a raising gates stood in the east corner. The remains of castle’s arches and elements point to the gothic style.
There were more castles in Lithuania, but there is no reliable news about them or they are not of great importance.
Before I finish my project I would like to draw a conclusion. I was trying to describe a few Lithuanian castles in English. And I have to say it was really very interesting and however not easy. The most part of written sources contain the same information. On the one hand and attempt to find something new and piquant, I think, has failed. But on the second hand the most part information was still new for me. By writing I have had to use a dictionary because there were a lot of terns, which were unknown for me too. I have had difficulties with complex objects, which were quite frequently used. But the main purpose, I think, I have reached. I have discovered the old castles were built in that period when the gothic style predominated in the art. That is why the architecture of the castles mostly is of gothic style. In the 14th century wooden castles lost its importance and there were built stone castles. Besides that a castle became a territorial administrative centre, a residence of dukes. Not all castles, built in the 14th – 16th century, remained until today, but they are big historical and cultural heritage, which astonishes and probably will astonish the future generations.
The Vilnius Castle Complex (Lithuanian: Vilniaus pilių kompleksas or Vilniaus pilys) is a group of defensive, cultural and religious buildings on the left bank of the Neris River, near the inflow of the Vilnia River, in Vilnius. The complex evolved between the 10th and 18th centuries, and was one of Lithuania’s major defensive structures. It has been the subject of extensive archeological research.
Today, the remaining Gediminas Tower is the symbol of the city of Vilnius.
The Royal Palace in the Lower Castle evolved during the years and prospered during the 16th and mid-17th centuries. For four centuries the Palace was the political, administrative and cultural center of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Royal Palace and Vilnius Cathedral formed a complex and stood side by side during the centuries, but the two buildings have different histories. There is evidence that in pre-Christian time, the pagan god Perkūnas was worshipped at this location. The King of Lithuania, Mindaugas, built the original cathedral in 1251 for his baptism into the Christian rite.
The medieval brick castles were concentrated in the centre of the Lithuanian state. The brick castles were not numerous, but played an important administrative and defensive role in the Later Middle Ages. VILNIUS Gediminas castle. In the reign of Gediminas wooden castle of Vilnius was fortified by some brick walls. In the times of Vytautas a brick castle was built. Its remains survived until the modern times.
The castle of OLD TRAKAI. The castle was constructed during the reign of the Grand Duke Gediminas and granted to his son Kęstutis. In 1370’ies Kęstutis moved his residence to the New Trakai, where he built Peninsula castle.
The Peninsula castle of TRAKAI. Built in 1370‘ies by Kęstutis it was the first castle in the New Trakai. The castle was ruined during internal conflicts of 1382–1383, and rebuilt again by the end of Vytautas’ reign.
The castle of KAUNAS. Built in the middle of the 14th century the castle of Kaunas was destroyed in 1362. The remains of the castle rebuilt by Vytautas in the beginning of the 15th century reached our times.
The castle of MEDININKAI. The castle was probably constructed during the reign of the Grand Duke Algirdas and was the largest castle in Lithuania. The name of the castle was first mentioned in 1385 as a centre of district devastated by the Teutonic Knights.
List of resources
1. J.Jurginis “Lietuvos pilys” V. “Mintis” 1971m.
2. “Kauno architektūra” V. “Mokslas” 1991m.
3. J.Minkevičius “Lietuvos architektūros istorija It.” V. “Mokslas” 1987m.
4. Lietuvos architektūros istorija. Nuo seniausių laikų iki XVII a. Vid. V. 1988m.
5. Interneto puslapiai: www.vikipedija.lt; http://viduramziu.lietuvos.net/pilys
The Island castle of Trakai before restauration (1939). Photo from the newspaper of Lithuanian history Voruta.
2. Gediminas Hill in Vilnius. Painter Józef Marszewski, 1861. National Museum of Lithuania.
VILNIUS Gediminas castle. In the reign of Gediminas (1316–1341) wooden castle of Vilnius was fortified by some brick walls. In the times of Vytautas (1392–1430) a brick castle was built. Its remains survived until the modern times.