Address: Vytauto str. 32, Trakai.
The Orthodox Church of the nativity of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary stands in the centre of the town at the corner of Maironis and Vytautas St. It has one tower in addition to the bell tower.
A decision was taken to build an Orthodox church in Trakai in 1861. Tsarina Maria Aleksandrovna gave 6,000 roubles to build the church and STR. Adelson, the builder of the Kaunas and Paneriai railway tunnels donated 50,000 bricks. Work began in 1862 after the State Chamber of property engineer A. Polozov was appointed to supervise labour. Polozov used a traditional design for the church. The brick building is standard in form and has no individual features. Work was begun with a ceremony on August 18 1862 and the building was consecrated on Sept. 22 1863 with then name of an Orthodox church which used to stand in the southern part of the town.
The tsarina gave Polozov a golden bejeweled watch in recognition of his work on the church and this was presented to him by the governor general of Vilnius, M. Murav’ev. The church had no bell tower and a design was made in 1868 by Samoilov. The church was built in 1863 in commemoration of the defeat of the Polish-Lithuanian Uprising. The church suffered during the First World War when the church towers and roof were destroyed by Germans shooting at Russian positions within the town.
Now this Orthodox church harmoniously integrates into the architectural mosaic of Trakai. It stands on one of the hills of the peninsula, at the intersection of Vytauto and Maironio streets. Anyone who wishes can admire not only the external architecture of the church, but also the vaulted and modestly decorated interior space.
The church is functioning and belongs to the Russian Orthodox community.
Address: Vytauto str. 33, Trakai.
Two corps of the French army (the 4th Italian and the 6th Bavarian) marched through Trakai and its environs in the beginning of 1812. The city defended itself against the French, although the town's some manor estates were looted, the Dominican-owned Rykantai manor estate was destroyed, the buildings of the Dominican monastery were looted and burned as well.
The pastor Andrius Čiurška-Čerskis organized the protection of the church property from the robbing soldiers of Marshal Louis (Louis Nicolas Davout). When soldiers showed up at the church, a bell started to ring to cause all the towns people to defend the church. In this way, the priest saved the miraculous image of Blessed Virgin Mary and other Trakai Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary treasures.
In 2012 Trakai city municipality established a decorative memorial plaque to commemorate this occasion.
A plaque to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Napoleonic march was set up in exactly the same place from which on 4th of July, in 1812 German painter Albrecht Adam (1786-1862) painted Trakai Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Exactly on that day, in front of the square of the present municipality, was established the headquarters of the 4th Corps of Napoleon's Army, headed by General, Italian Vice-King Eugene De Boarne.
The sculptural composition of the plaque is a copy of the image of that lithographic painting. Standing up to the plaque, you can compare how much the view has changed in 200 years. The view has practically not changed, only there is no wooden bridge over the stream and the stream itself…
Address: Birutės str. 5, Trakai.
The Basilica of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary stands in Trakai peninsula surrounded by lakes. This church that equals Trakai Island Castle in terms of size and grandeur, was consecrated in 2017 as a basilica, a title given only to certain churches granted special privileges by the Pope.
There are 8 basilicas in Lithuania: Cathedral Basilica of St. Stanislaus and Ladislaus in Vilnius, Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral and Christ’s Resurrection Basilica in Kaunas, The Basilica of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Šiluva, Krekenava Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Marijampolė Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel, The Holy Mother Mary Visitation Church in Žemaičių Kalvarija, and Trakai Basilica of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There are about 2,000 temples consecrated as basilicas.
The Basilica of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, founded by Grand Duke Vytautas in the 15th century has an irregular shaped form with harmoniously intertwined Gothic and Baroque features. Opened fresco fragments in the walls of the church recall the Byzantine-era style that was used in Trakai Island Castle.
The Basilica is a treasure trove of sacred and fine art – there are easel paintings, memorial monuments, various relics, wine glasses, 18th-century candlesticks, a sanctuary lamp and more. A painting, depicting Mary, Mother of God is especially important since it is widely known for its miracles and graces. This first gold crowned painting officially blessed by Pope Clemence XI during the period of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was given the title Protector of the Sick. Interestingly, the painting is revered by Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim communities alike.
From 1st September 2017 to 8th September 2018, Trakai Basilica celebrates the coronation of the Basilica’s famous painting; 2018 was declared the year of Trakai Mother of God, patron saint of Lithuania while the new Basilica’s bells, blessed in 2017, are a solemn reminder of the festive year.
Every year the Trakai temple is visited by many faithful not only from Lithuania. Special celebrations, such as the annual Žolinės (Feast of the Assumption) and Trakinės (Trakai Mother of God image coronation celebration), attract pilgrims from neighboring countries and elsewhere. The festival faithful partake in a procession from the Gates of Dawn to the Trakai Basilica, a distance of nearly 30 kilometres.
Spiritual centre of Trakai, the Basilica of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, has an exclusive history. It was never closed, never served another faith community nor was it used for any purposes other than religious.
This church is not only a unique monument of religious and Lithuanian cultural history. Special criteria of Domus Ecclesiae, a decree of Divine Worship and Liturgy, was used in the process of granting the very honorable title of basilica. The criteria are applied both for the building itself and the living Church – its flock of believers. The exclusive historical importance of the church for the region and the country were acknowledged, as was the solemnity of the building and religious community’s dissemination of faith and love.
The title of basilica also underlines the church’s special ties with the Pope, since Trakai Basilica has had the Mother of God Image in the main altar for 600 years and 300 years ago Pope Clemence XI bestowed the image with the crowns. It is also important to note that there is a monument of Pope John Paul II, consecrated in 2015, in the churchyard of Trakai Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The title of Basilica also carries with it the obligation to lead other churches by an active social life, pastoral care, and organisation of liturgical ceremonies. Basilicas allow people to familiarize themselves with Papal documents and are visited by pilgrims and those who yearn for spiritual guidance.
Masses in the Basilica of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary are celebrated daily in Lithuanian and Polish.
Mother of God Image
The image of Blessed Virgin Mary with the Infant in her arms was widely known throughout the Grand Duchy of Lithuania well before it received recognition from the Pope. From the very beginning of the 17th century people began applying votes to the image, for example, small heart-shaped articles and chaplets made of precious metals, as thanks for graces received. It is estimated that today there are over 400 votes applied to the Mother of God image!
This original 15th-century painting with Gothic features holds a special historical meaning. The underside of the image has an inscription denoting that it is a gift from the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos to the ruler of Lithuania Grand Duke Vytautas to commemorate his baptism. The same inscription also says it is Mother of God Nikopea, which in Greek language means ‘the victorious’. It is believed Nikopea helped the emperor to break the Persian siege and return to Constantinople at the beginning of the 12th century and this was the reason why Byzantine emperors made this Mother of God theirs and their capital’s patron saint.
The miraculous image in the main altar of Trakai Basilica was repainted several times throughout the centuries. After examination by restorers it became clear that an earlier image of Mary was in the Gothic style, Blessed Virgin Mary was standing, without a scarf, and possibly with a crown of roses on her head. The image probably appeared to be too large for the new altar and therefore the lower part was cut off, the background was etched and painted gold anew, the figure of Mary was repainted in the Byzantine style, and a golden crown that once adorned the image itself, now hangs above the picture. The image of Mary with the Infant fascinates with its rims made of forged silver tin and golden wreaths gifted by the Pope. The finely etched golden background that dates back to the juncture of the 15th and 16th centuries was shaved and also etched anew.
In 2017, the jubilee year, when the main altar of the Basilica was consecrated, new bells were solemnly blessed as well. They were cast in the famous foundry run by the Kruševski brothers in the Polish town of Węgrów. The main bell is dedicated to Trakai Mother of God, patron saint of Lithuania. It weighs an astounding 700 kilograms! The second one, a little bit smaller, marks the centenary of the restoration of Lithuania’s independence.
Address: Vytauto str. 4, Trakai.
Museum has 4 rooms with chocolate exhibits. Each room is different. Most of the sculptures are life-size.
The exhibitions will be renewed every few years.
Monday – Friday 8.30 a.m. – 8.00 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Sunday 10 a.m – 8 p.m.
5 Eur. / adults
2.5 Eur. / children under 10, seniors
Tickets can be purchased on-spot
Address: The crossing of Vytauto and Karaimų streets.
The roadsite pole with a statue of St. John of Nepomuk is one of the most important highlights of the town of Trakai. This roadsite pole is 14 metres in height and it is located at the heart of Trakai, i. e. at the crossing of two main streets, Karaimų and Vytauto, in the centre of the former Townhall square. Written sources testify that a brick column was there as early as the middle of the 17th century.
A roadsite pole of a classical style with the statue of the patron of fishermen and water-encircled cities is an important and much adored symbol for the residents of Trakai region. After the uprising of 1863, the tsarist government ordered that the saint‘s sculpture be removed and offered a substantial remuneration for the job. The local residents are said to have resisted the order and refused to comply. However, a rogue grabbed a knife and was ready to destroy the sculpture, but he fell off the ladder and broke his leg. Trakai chief of police had to invite the Cossacks to tear down the sculpture of the Saint.
In 1935, a new sculpture of St. John of Nepomuk was installed on the roadsite pole. It was created by Vilnius sculptor,Stanislaw Horn–Poplawski. The statue was threatened again in the post-war years. Finally, diligent atheists took the wooden Nepomuk off the roadsite pole and threw it into the lake! When the employees of Trakai museum found out about this, they found the sculpture deep in the lake’s waters, brought it to the surface and stored it safely in the museum storage facility. Four clocks were installed on the pillar as replacements for the statue, but they broke down shortly after: they all showed different time.
Today, we can see a restored sculpture of St. John of Nepomuk on the roadsite pole. The statue of the patron of Trakai was proudly returned to its original location in 1990.
Legends Speak Out
Many legends are told about the roadsite pole of St. John of Nepomuk. One of them says that in the 18th century, when the owner of Užutrakis Manor, Laurynas Odinec, was sailing on the lake, there was a sudden storm and the boat started sinking. The landlord recalled St. Nepomuk and started praying to him wholeheartedly asking for support. The storm calmed down then as quickly as it had started. Odinec was saved, and he was very grateful to the Saint for his narrow escape. To express his gratitude, he erected the sculpture of the Saint in the middle of the Market Square.
Another story tells about the grief of the local residents when the tsarists government took the statue off the roadsite pole. The people started to believe that each spring the waters of Lake Galvė would claim one human life if St. Nepomuk was not returned back to the pillar. In time, the story was somewhat modified: it was said that the lake was ice-free in winter and the ice did not melt in spring unless the lake received its victim.
Life of St. John of Nepomuk
John of Nepomuk was born around 1340 in Czechia, close to the small town of Pomuk (today’s Nepomuk) near Prague. When he grew up, he studied theology and Canon law at the universities of Prague and Padova.
When he turned 40, Nepomuk was ordained a priest and was later appointed to serve as a Canon of St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, a member of the Capitula. Joan, wife of Czech King Waclaw IV of Luxemburg, used to confess her sins only to this priest. The story goes that King Waclaw, being suspicious about his wife‘s fidelity, tried to make Nepomuk reveal the secret of the confession. The priest, however, did not obey the King and fell into disgrace.
Soon, a debate erupted in the Kingdom about the influence of the Church on the State. John of Nepomuk defended the seniority of the Archbishop of Prague, Jan Jenshtein, against King, Waclaw the IV, which angered the King more than ever. The King ordered the arrest of the priest, his interrogation, torture and murder. He is believed to have been dropped with his hands tied from the arched Charles bridge into the Vltava River on 19 March 1393. That is why Nepomuk is believed to be the patron of bridges and the guardian against water-related calamities.
Later, people started to worship him as a martyr, the defender of the seal of the confession. In 1721, Pope Innocent XIII declared John Nepomuk as Blessed, and in 1729, Pope Benedict XIII canonised him, i. e. proclaimed him a saint.
Patron of Trakai
It was the Jesuits who brought the cult of St. John of Nepomuk from Czechia to the Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth of the 18th century. Soon, the name became one of the best-known and most revered. Notably, the then ruler Augustus II selected St. John of Nepomuk to be the patron, i. e. the guardian and the paraclete, of the state alongside St. Stanislaw and St. Casimir. The Brotherhood carrying his name was established in Vilnius, and several churches were named after him. Utena area is known not only for its numerous lakes, but also for the number of roadsite poles with his statue. The saint is often called by his diminutive name Jonelis by locals.
The Day of St. John of Nepomuk is on 16 May. He is considered the patron of all Czechs, priests, river sailors, rafters and bridges, the protector from floods and all water-related calamities. St. Nepomuk is believed to be the saviour of the drowning man, of the unfairly accused and convicts. In 1935, he was proclaimed the patron of the town of Trakai.
St. Nepomuk is usually depicted in paintings wearing a white surplice or a rochet, i. e. a white, knee-length ecclesiastical vestment-worn by Roman Catholic prelates, bishops and canons. He often holds a book, a crucifix or a palm branch in his hand, which is a Christian symbol of martyrdom, victory of the soul over the body, or heaven. Another exclusive attribute of St. John of Nepomuk in visual arts is the nimbus with five little stars. The sign is a reminder of the legend telling that when the Saint was dropped into the waters of the Vltava, the stars started twinkling in the river.
Address: Karaimų str. 1A, Trakai.
There is very cozy Swing Park in front of St. John Nepomuk Roadsite Pole. This is the favorite place of all Trakai residents. It’s so good to be here at any season time. The park is always full of good emotions and romantic mood. The joy of swinging available not only for children but and for adults as well.
We invite you to come and try to fly through the air for yourself!
Address: Karaimų str. Trakai.
GPS: 54.64501, 24.93580
The town of Trakai has long been known for the harmonious coexistence of various ethnic and religious groups. This still echoes today as you take a walk around the town reflecting the presence of different architectural traditions. It is one of the greatest distinctive features that make Trakai so unique.
Another characteristic that attracts tourists to Trakai is its Karaite community. It is an undoubtedly unique Turkic ethnic group who adheres to a distinct branch of Judaism. It is believed that the Karaite religious doctrine emerged in the 13th century in Mesopotamia. The Karaite community has preserved their religious beliefs, customs, traditions, and, most importantly, their language, throughout the centuries of their history in Trakai. For this reason, people sometimes describe Trakai as the Karaite capital of Lithuania and of the world.
It all started in around 1398 when Vytautas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, brought some 380 families belonging to this ethnic group to Trakai after his victorious battle in Crimea in the 14th century. After settling in Trakai, the Karaite community formed two distinct groups – warriors and civilians. The warriors protected the castles and the bridge leading to Trakai Island Castle. Interestingly, some of the civilian Karaites served as clerks and translators for the grand duke.
However, a greater part of the civilian Karaites cultivated land, grew vegetables, engaged in small crafts and trade, ran inns, chartered state customs and engaged in other important activities, such as acting as intermediaries in cases where the Grand Duchy of Lithuania wanted to ransom the captives held by the Turks.
Over time, the Karaites earned trust from Vytautas the Great and other rulers of Lithuania. The rulers, in turn, granted certain privileges to the Karaite community as a gesture of gratitude. One of such privileges was the Magdeburg right (the right of self-government). A surviving record of 1441 testifies to this fact. These privileges granted to the Karaites by Lithuanian ruler Kazimieras Jogailaitis created a unique situation in the history of Lithuanian town governance: Two separate, mutually independent communities governed under the Magdeburg right existed in Trakai for several centuries.
One of them was the Karaite residential area of the town called the Small Town (Mažasis miestas). Under this privilege, it was treated as an autonomous town with its own official stamp and treasury. Here, the Karaites could build their own house of worship to practice their religion called Karaism. Karaism is a word that has a deep and interesting meaning as it comes from the Semitic word karą meaning “to read”, “to read aloud” or “to study” the Bible – the Old Testament, to be its adherent or follower. The Karaites diligently adhered to their cultural practices, traditions and customs.
During that period, the Karaites’ street looked very different than it looks today. It stretched across the highest ridge of the hill through the centre. It was flanked on both sides by the Karaite farmsteads located next to each other. A residential building stood adjacent to the street with outbuildings located behind it, and behind them, gardens stretched all the way to the lake. The gardens located along the lake made the landscape across the lake look very open and empty, and only the residential houses sitting on the highest point of the landscape were visible.
The Karaites’ street visitors can now explore the only exposition in the European Union providing an insight into the culture of this ethnic group. It is home to the Karaite house of worship called kenesa, the oldest one in Lithuania and one of just three existing Karaite houses of worship in the world that the residents and visitors of Trakai can admire on any given day.
All of the Karaite houses share one unique feature harking back to the period of their construction. It is still visible to this day. Each traditional Karaite house has three windows overlooking the street. Legend has it that following the Battle of Žalgiris, Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas decided to reward all the foreigners who fought on his side and helped him achieve the victory. The Tatars had already been allowed to settle in Vilnius and to build a mosque in Lukiškės Square in Vilnius.
Then it was the Karaites’ turn to be rewarded. A grey-haired old Karaite man approached Vytautas.
“Long may you reign, our wise and righteous lord!”
“Thank you for your kind words, my loyal foreign ally,” the ruler said to him. “Now it’s your turn to ask for a reward on behalf of your nation for your loyalty and bravery. I will do what is within my power to make your wishes come true.”
“I know, my Lord, that this victory was very hard and it will take a long time for our wounds to heal. I will not ask for gold, silver or land, as you have already rewarded us. I would like to make one request, though. Could you please grant us permission to build new houses in the Small Town so that each of them has three windows overlooking the street?”
Vytautas was surprised at receiving such an unusual request. He then asked the old man:
“And you risked your lives for this?”
“No, my Lord,” the old man replied. “Not for this. We risked our lives for the sake of peace because a bad peace is better than a good war. And our request would mean that everyone who sees a house with three windows knows that God is worshiped in that house, that we are always loyal to the Grand Duke and that guests are always welcome at this house.”
Vytautas liked what he heard, and, as a gesture of gratitude for their loyalty, gave exclusive permission to the Karaites to build houses in Trakai with three windows.
Address: Karaimų str. 5, Trakai.
The former post office stands at the intersection of Karaimų and Kęstučio str. The main façade faces Karaimų str. In the south the plot bounds on Kęstučio str. and on the north with Karaimų str. 7.
The long one-storey building has a symmetrical rectangular layout with a porch on the south-western side. From the porch doors lead into the tambour and on each side two lines of rooms stretch out. The foundations are of stone and brick and plastered. The walls are of cut logs and are covered with perpendicular planks on the exterior that are painted. The roof is semi-arched; the rafters and supports are joined together by wooden fixtures.
The façade has four oblong four-part windows at varying intervals with figured piping. In the middle of the main façade is an early 1930s’ porch with two simplified Tuscan brick columns that support a triangular pediment that has a circular window. The area beneath the roof is decorated with a narrow cornice.
The old post office is a typical early nineteenth-century Trakai town building. It was built in 1810 by the Dominicans who used to be in the Peninsula Castle. After the friary was closed down in 1864 the building was handed over to the Trakai District police HQ. The roof was made of wooden tiles and the façade had 11 windows. Two outbuildings stood in the yard. In 1887 the house was given to the Vilnius Post and Telegraph District. In 1895 the architect Aleksandr Polozov surveyed the building and took charge of repair work. After the repairs the house looked almost the same as it does today except that the porch was wooden, closed and the area beneath the roof was decorated with carvings. There were eleven rooms in two lines with a kitchen in then centre. The house was repaired in 1899, 1911 and 1923-25. In 1925 there was a services’ and general hall, telegraph and archive and five living rooms. It is thought that the brick porch columns were built in the 1930s. The post office worked until 1960 and after that the building was adapted for other administrative functions.
The plot is relatively even and slightly raised above current street level, there is a stone-paved yard that leads to former outhouses.
The building was completely overhauled in 1985-86 with the same building materials and techniques and in keeping with the original layout and façade architectural forms (including the brick stoves). This is the site of the Trakai Historical National Park Management. In effect the building has not changed its (administrative) function.
Address: Kęstučio str. 4, Trakai.
Trakai region is rich in its abundance of stunningly beautiful lakes and has been heralded for centuries because of its three castles. The first one, nearly four kilometers south of Trakai old town, is the old Trakai Castle – birthplace of Vytautas the Great built by Duke Gediminas. Naujieji Trakai Island Castle presents itself as a masterpiece of 15th-century defensive architecture of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania! At the time this castle along with Trakai Peninsula Castle stood as proof of Lithuania’s economic and military might.
It is worth noting that this Island Castle built in gothic style and surrounded by lakes is unique not only to Lithuania, but to Central and Eastern Europe as well! Meanwhile, the Peninsula Castle, much bigger in size, was one of the largest 15th-century enclosure castles of Lithuania. At the time it was not only bigger in size but more important in its role than the one built on the island.
As time went on, the role of Trakai Peninsula Castle changed. At the time an extremely important defensive castle became the place of residence of Lithuania’s grand dukes and their sons. At one time it served as a prison for high profile enemies of Lithuania, a Dominican monastery opened at the end of the 17th century, and the Russian empire made it a place for police and the court. Finally, the Gestapo operated from there during WWII and the KGB converted it to a prison after the war.
Today the restored Peninsula Castle belongs to Trakai historical museum and is open to the public. The exposition of sacred art opened in 2005 and has more than 200 unique exhibits that reveal the church of the time. Everyone who visits here will learn about the monstrance, chasuble, albarela, and so on.
Sacrifice Hill is the highest point on the peninsula, 1 of 1,000 hill forts in Lithuania. Full of deciduous trees, the 17-m high hill fort allows visitors to enjoy some of the most beautiful views – Trakai lake which surrounds the peninsula and the red gothic style Island Castle.
According to a legend, the name of the hill finds its roots in sacrificial pagan ceremonies that took place at the time. During mid-19th century excavations a perforated spoon was unearthed. According to Count Eustachy Tyszkiewicz its purpose was to scoop blood during ceremonial procedures dedicated to pagan gods.
An annual medieval celebration held in the peninsula territory is noted for its exclusive atmosphere. Ancient craftsmen, traders, knights, choral ensembles sometimes even witches – all of them together create an atmosphere where the curious visitor can get to know their craft and its intricacies.
The knowledge about Trakai Peninsula Castle comes from limited written sources. They tell us that the castle was constructed before the end of the 14th century. Also called the Main Castle, it was part of Trakai and Vilnius defensive complex system. Surrounded by Lakes Galvė and Luka (Bernardinai), the castle, fortified with masonry defensive walls, for a while was bigger in size and played a more important role than the Island Castle which is better known and more popular with today’s visitors.
The 15th century marked the decline in importance of the Main Castle. Castle lands were parceled away to the nobles and the castle itself became a prison for high-ranking state enemies and other convicts. The story tells that some time later city dwellers began taking apart the castle walls for the construction of their own houses.
Peninsula Castle stands as one of the largest enclosure castles in Lithuania. These types of castles had an inner courtyard surrounded by defensive walls with embrasures, towers, and gates. Such castles were usually constructed in hard to reach places, surrounded by water. Bodies of water, steep embankments, deep trenches were meant to prevent enemy soldiers from entering those castles.
Address: Kęstučio str. 4, Trakai.
The Dominican friary buildings are in the Trakai Peninsula Castle, 100 m north of the beginning of Karaimų g at the end of Kęstutis st in the Trakai Island and Peninsula Castles Cultural reserve. Fragments of the mid-nineteenth-century friary garden survive in the castle.
Following a resolution of the Commonwealth Sejm in 1768 in 1779 the Dominicans began building a three-nave church with two towers on the main western front on both sides of the southern defensive ditch in the first yard of the Peninsula Castle. It was 46 m long and 28 m wide. When building the church they tore down the bricks of the castle gate tower and some of them were used for the foundations. The main entrance stood on the other side of the castle moat, that is in the town while the chancel stood in the castle yard.
Work on building the church was begun by the architect Augustyn Kossakowski and continued by Marcin Knakfus. Construction work was halted as money ran out and in 1812 it was stopped by the war against Napoleon. Work resumed around 1820. Because of a shortage of money reconstruction started in 1823-26 and the southern nave was used to build the two-storey cellared friary and part of the north-west nave was used for the chapel which was consecrated on Aug. 4 1822 in honour of St Michael the Archangel. The central nave of the incomplete church was used as the friary yard. Both buildings had two-slope roofs. A wooden turret was built on top of one of the incomplete towers as a bell tower. Reconstruction work was devised by Prior L. Glowicki. In the castle yard was a friary storehouse, ice house, wooden steward’s office, a stables and barn. The friary had three gardens.
The friary complex comprised two two-storey quadrangular buildings. The church walls were 2.6-3.2 m thick and made of brick that was laid in renaissance style. Very large bricks were used (30-31 cm long x 15 wide x 7.2-7.5 cm high. Old wall paintings survive in the chapel – the side altars and a frieze were painted. The high altar and cross recorded in an inventory do not survive. The walls were painted with narrative depictions and this and the decorative friezes and panels have survived in the southern wing of the friary.
The friary buildings are not of any clear style, the facades are flat and plastered, the sole decorative elements are the profile cornices above the second floor and the pillars on the yard façade by the entrance door.
On June 16 1864 the tsar’s governor general ordered the closing down of the friary. A gentry protection agency was housed in the southern corpus while the other became home to the Trakai police cells, an archive and the home of guards and civil servants. A park was laid out in the friary territory in the mid-nineteenth century.
After World War One only the southern corpus was used and a store was built in the chapel. The abandoned eastern building began to decay.
Work began restoring the friary around 1960. At first only fragmentary preservation work was carried out. After work done in 1988-99 the buildings have been used for the Trakai History Museum administration. Work continues and at present the wall paintings in the chapel are being restored and there are plans to open an ecclesiastical art exhibition here.
Work is being done here according to the Trakai Island and Peninsula Castles Reserve directed maintenance and use programme as approved by the Lithuanian minister of culture in 2000. the building belongs to the Republic of Lithuania.
Address: Kęstučio str. 4, Trakai.
The Liturgical Art Exhibition was opened in 2005 on the territory of the Trakai Peninsula Castle, in the chapel of the former Dominican Monastery, and is a branch of the Trakai History Museum. Visitors are invited to take a closer look at various attributes of church heritage that represent sacral and cultural value, which include religious paintings as well as utensils that once belonged to the monks.
The area inside the former monastery complex was adapted to display valuable works of art. Today’s exhibition of church art comprises more than 200 liturgical works, valuable visual art works and various sacral objects representing the life of the church. Take a closer look at the monstrance decorated with the picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Trakai with the Infant, a unique 1709 stamp of the Trakai Dominican Monastery, a communion cup produced by Vilnius goldsmiths in the second half of the 16thcentury, and other ecclesiastic pieces such as liturgical objects, priests’ vestments, baptism coins, church stamps, distinctors worn by priests, and so on. Albarels, found among other exhibits, are dishes used in herbal and medical practice for holding medicinal ointments. A fragment of the monastery kitchen has been recreated in the restored cellar under the chapel, where pieces of the monastery’s everyday life and various objects used by the order’s monks are on display.
Today, Masses are no longer celebrated in the chapel, but thanks to the Liturgical Art Works Exhibition this cultural and historical monument has once again acquired its sacred spirit.
The Dominican Order and the History of the Monastery
The Dominican Order, or the Order of Preachers, was founded by the Spanish priest, Saint Dominic of Guzman, in the 13thcentury. In Latin, Domini canis mean the ‘Hounds of the Lord’, and one of the symbols of the Order is a white black-spotted dog holding a burning torch in its mouth. The friars were immersed in contemplation; they used to create schools and universities where they would teach. Their goal was to preach the Gospel and study. The most commonly used symbols of the Dominicans are the lily, the book, the rosary, the star and bread.
Trakai Peninsula Castle was built by Grand Duke Kęstutis of Lithuania at the end of the 14thcentury and was one of the largest castles in Lithuania. Perhaps that was the reason why it was called the Great Castle. It was used for various purposes throughout the centuries. First, it was the Grand Duke’s residence, and then it was converted into a prison for high-ranking foreign captives and enemies of the state. At the end of the 17thcentury, the Peninsula Castle was given to the Dominican Order.
In the second half of the 18th century, the friars began building a classic style church with two towers. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funds the church was only built up to the height of the ground-floor windows. At the beginning of the 19th century, the unfinished building was reconstructed into a monastery and a chapel. In 1882, the Chapel was consecrated in the name of the Archangel Michael. The monastery’s complex consisted of 11 cells, a sacristy, a school, a bell tower, a dining room with a kitchen, stables, gardens and flower beds looked after by the friars.
Shortly after the uprising of 1863-1864, the tsar’s government closed the monastery and handed it over to the police detention centre. In the period between the two wars, the premises were used as the court archive and police offices. When Vilnius District was occupied by Poland, the building was taken over by the Polish Border Police. After the Soviet occupation it was handed over to the KGB and police: a number of political prisoners were jailed there.
The territory of the Peninsula Castle was damaged many times. However, in the 1960s efforts to preserve Trakai cultural heritage objects were initiated, which in turn sparked interest in the Dominican structures. In 1990, Trakai History Museum Administration moved into the partially renovated premises of the former Dominican monastery. The Sacral Art Works Exhibition was opened in the former monastery’s chapel in the summer of 2005. The permanent exhibition revitalised the space and filled it again with the religious Spirit.
The Liturgical Art Works Exhibition established in the restored chapel of the Dominican monastery gives visitors an opportunity to have a closer look at the priests’ ceremonial clothing and special accessories. A cope, the most adorned and significant liturgical garment symbolises the Lord’s boundless love, purity of the clergyman, their righteousness as well as the grace of the Holy Spirit. You can also take a closer look at a pair of bishop’s sandals, previously calledcampagi, the mitre(traditional, ceremonial headdress of bishops made from the most expensive materials and worn during important ceremonies), etc.
One of the most adorned and important elements of Catholic liturgical ceremony is the monstrance.It is used for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. For this reason, they are often made of precious metals and are richly decorated with various gemstones. Visitors can also have a closer look at different parts of the monstrance as well as a chalice, a goblet used to sanctify the Eucharistic wine and bread during Mass.
The Liturgical Art Works Exhibition has many valuable pieces. The Dominicans Worshipping the Risen Christpainting should be mentioned among the most notable paintings. According to historians, it portrays the founder of the Dominican Order, Saint Dominic himself. Other important works include the portrait of St. Casimir, who came from the Gediminas dynasty that ruled over Lithuania as well as the portrait of Vytautas the Great.
The exposition includes many sculptures depicting St. Casimir, St. Florian (the patron of fire-fighters, who miraculously saved a burning house with one bucket of water), St. John of Nepomuk (the patron of Trakai and those suffering from water-related accidents). The highlight of the exposition is one of the rarest sculptural compositions found in the Lithuanian folk art titled The Last Supper.
Since ancient times the ringing of church bells has symbolised the scaring away of evil spirits. Bells at the top of high towers invite people to get together and celebrate holidays, pray and unite in times of misfortune.
In Lithuania, the craft of bellfounding dates back to the 14thcentury. Bells cast by Jonas Delamarsas, a distinguished 17thcentury bell founder, spread their heavenly sounds from the towers of Vilnius Cathedral, St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church, Pažaislis Monastery and many other belfries until this day.
Unfortunately, the czarist army destroyed many of the old bells when Lithuania was annexed by the Russian Empire in the 18th century. The craft of Lithuanian bell-casting started to decline, while church bells brought in from Kaliningrad, Russia, Poland and Latvia became increasingly popular. Today, the Liturgical Art Works Exhibition provides an opportunity to see several 18-19th century church bells cast in Vilnius, Prussia, Riga and in Western Europe.
Address: Kęstučio str. 4, Trakai.
The spectacular Trakai landscape, abundant in lakes and rivers, is distinguished not only by its natural heritage, but also by its rich cultural and historical heritage. On the peak of the peninsula on the west bank of Lake Luka (Bernardinai), stands a hill fort. It rises 17 metres above the ground and is called Sacrifice Hill – although there is no known reason for the name. There are very few trees on the top of the hill and thus it offers a wonderful view of the spectacular landscape of Trakai Peninsula Castle and its surrounding lakes.
A hill fort is a hill with a castle which is or once was at the top of it with a visible dyke made of soil. Interestingly, in Lithuanian the word “pilis” (Eng. a castle) is derived from the word “pilti” (Eng. pour). Sacrifice Hill is one of about 1,000 hill forts found on Lithuanian territory.
The main function of Sacrifice Hill, like most other mounds, was to protect the castle and the surrounding settlement. The locals as well as troops would gather on the platform at the top of the hill to defend themselves from attackers. The estimated length of the platform is about 45 metres and it is 17 metres wide. The mound’s safety is further ensured by the 18-metre-wide and 3-metre-deep ditch surrounding it.
The Trakai Peninsula Castle and its defence complex, including Sacrifice Hill, are barely mentioned in the written sources. It is believed that the nearly 20-year-long construction of the Peninsula Castle took place in the 14thcentury and was carried out by the Grand Duke of Lithuania Kęstutis. Before the construction of the Peninsula Castle, the residence of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania was the Old Trakai Castle, located 3 km from the town of Trakai.
In 2005, according to the order of the Minister of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania, Sacrifice Hill became a state-protected site. Presently, various events take place at the foot of the hill fort including the Medieval Festival, equestrian competitions, old car exhibitions and so on.
Origin of the Name of Sacrifice Hill
The hill fort located on the territory of Trakai Peninsula Castle has been called Sacrifice Hill since ancient times. Although, it is still a mystery how this name came about.
According to a well-known legend, the hill was used to make sacrifices to the pagan gods. Count Eustachy Tyszkiewicz who explored this hill in the middle of the 19th century, discovered a perforated spoon. According to the archaeologist, this spoon was used to collect the victims’ blood in sacrificial rituals.
Later, other archaeologists examining the perforated spoon established that it was a much earlier product. Therefore, no reliable sources have been found to prove that Sacrifice Hill was indeed once a pagan sacrificial site.
The Hill Fort as Defensive Structure
The main purpose of the mound was to defend, therefore, people always sought to install mounds in areas protected by a variety of natural barriers. From the defensive perspective, hills protected by surrounding bodies of water or steep slopes were especially useful and suitable for hill fort construction.
The height and steepness of the hill’s slopes were important signs of the mound’s inaccessibility. Additional protection of the castle was ensured by the construction of natural obstacles like man-made ground piles or ditches. Indeed, climbing the 17-metre-high Sacrifice Hill can be a serious challenge. Fortunately, today you can use steps that have been added to the south west slope to climb the hill and enjoy the view.
Today, it is especially difficult to find a mound in Lithuania that would still have its original appearance. Often you need to use your imagination to picture their former steepness, ditches and barriers. Alternatively, try to imagine the significant weight of the armour and weapons that knights had to carry. Incredibly, a knight’s armour could weigh anywhere up to 40 kg.
Address: Karaimų str. 28, Trakai.
The first Karaite school aimed at religious studies was built in 1576 near the Karaite temple (kenesa) in Trakai. Despite the school’s religious affiliation, the students were also taught their mother tongue, the Karaim language, which belongs to the Turkic family of languages. The Karaim language emerged in the 9th–10th centuries on the basis of the languages of the Turkic tribes (the Khazars, Kipchaks–Cumans or Polovcians) who lived in the Khazar Khaganate. After adopting the Karaite religion, these tribes, united by a common religion and language, formed a Karaite ethnic group.
The school was rebuilt after it was destroyed by fire in 1879. The school had 2 teachers and it was attended by 27 boys. One of the teachers taught religion. The treasury allocated 400 roubles for the school, and an identical amount was donated by the Karaite community. The school operated for as long as four decades before it was closed for good in 1940 after experiencing some painful losses due to the cataclysmic events of the 20th century.
The use of the Karaim language has since gradually declined and the number of Karaite speakers began to decrease. Attempts were made to ameliorate the situation by carrying out underground education during the Soviet period. Mykolas Firkovičius (1924–2000), a senior clergyman and chairman of the Lithuanian Karaite religious community, was particularly active on this front. Thanks to him, the Karaim language lessons became open to the public and legitimate from 1988 onwards, following the start of the Reform Movement of Lithuania and especially after the Restoration of Lithuania’s Independence created more favorable conditions for reviving national culture. It was during this period that he wrote the first Karaim language textbook.
By that time, the Karaim language had already attracted a great deal of interest from Turkology scholars due to its phonological, grammatical and lexicological aspects. However, the scholarly attention and the legitimate lessons did not have any significant effect on the situation. Today, Lithuania is the only place in the world where the Karaim language is still spoken. However, the use of the Karaim language is almost entirely confined to elderly persons. According to census data as of 2018, there are only 30 people who use the Karaim language in Lithuania. The Karaim language has been included in the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing.
On 9 October 2008, Karaite religious leader, hazzan, consecrated the rebuilt building in which a Karaite school and a religious centre was opened. The building is an interesting architectural solution. White as a swan, it has a three-level roof which slightly descends from the street towards Lake Totoriškės. Each part of the building has a separate entrance. The building is surrounded by a fence with widely spaced pickets. This beautiful building is like a calling card for other Karaite buildings with each having three windows overlooking the street. Once inside the building, visitors can check out the amazing interior of the 18th century hall with its walls made of natural logs, the ceiling with timber cross beams and the ancient rural lanterns used as an imitation of oil lamps. Every detail here preserves the spirit of the past.
It is important to note that the Karaite community’s efforts to preserve their language have yielded some positive results as the domestic and liturgical use of the language has undoubtedly helped to preserve its richness and uniqueness and contributed to its survival. Moreover, an international Karaim language camp takes place each year in Trakai, attracting Karaites or their descendants from across the world. The goal is to preserve Karaite culture and the Karaim language and to promote continued value of Karaite culture and active interest in the Karaim language, in this way ensuring that it continues its existence in our modern world.
GPS: 54.64963, 24.93323
There is an island near Trakai Island Castle called Karvinė, Karaimka or Kopūstinė which is connected to the town and the castle by the bridges. This location has as many as three different names due to the unique stories behind them. For example, the first name, Karvinė, suggests that the fields on the islands were used as pasture where the Karaites used to graze their cattle. The residents of that period regularly witnessed a unique sighting of cows and horses swimming across the lake and goats being carried in boats to the island.
The second name, Karaimka, is a reminder of the fact that the Karaite warriors used to stand there guarding Trakai Island Castle during the reign of Vytautas the Great. This suggests that this island served as a sort of outpost for the castle. However, we have no knowledge about any buildings that existed on the island. The only known fact is that a manor house that stood in this island was purchased by Ivanas Sapiega in 1520. The latter also owned Bažnytėlė Island located nearby.
The third name, Kopūstinė (Lith. Cabbage), originated from the fact that the Karaites, known for their excellent gardening skills, also grew cabbage in this island. Since the Karaites had a knack for growing vegetables, they often used vegetables in their cuisine. They were particularly fond of cabbage and they used it as an ingredient in various Karaite dishes. For example, finely chopped fresh cabbage is added to kibinas to make this dish juicier. And it is a well-known fact that kibinas (kybyn or plural kybynlar in the Karaim language; kibinai in Lithuanian) is one of the most famous dishes in Karaite culture and the whole world.
Besides kibinas, Karaite cuisine is also known for fresh cabbage soup, sauerkraut soup, cakes, cabbage cakes, stews, salads and, of course, kiubėtė – a greasy pastry dough pie with filling. The kiubėtė filling is usually made from fish or minced meat with vegetables. The top of the cake can be enjoyed with broth, and the rest can be eaten as a second course. Beef or mutton, seasoned with vegetables and herbs, are commonly used for the meat filling. But you will not find pork in the Karaite cuisine because the Karaites do not eat it.
Also, there are many potato dishes in the Karaite cuisine such as biok, a Karaite version of kugelis. The dish is baked in a similar way to the Lithuanian kugelis, except that fatty beef or lamb cut into small pieces is added to the grated potato mass.
In fact, Lithuanian and Karaite cuisines have a number of similarities: in our culture it is popular to eat cepelinas, meanwhile Karaites eat kopta (grated potato dumplings). To prepare kopta, you need to cook a thick soup using beef or lamb bones and adding pearl barley and beans or a lot of carrots. When the soup is almost finished cooking, grate some raw potatoes, add finely chopped lamb or beef to the grated potato mass, shape it into dumplings and pour them into the soup. The cooked soup is placed in the oven to simmer.
It will not be an overstatement if we say that the Karaite people have been famous for their hospitality since ancient times. So great and sincere is their hospitality that there are even legends about it.
One of them is about the fortress of Chufut-Kale near Bakhchysarai, from which the first Karaites came to Lithuania. Legend has it that when the fortress was surrounded by an enemy, the townspeople decided not to fight with guns but with hospitality. The hostesses prepared a lot of food, and the elders opened the gates leading to the fortress and invited the weary and hungry enemy inside. The enemy’s soldiers realized that they could not attack a nation that met them not with a weapon but with bread and salt.
Besides the Karaite hospitality, there are also legends of the delicacy of their dishes. Legend has it that a Muslim clergyman who tasted a Karaite stew was so astonished by the deliciousness of the dish that he was lost for words. This is how the name of the eggplant and tomato stew, imam baildy, came to be. In Lithuanian, this means something like “an imam in awe”.
It is worth mentioning that every summer, in August, the Kopūstinė Island hosts the Kopūstinė Fair and the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The Kopūstinė Fair breathes new life into the old festive traditions which attract a great deal of interest from visitors from Lithuania and abroad. During the celebration, participants and guests are treated to Gaspadinės Kopūstienė (Hostess Cabbage Soup).
Address: Karaimų Island, Galvės lake.
GPS: 54.64967, 24.93338
Vytautas the Great was one of the most famous figures in the history of Lithuania. It is with good reason that Vytautas the Great has been glorified to this day – under his rule, Lithuania’s borders stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.
On 16 July 1994, an oak monument immortalizing the memory of Vytautas the Great created by folk artist Ipolitas Užkurnis was unveiled on an island in Lake Galvė on the way to Trakai Castle during the convention of the Vytautas Club to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Žalgiris.
Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas has a special place in the hearts of Trakai residents and members of the Karaite community. Returning from a successful military campaign in Crimea near the Black Sea, Vytautas brought with him some 400 Karaite families. They settled in the old capital of Lithuania, Trakai. Some of them, the brave warriors, were supposed to help defend his castle from Crusader attacks, and the rest were given land so that they could cultivate it and engage in gardening.
Scholars often wonder what might be the exact reason behind Vytautas’s decision to bring Karaites with him but there is no definite answer to this question. There are two possible hypotheses: some believe that the Karaites were taken as a form of contribution for the war lost, whereas other claim that the Grand Duke was fascinated by the Karaite warriors who demonstrated great bravery while fighting on the side of Khan and brought them with him because he wanted to had them settled in the sparsely populated regions of the country and act as loyal servants and guardians of the country’s western borders. Some fragments of historical records suggest that there was a separate Karaite unit who served exclusively for the Grand Duke. There was a large number of Karaites in the army in later centuries as well. A joint unit of Tatars and Karaites even fought in the Battle of Žalgiris.
Their military talent can probably be in part explained by the fact that military traditions always played an important role in the Karaite society. Even the coat of arms of the Karaites depicts a two-horned spear (senek) and a shield (kalkan). It is noteworthy that the Karaim language has retained a large number of military terms that other Turkic peoples have replaced with loanwords.
It is also interesting to note that the Karaites who settled in Lithuania formed a separate community called gymat (džymat). The legal status of the community and its individual members was governed by the privileges granted to them by the rulers.
The first deed that established the legal status of the Karaites in Lithuania was the 1441 privilege of Grand Duke Kazimieras Jogailaitis which granted the Karaites of Trakai the same Magdeburg right that had already been granted to Vilnius, Trakai and Kaunas. They were given the right of self-government to be exercised by themselves or the wójt elected from amongst the members of the Karaite community. The Karaites were only subordinate to their wójt, and the latter was accountable to the ruler. These rights were later revised and expanded by subsequent Lithuanian rulers. Thus, the Karaites felt they were well supported and protected.
Special respect that the Karaites have had for Vytautas is reflected in Karaite art which depicts him in a poetic light and treats him as a significant figure. The Karaites refer to Vytautas as “Vatat Bijumi” which means “the king who destroys his enemies”.
The fables portray him as a wise, brave, noble-minded and powerful ruler. Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas always had good relationship with the Karaites and many Karaites even have his portrait on their walls. Not only Vytautas but also his horse, to whom miraculous powers have been attributed, are surrounded by a sacred halo in the Karaite stories.
Legend of the Grand Duke’s miraculous horse Legend has it that the Karaites’ street was once in danger of being wiped out by lake flooding. Gripped by fear, the Karaite women climbed into a boat and set off to ask the Grand Duke Vytautas for help because their men were out fighting in the battle, and they were all alone and powerless against the elements. After hearing out the women, Vytautas promised to help them. Shortly, his horse headed to the Karaites’ street and drank all the flood water, protecting the street from the flood. People were in awe and tears of joy streamed down their faces. After returning home, the women praised and glorified the grand duke and his miraculous horse. The horse, overfilled with water like a giant mountain, slowly trotted out of town towards the Karaite Fields, the bridge almost collapsing from his weight. At the place where the horse stopped to rest, Puvus Lake (Čirik giol‘) emerged. To this day it stands as a reminder of the miraculous horse.
Address: Karaimų str. 43C (Galvės lake, Pilies Island), Trakai.
Magnificent Trakai Island Castle is situated in one of the many islands on Lakė Galvė. It is a masterpiece of Lithuanian medieval defensive architecture and the only water castle in Eastern Europe. It is believed that the construction of the Island Castle was initiated by Lithuanian ruler Kęstutis in the late 14th century and was completed in the early 15th century by his son, Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas. The castle consists of a convent-type palace with a keep and a forecourt. The castle was built as a fortress. After it lost its defensive status following the Battle of Žalgiris, it was used as the grand duke’s residence.
Trakai was a thriving town in the early 15th century. It attracted large numbers of merchants, honorary guests, foreign envoys who were all greeted at the representative hall of Trakai Island Palace. Jogaila, King of Poland and the cousin of Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas, visited the castle as many as thirteen times between 1413 and 1430.
However, after Grand Duke Vytautas’s death, the castle was gradually abandoned and its role declined at the beginning of the 16th century. During the war with Sweden and Russia, Trakai Island Castle sustained significant damage and it was not rebuilt after these events. This period marked the beginning of the castle’s decline as its maintenance was gradually discontinued and by the 18th century it was completely dilapidated.
However, the situation changed in the period following World War II. Concerns were finally raised regarding the physical condition of the castle. Thanks to the restoration work that has been carried out since, the symbol of Trakai and Lithuania regained its 15th century appearance. After the restoration of Lithuania’s independence, the castle regained its status as a place for hosting honorary guests’ visits and signing important agreements.
The purpose of Trakai Island Castle changed in 1962 when it passed into the hands of Trakai History Museum which operates the castle to this day. The castle houses various expositions and is used as a venue for exhibitions and events. Each year, the castle attracts thousands of visitors from around the world not only for its magnificent appearance and rich historical past but also because of the fact that it has something for everyone, whether you want to admire the architecture, explore historical exposition or the museum’s collections.
Address: Karaimų str. 53B, Trakai.
It’s not for nothing that Trakai is called lake country. Trakai District has nearly 200 lakes. Many of them border the town of Trakai itself: Galvė, Luka (Bernardinai), Nerespinka, Totoriškės, Gilušis, Lovka, Babrukas, Skaistis, Akmena and other lakes, big and small. It seems as if water reigns in the area, and land obediently gives way to it. All of Trakai’s lakes are beautiful, but none compare to the wonderful Galvė. This is one of the largest lakes in the Trakai region and one of the deepest in Lithuania. Its shores are carved with numerous bays, and its waters are dotted with 21 islands. The picturesque Lake Galvė is a favourite among water-based tourists, divers and holiday makers and rowers and sailing teams train and compete in it as well.
There is an old legend that the lake will not freeze up until it has taken its toll by way of a drowning man. In order to prevent such miseries from happening, the people threw stone heads into the water to 'appease' the lake. Two of those heads were found under water.
Address: Karaimų str. 57A, Trakai.
GPS: 54.65002, 24.92693
While recorded mention of the bridges of the town of Trakai dates back to as late as the 16th century, these bridges have a history that is worth exploring and remembering. First knowledge about the Karaite Bridge, also known as the Iron Bridge, which connects the strait between Lake Galvė and Lake Totoriškės dates back to 1515 when voivode of Trakai, A. Astikas, purchased two manor estates near the bridge. Reference to this bridge was also made in 1570 when Žygimantas Augustas approved the Magdeburg right for Trakai.
Since Trakai, like the rest of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, was home to different ethnic (Lithuanians, Karaites, Tatars, Russians, etc.) and religious groups from the late 16th century, the town was divided based on the borders of the areas populated by these groups.
In oral tradition, the Karaite part of the town was described as the area stretching “from the pole to the bridge”. This phrase refers to the part of the town stretching from John of Nepomuk wayside shrine (the Karaites call it “the pole” perhaps due to the fact that there are no saints in their religion) to the so-called Karaite Bridge or Iron Bridge across the strait between Lake Galvė and Lake Totoriškės.
The new privilege granted by Žygimantas Augustas stated that following the collapse of the bridge across Lake Galvė (from Kaunas side, i. e. at the northern end of the town), the town dwellers were responsible for rebuilding it. As a compensation for the funds spent on building the bridge, the town was granted the right to collect bridge charges: one coin for a single carriage, and two coins for a two-horse drawn carriage. The charge was not to be collected from people belonging to “the knightly class” crossing the bridge. This helped to fund the rebuilding of the bridge which took place in 1584.
However, in 1611, the townspeople of Trakai made a request asking permission to increase these charges as the bridge repair works required a considerable amount of funds. Their request was granted and from that point onwards two coins were collected for a single-horse drawn carriage. As agreed, the collected funds were used for the bridge repair works so that the merchants travelling between Vilnius and Kaunas would not sustain undesirable losses. It is noteworthy, that this request was not without grounds. It suggests that the former charges set for crossing the bridge were not sufficient perhaps due to the fact that the number of merchants travelling across Trakai decreased. Otherwise, there would not have been repeat references to the same orders included in the ruler’s subsequent letters. For instance, in 1620, Zigmantas Vaza ordered the merchants of Kaunas, Vilnius and Panemunė region to travel through Trakai. Fines were to be imposed on those who disobeyed the order.
Over time, maintaining the bridge still posed challenges, especially during the times where the strait between Lake Galvė and Lake Totoriškės was wider so the bridge became a town-wide issue.
For example, the wooden bridge was susceptible to decay and there was a high risk of accidents so part of the bridge was dismantled. A recorded mention appeared in 1833 stating that following such type of accident, a project for constructing a new bridge was initiated.
As mentioned previously, the Karaite Bridge was also called the Iron Bridge but the fact that it had to undergo repairs so frequently hardly justifies this name. For this reason, in 1845, the reporter of Druskininkų Šaltinių Undinė raised a question as to why the Trakai Bridge was called the Iron Bridge, and he guessed it was because a small amount of iron was used in constructing the bridge as one could hardly describe the bridge under construction as made of iron.
In 1863, the Tsar’s army dismantled the bridge completely to protect themselves from insurgents. A few years later, in 1868, trees were designated in the forest for the purpose of rebuilding the bridge; however, they were still not brought to the site by 1871 thus the site remained empty.
It is believed that it was only a few years later that the new bridge was built. Embankments were made on each side of the bridge to make it shorter. During that period, trips to Kaunas led through the road that ran along the western shore of Lake Totoriškės.
Today, we see a short, tall, durable bridge built during the Soviet period after implementing complex earthworks to raise the ground level, and the old, low and long wooden bridge became part of our memory.
GPS: 54.65775, 24.89642
The Royal Fields, or Karaite Fields, emerged after the Karaite ethnic group moved to Lithuania in the 14th century and the Karaite warriors continued the traditions of their ancestors and parents by serving in the army units of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas, protecting Trakai Island Castle and guarding the state borders of Lithuania. As a reward for their excellent service, Vytautas donated more than 300 ha of land to the Karaite community. The land was used by the Karaites for more than 500 years.
It was agreed that a specific strip of farmland would be assigned to each family and the family would not be entitled to sell it. After the land owner’s death, the land was transferred to another family at the community’s decision. These strips of land were located in the northern part of Trakai. Since they belonged to the Karaites under the rulers’ privileges, they were called the Royal Fields. Interestingly, the location of these fields is still visible today near Trakai. Any elderly member of the Karaite community could show an exact location of the strip of farmland that his or her parents, grandparents or great-grandparents used to cultivate.
Besides the community land granted by the rulers, some Karaites had small manor estates, folwarks or plots of land granted to them. However, these areas of land around Trakai were purchased by voivodes in the 16th–17th centuries, and after the Lithuanian rulers abandoned Trakai as their place of residence, the town saw a decline in terms of its farmland activities. As a result, gardening became the main source of livelihood for the Karaites, with their famous Trakai cucumbers being their main produce. There is a Karaite proverb that says “He who cultivates the garden, drinks bitter water” giving the idea of just how hard the gardeners worked.
However, their hard work definitely paid off, as the members of the Karaite community were praised not only for being virtuous warriors and guards but also for being excellent craftsmen and gardeners, who brought first cucumbers to Lithuania and who cultivated various herbs and spices. It is believed that while making their way to Lithuania and not knowing what conditions they were going to face, the Karaites brought with them various plant seeds. It proved to be a very smart decision which later brought them fruitful results.
Over time, the cucumbers of Trakai gained so much appreciation from people that Jonas Krivka even published what could almost be considered as a scientific study on cucumbers. He claimed that the Karaites classified their cucumbers based on their size and shape. Crooked ones were to be consumed by the Karaites themselves. These were called “the little ones”. The cucumbers that were brought to the market had to meet more strict criteria: they had to be the same size. They were placed into damp sacks on the evening before the market day, and early in the morning before the break of day, they were transported to Vilnius using horse-drawn carriages.
The Karaites also produced pickled cucumbers and used an interesting procedure for this purpose. They poured some brine on them, placed them into barrels, nailed them up and threw them into the lake where a special enclosure was located near the shore so that the undercurrent would not move the barrels further away from the shore. The pickled cucumbers were left in the lake until spring. The Karaites would then cut the ice and take out the barrels. After several months of sitting in the lake, the pickles were very well fermented and very delicious.
The Karaites had yet another tradition worth mentioning. Describing the cucumber seedlings affected by spring frost, the Karaite women used the phrase: “the cucumbers went to Kaunas”. They would then try to save the cucumber seeds by wrapping the seeds in a damp cloth and placing them into their bosom so that they could sleep with them, snuggled warmly. It did not take long for the seeds to sprout.
Unfortunately, the cucumber seeds stopped sprouting during World War II and the famous Trakai cucumber was lost. The Karaites managed to produce a different variety of cucumber, an improved version of Trakai cucumber, but this one was not as good as its predecessor.
The Karaites practised a number of other agricultural ritual celebrations such as the traditional harvest festival Orach toju (the Sickle Festival). It was usually celebrated at the end of the summer after the main grain harvest. The celebration included making a wreath from the ears of all the cereal plants cultivated by the farmers. The wreath was carried to the town in a solemn procession all the way to the Karaite house of worship, kenesa. Here it was consecrated and hung on the wall of the kenesa in front of the altar. The wreath was left to hang in the kenesa until the next year’s harvest. On this occasion, a pie was made and Karaite krupnik was brewed. People entertained themselves and sang at the festive table before resuming work.
Such celebrations were held until World War II. The last wreath was made from the harvest of 1938 and it was hung in the Kenesa of Trakai. It still hangs there to this day.
Address: Angelų kalvos str., Būda village, Trakai eldership.
This is a place for fostering human devotion and spirituality. It is spotted with plenty of finely crafted wooden angel sculptures, wrought sun-like crosses and life trees decorated with traditional national symbols. In 2009, Dominyka Dubauskaitė-Semionovė and Lolita Piličiauskaitė-Navickienė, initiators of the idea of the Hill of Angels, proposed the project in order to honour the celebration of Lithuania’s 1000thanniversary and the 600thanniversary of the Basilica of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Trakai. Plans were made to place ten angels on the Hill where each of them would represent a different century. The kindness and generosity of people interested in the idea surpassed all possible expectations of its initiators. As a result, 18 angel sculptures found a new home on the Hill! The Hill of Angels is today also referred to as the Path of the Millennium Signs.
Today, the area of 4.3 hectares hosts over 40 magnificent sky-greeting wooden angels of all sizes and oak road crosses with sculptures of saints on them. Every angel on the Hill seems to embody one of the human truths, fundamental human or Christian values. The angels embody the notions of Life, Truth, Peace, Serenity of the Spirit, Empathy, Sacrifice, Love, Health, Joy, Gratitude, Hope, etc. The angels include those that are the patrons of families, science, spiritual tranquillity, the Baltic road, etc. Surely, your angel is on the Hill too, and you must pay him a visit.
Among the many wooden angel sculptures there is one that is human height. It is the Angel of Kindness inviting everyone to embrace him and enjoy this lovely feeling.
The oak angel sculptures were created by Lithuanian and foreign artists and reflect traditional wood carving and cross-crafting. Angels created from other materials appear on the Hill, too. In 2015, the Angel of Orphans was created with a head made of granite. In 2017, the Angel of Librarians, made out of metal, also joined the collection.
Sculptures give meaning to the ideas embraced by their donors and reflect the message carried by the angels. It is an ongoing project that aims to fulfil the spiritual needs of people. Everyone is invited to participate in its development by providing special meaning to his/her thoughts, prayers or important moral values.
The Hill of Angels is an open and free space that can be visited at any time of the day. It offers a magnificent view of a landscape filled with forests and lakes. The majestic Trakai Castle, the lakes surrounding Trakai, Trakai Basilica of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Orthodox St. Mary’s Nativity Church and other historic, cultural and natural gems are visible in the distance.
What else makes the Hill of Angels so special? If you take a bird’s eye view of the Galvė lakes, they look like an angel with its wings spread. The Angel’s legs and body are shaped by lakes Galvė, Totoriškės and Luka (or Bernardinai), the spread wings – by lakes Skaistis and Akmena, and the Hill of Angels is the Angel’s head!
The Legend of the Hill of Angels
When God was creating the region of Trakai, he was assisted by the Angel of Compassion. Prolonged rain filled the imprints of God’s fingers in the ground with water forming many lakes of different shapes. The Angel of Compassion was mesmerised by the beauty of the crystal-clear waters, the abundance of fish and breathtakingly colourful birds diving in the waves. He was flying above the lakes chasing dragonflies having forgotten all about his work.
The angel’s brothers became concerned and turned to God, thinking that the Angel of Compassion had lost his head because of these lakes and had forgotten about his daily duties. The Creator calmed them with a wave of his hand and said: in the spot where one is able to see three places where God is worshipped, the Angel of Compassion will regain his head! With that, the earth started trembling, the heavens started shaking, and suddenly a hill appeared in one spot. All the surrounding lakes joined it forming the Angel’s body and wide-spread wings.
Centuries later, people climbed up the hill where the three places of God’s worship could be seen: the church, the Orthodox church and the Island Castle. People really liked this hill, so they started bringing wooden angels here. As soon as the first angels appeared on the hill, the Angel of Compassion woke up and realised that the Hill of Angels was his lost head from God’s prophecy. The Hill symbolises his lost head that was covered by a wooden angel’s wing. He admired the beauty of the Hill and as he was ready to return to God he said: “There will be more and more angels on the hill. They will protect Trakai and all of Lithuania, and Trakai will become a path to spread kindness and love!”
The Vision of the Hill of Angels
The Hill of Angels is an expression of civic engagement, through which the two authors sought to realise their two goals: to honour the celebration of the 1000thanniversary of the first mention of the name of Lithuania and the 600thanniversary of Trakai Basilica of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today as the number of the angels on the Hill continues to grow, this place will hopefully bring together and unite local people, families, professional and other communities. A number of the angels on the Hill are the patrons of teachers, librarians, soldiers, special investigation service officers, journalists and members of other communities as well as angels that remind people of their loved ones.
Each visitor will undoubtedly find his/her spirit at ease here while praying or enjoying time in a unique place of unity of art and soul.
Sacred Music Festival
Chants Resound on the Hill of Angels’ is a sacred music festival organised by the Hill of Angels community. Each year, the sounds of folk chants and songs ringing over the spectacular Trakai landscape rise to the sky encouraging people to pray and thank God for Hope, Peace, Love, Power of Spirit, and all other Christian values.
Address: Užtrakio str., Užutrakis village, Trakai.
Trakai region, with its many lakes, is famous for the abundance of its natural and historical heritage. This treasure is the location for Užutrakis Manor House with its luxurious palace, often called the white swan of Lake Galvė. The beautiful homestead nestled on the eastern shoreline of the lake is unique with its exclusive geographical locale and lovely history.
Written sources first mention Užutrakis peninsula in the 14th century when Tatar nobles called it their home. Peninsula territories, also called the island of Duke Algirdas, has belonged to different owners over the course of its history. The prosperity of Užutrakis Manor is associated with the Tyszkiewicz family. At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries Count Józef Tyszkiewicz and his wife Jadwiga built a luxurious residence, a Manor House with a palace, decorated with impressive Louis XVI style interiors,and an impressive terrace crowned with open pavilions and a lovely mixed style park.
In the old days, counts used to arrive to the Manor by water – a rafter transported them by raft through the strait of Lakes Galvė and Skaistis. Land travels were also avoided by high ranking guests of Tyszkiewicz, who visited the Manor for frequent meetings, family get togethers and informal banquets. Events were filled with music, banquet tables were stacked with French cheeses made in the Manor, drinks produced in the distillery and even locally raised roasted pheasant was served in the middle of the table!
The people who worked at Užutrakis Manor House and homestead rarely travelled by water. Farm tasks were carried out using the old ‘Potato Road’ which led through the fields towards auxiliary buildings of Užutrakis Manor, but nowadays this road winds its way along the shorelines of Lake Galvė. Travellers along ‘the Potato Road’ are presented with an excellent opportunity to enjoy the marvellous scenery that includes the view to the lake dotted with islands and an exquisite jewel – Trakai Island Castle.
Today everyone who wishes to visit Užutrakis Manor will need to travel by the old ‘Potato Road’. However, finishing touches are being made to the construction of a pier, so visitors will soon be able to reach the peninsula by water as well! The renovation of the Manor House and ongoing maintenance is the responsibility of Trakai Historical National Park directorate. For the convenience of visitors several viewing platforms and wooden rest benches have been installed along ‘the Potato Road’.
The Manor Farm
Tyszkiewicz Manor complex in Užutrakis was supported by a very well-run farm, which was transferred to the eldest son by succession without the right to divide the estate. The farmlands alone comprised about 800 hectares and a part of them were allotted to gardening and a mixed-style park.
An interesting fact is that pheasants, which belong to the family of ground living birds, whose males are known for their deep colours, were raised near the Manor. A pheasant specialist from Austria was brought in for this purpose. The Tyszkiewicz family served their guests roasted and masterfully prepared pheasant on special occasions.
The farm area of Užutrakis Manor House consisted of 19 masonry and wooden buildings: horse stables, a grain barn, a forge, cattle sheds, a warehouse and others. Ten of the former buildings have survived to this day. One of the most important buildings was the distillery, since the distillery was one of the biggest sources of income for the Manor.
Servants and Workers in Užutrakis Manor House
Written sources inform that Užutrakis Manor House was served by about 60 servants and workers. As previously mentioned, to reach their ‘workplace’ they used the land road. One can guess that the road got its name because potatoes were delivered to the distillery.
The story tells us that the travels to the closest towns was long and expensive. Frequent ‘Potato Road’ usage was inconvenient and impractical, therefore families of Užutrakis personnel were forced to find ways to keep afloat. The women themselves fermented kvass, baked bread, did tailoring, knitted, made lard soap and so on.
The Manor lacked a doctor, however, so the servants and workers who got sick had to fend for themselves. Only on rare occasions, and with approval of the counts, was a doctor called in.
However, Countess Jadwiga established a school for the children of those poor servants. In her spare time, she took it upon herself to teach children to read and write, memorise short poems and songs. She also told stories about the region’s history.
Love for the French Style
There were stories that Countess Jadwiga used to say this phrase: ‘Love for everything that is French’. Count Józef freely spoke French, knew diplomatic protocol and was one of the very few in Lithuania who adhered to savoir vivre, or rules of politeness and good manners.
No wonder then that the exclusively beautiful Užutrakis Manor park was designed by a French man – Édouard François André. This world-renowned landscape designer created a unique water park that spans across the peninsula. Over 20 ponds of different sizes and shapes were dug and hundred-year-old oaks, pine trees and exotic plants brought in from abroad reflect in the water. Symmetrical (French) parterres with linden tree avenues, ornamental flower gardens, marble vases and sculptures were created in front of the palace.
Užutrakis was often visited by Russian diplomats, military and highest-ranking officials, because Count Tyszkiewicz earned his economical-military education in Saint Petersburg. He imitated Russian high society by bringing in a French chef and cheese maker. Lithuania for centuries was known for cheese making, but in Užutrakis they were made according to French recipes and traditions. It was believed that those cheeses, kept in a cold masonry building, were turned and stroked daily.
Užutrakis Manor House Today
Užutrakis palace brings you back to the turn of the 19th and 20th century like a time machine. While restoring two of the Manor halls, every effort was made to preserve the luxury typical of the Tyszkiewicz family era. Today, visitors can examine authentic furniture, sets of china, weapons, mirrors made of Venetian glass and other interesting artifacts related to the lives of the counts. Following the traditions of the Tyszkiewicz family the palace often organises a variety of temporary exhibits, therefore you can frequently encounter music and enthusiastic applause here.
Address: Užtrakio str. 17, Trakai.
Užutrakis Manor House is one of the most prominent and best-preserved mansions in Lithuania. The restored manor and park ensemble on the shore of Lake Galvė will allow you to experience how the Lithuanian nobility lived in the 19th century.
Count Józef Tyszkiewicz and his wife Jadwiga founded the Užutrakis Manor Estate at the beginning of the 20th century. The Count was inspired by the unique landscape of Trakai, and the manor made the most of the area’s potential.
The Palace, decorated with impressive Louis XVI style interiors, was created by Polish architect Józef Huss. It was complete with a terrace, crowned with open pavilions, offering a fabulous view of Trakai Castle. The park was designed by Édouard FrançoisAndré, a famous French landscape architect. He created a mixed style park decorated with copies of antique sculptures and a large number of plants. The park still contains nearly 100 different kinds and forms of trees and shrubs, more than half of which were individually transported here to complete the park.
Today, the estate is accessible by road, but the Count’s family did not use it. It was only used for agricultural purposes and was known as ‘the Potato Road’. The nobles used to reach the peninsula by a ferry raft, crossing the isthmus between Lakes Galvė and Skaistis, and the rafter lived nearby. The Tyszkiewiczes hosted numerous receptions, family reunions or friendly parties, but even then, their guests did not use the road either. The events were characterised by loud music, the tables were laden with French cheeses produced on the estate and the drinks were from the local distillery. More often than not, there was a locally grown roast pheasant in the middle of the table!
The Užutrakis Manor House belonged to the Count Tyszkiewicz family before World War II. During the Soviet occupation, the manor was nationalised and turned into a sanatorium, later it served as a pioneer camp, and then it became a tourist base. The manor was severely damaged: the original design of the Manor was destroyed, and the park was completely abandoned.
Today, Užutrakis Manor House is coming back to life. The manor is being restored and the park is being rebuilt. Concerts and exhibitions are often held here, and the Užutrakis Manor ensemble is now one of the most visited places in the region.
History of Užutrakis Manor
The peninsula between Lake Galvė and Lake Skaistis was first mentioned in historical sources in the 14th century. In those days, it was called ‘Algirdas Island’ and belonged to the Tatar nobility. In the second half of the 19th century, the peninsula was acquired by Count Józef Tyszkiewicz (1835–1891).
The Manor Estate, which survived to the present day, was founded by his son, also called Józef (1868-1917), and his wife, Polish duchess Hedwig Światopełk-Czetwertyńska. The palace was built, and the park was created between 1896 and 1902.
During World War I, when the German army was approaching, Józef Tyszkiewicz and his family left the manor and moved to St. Petersburg. Before the beginning of World War II, the Manor was managed by the Count’s eldest son, Andrzej.
During the war, the German army occupied the Manor, and after the war it was nationalised by the Soviet government.
French landscape architect Édouard André arrived at Užutrakis in 1898. Here he developed an 80-hectare mixed style park in his characteristic style. In front of the palace, he designed parterres of regular shape with trimmed lime alleys, ornamental flower gardens, marble vases and sculptures.
The architect skilfully exploited the contrasting landscape of the peninsula, highlighting its hills with compositions of artificial rocks, and strengthening the glow of the surrounding lakes with a complex system of ponds. More than 20 ponds were artificially dug, which interlinked with each other and the lakes, thus creating a unique park full of water reflections, where the boundaries between the land and water would disappear.
The Restored Manor
The manor of the estate was not only luxurious, but it also allowed everyone to admire the spectacular scenery. In the second half of the 20th century, the palace was abandoned, but today it is being gradually restored.
In 2008, the exterior, the first floor, the attic, the lobby and the staircases of the palace were refurbished. In 2010, the first restored chamber of the manor was opened to the public. It was a representative dining room decorated in the style of Louis XVI. At the same time, the original design of the entire ground floor was restored, as was the delicate wall moulding. In the same year, the restoration of the Tapestries Chamber was also completed.
A great number of local and imported plants can be found in Užutrakis Manor Park. They include 38 species of indigenous Lithuanian trees, 54 species of imported trees and shrubs, and 400 species and forms of herbaceous plants. Many of these plants were planted by Édouard André.
The Park is home to seven species of bats, a number of squirrels and roe deer. The ponds and their surrounding areas create a habitat for rare species of frogs, smooth newts, the great crested newts and otters. The old trees in the park are frequented by woodpeckers, black woodpeckers and owls. Areas surrounding the Park shelter the nests of goshawks and marsh harriers; the roof of the palace is cherished by mergansers, while the ponds provide food for herons and common terns.
From the day of its foundation, the estate was decorated with many sculptures which included copies of works by Antoine Coysevox, a famous 18thcentury French sculptor. They would usually depict ancient gods and goddesses. Almost all of the sculptures were destroyed after World War II, but today attempts are being made to restore them and return them to the Park.
The park also features a sculpture of the ancient goddess Diana, modelled after the mother of King Louis XV of France, Marie-Adélaïde de Savoie. This sculpture, as well as the sculptures of Flora and Hamadryad, are copies of original pieces on display in the Louvre. The works also include a statue of Bacchus, various busts and a sculpture of the Virgin Mary located on the lake’s shore. The latter was the longest surviving sculpture of the Park.
This sculpture could still be seen by visitors in 1964. Later, it was thrown into the lake. In 1975, the damaged sculpture was found in Varnikai Village cemetery and moved to the church of Trakai parish. Today, there is a copy of the sculpture of the Virgin Mary
Address: Varnikai forest, Ilgelis swamp, Trakai eldership.
The winding 5-km long Tourism Path goes through the Varnikai Botanical-Zoological Reserve offering nature lovers an opportunity to enjoy spectacular views and the rich natural biodiversity found here.
The Varnikai Reserve is located in the southern part of Trakai Historical National Park. It is part of the Trakai Forest Enterprise in Lentvaris Forestry, and spreads across an area of 611 hectares, the majority of which (450 hectares) is covered with forests, while the remaining 207 hectares comprise the Ilgelis bog. In the northern part of the reserve, on the shores of Lake Skaistis, a 200-year-old oak tree forest grows proudly on top of a hill. Next to it, there is a naturally mixed forest with 100-year-old fir and pine trees. About 30–60 years ago, additional fir and pine trees were planted along its edges. Notably, the Varnikai Reserve contains a dedicated area of forest habitat, i.e. an area not affected by human activity, which includes rare or specialised species of plants and trees. In addition, several ‘Natura 2000’ protected sites have also been identified on the territory of the reserve.
Varnikai Ecotourism Path leads visitors through beautiful forests and a meadow that enriches the diversity of the habitats of the reserve opening up a spectacular view over the Ilgelis Bog and lakes. Trakai Forest Enterprise has made this trail visitor friendly and equipped it with gazebos and benches, three scenic viewpoints and ten rest stops located in the most beautiful and hard-to-reach places of the reserve. Visitors can rest and read the information on the local landscape, its features, the Varnikai Reserve and the activities of Trakai Forest Enterprise. Information is available in Lithuanian and English. One of the observation decks provides an opportunity to enjoy neighbouring, yet quite different ecosystems: ancient oak forest located at the top of the hill, mixed forest covering its sides, and a forested bog located at the foot of the hill.
The largest part of the path is a winding non-paved trail. However, a stretch of almost 1.5 km goes through hard-to-reach swamps! In order to ensure the safety of visitors and to provide a unique opportunity to take a stroll in this unique wild nature, a 1-metre wide boardwalk has been installed. Aspen trees were used to construct the boardwalk. This type of wood has long been known for its fantastic moisture resistant qualities.
The reserve can be easily reached by car, bike or on foot. Just follow the signs leading to the Varnikai Ecotourism Path. A car park, children’s’ playground and other guest amenities are located at the start of the route. Symbolically, the trail starts with wooden gates that tourists enter through.
The management of Trakai Historical National Park seeks to preserve the biodiversity of its territory and, at the same time, to create favourable conditions for its expansion. Varnikai Ecotourism Path aims at preserving the old Varnikai forest and bogs together with their unique flora and fauna. The path established by the Trakai Forest Enterprise helps manage the flow of human traffic and to protect nature from uncontrolled visitation.
The Varnikai Botanical-Zoological Reserve is the most studied part of the Trakai Historical National Park. More than 600 different higher plant species were identified here, of which as many as 16 are included in the Lithuanian Red Book.
An impressive 118 different species of moss can be found in the reserve. Four of them are protected throughout the territory of Lithuania. Certain types of mushrooms found here are included in the Red Book.
Scientists have noticed, however, that some types of lichens found here a hundred years ago can no longer be detected today. Actually, the majority of rare lichens indicate the forest’s special value as they point to the key types of forest habitat. This type of endangered vegetation is protected throughout Europe.
There is abundant wildlife in both the forests and swamps of the Varnikai Reserve. Mammals found here include foxes, marten, meles, hare, deer, roe deer and boar. It is no surprise to catch a glimpse of a common European viper on a bright sunny day.
Fifteen varieties of protected insects and beetles are also detected in the Varnikai Reserve. Some of them, including the calosoma inquisitor, the emperor dragonfly and others are listed in the Red Book. In addition, you could also spot some rare types of butterflies and moths. Common cranes and Eurasian hoopoes living in the reserve are protected throughout the territory of Lithuania. The reserve also has many different types of singing birds such as wood-larks, thrush nightingales, true thrushes and golden orioles. There are plenty of predator birds in the area including various types of owls, hawks and falcons.
The Ilgelis Bog
The Ilgelis Bog with its 1.5-kilometre-long wooden Ecotourism Path covers a territory of 207 ha in the southern part of the Varnikai Reserve. Four lakes of remnant origin lie within this territory and include the Baluošas, Bevardis, Piliškių and Ilgelis lakes. It is said that these lakes are the remains of a single large lake. Interestingly, all the Varnikai Reserve small lakes are closed: they are dependent on the surrounding bogs, where the water level is 1 metre higher than that of the Bernardinai (Luka) Lake. Thus, the excess water from the Ilgelis Bog flows into the lake.
Address: Varnikai forest, Trakai district.
GPS: 54.649797, 24.959616
In Varnikai forest, next to the village Varnikai, in the place which borders Galvė and Skaistis Lakes, there is a dark spot of the Lithuanian history. In September, 1941 many Jews from Trakai and other neighbouring localities (Lentvaris, Onuškis, and Aukštadvaris) were brought to country houses, which served as a ghetto. After Trakai head of police Kazys Čaplikas had refused to obey the order of County Governor Mašinskas and commanded his subordinates to behave likewise, about 30 German soldiers and policemen from the Special Squad were sent from Vilnius. On September 30, 1941 they shot 1446 Jews in Varnikai forest. 366 men, 483 women and 597 children were killed. The tomb for the victims of this massacre is marked by two memorial boards with Lithuanian and Yiddish inscriptions and a wooden sculpture.
Source: © www.keturiossostines.lt
GPS: 54.649753, 24.947248
The mound is located in a beautiful place on a separate hill, about 130 meters to the north-east of Nerespinkos Lake and 170 meters to the south of Galvės Lake. While digging the mound, Archeologists found hand shaped ceramics with granite particles in the clay used. Such ceramics was most common in the first millennium BC and the first centuries AD. This allows to make a presumption that Varnikai mound was inhabited very long ago. Varnikai is a mound having a platform, which suggests that it could not be used as an important defensive castle. However, it was perfect to hide or reconnoiter. Unfortunately, there are no written sources which could reveal the significance and functions of the mound in the historical path of Trakai very close to an important trade route to Vilnius.
Source: © www.keturiossostines.lt