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Castles of Lithuania

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Castles of Lithuania

table of contents:

1. Vilnius Castle Complex

2. Royal Palace and Cathedral

3 . The castle of Kaunas

4. The castles of Trakai

5. The castle of Medininkai

6. Conclusions

7. Summary

8. List of resources

Vilnius Castle Complex

I would like to start my individual project with describing of Vilnius Castle Complex. I have been living not far away and can wonder time, when I see it. How beautiful and interesting it is!

The Vilnius Castle Complex is a group of defensive, cultural and religious buildings on the left bank oof the Neris River, near the inflow the Vilnia River, in Vilnius. The complex evolved between the 10th and 18th century

Romantics discovered the old castles, which they mentioned in their creation. It was started to research the castles just in the 20th century. Everybody understood importance of castles and other historical monuments, but there was a lack of capital for restoration and preservation. The castles were poor studied already because of these reasons. How it was mentioned the news aabout the first castles appeared just in the 20th century. It is impossible to restore the castles like it used to be built. But the most important is to restore the purpose of castle and when it was built.

At tthe beginning of the 16th century it was started to build the stone castles like in whole Europe. It was not for worship, like in another countries, but the castles were for defence, because Lithuania was suffering from aggression of neighbour countries. The stone castles were not only for defence but it had other functions too: it was a living place of great duke and it was a land or territorial administrative and economic centre. In the 15th century it was started to used the artillery for castles attack, that is why the walls of castles were reinforced in this period, the flanktowers were built, the old castles were reconstructed and rebuilt. The gothic style, which predominated at the end oof the 14th and at the beginning of the 16th century, brought many new changes into the architecture of Lithuanian castles. It was started to use more bricks. The architecture of castles remained quite rigorous. It was paid more attention for proportions of façades and for improvement of forms. The living rooms of dukes, halls of representation were covered with arches, were decorated with frescos.

The reliable news about the castles of Vilnius appeared just in the 14th century, with mmore frequent becoming invasions of Cross-bearer into Lithuania. In that time there were three castles in Vilnius. One castle, called crooked was wooden and very large. But it was burned down by the Teutonic Knights in 1930 and was never rebuilt, because the latest written resources don’t mention it again. The upper castle and the lower castle are mentioned already at the end of the 14th century. The upper castle was built on a hilltop. The hill, now known as Gediminas hill, is about 48 meters in height and around 110-120 meters in length. At the beginning of the 15th century a fire damaged the upper castle a lot. But it was rebuilt and improved by the order of grand duke Vytautas. He initiated a reconstruction of the upper castle, as well as fortification of other building in the complex. Ruins of the gothic style, certainly are remainders of the Vytautas castle in the 15th century. From all castle’s buildings, which remained the best is the west tower. The towerwalls of the upper castle are getting thin upward. The tower is octagonal. Horizontal Separations separate one floor from another in the façade. There are semicircle archwindows in all walls. The ffinish of façades with bricks and other forms are characteristic for gothic style. Palace of the castle was reconstructed in the gothic’s epoch too. On the ground floor were four unheated household rooms. On the first floor there was a large hall, in which led a spiral staircase. The hall was covered with arches. The façades of the palace were quite simply.

After the 16th century the upper castle was not maintained and it suffered from neglect. Until the early 17th century, a prison for noblemen was located in the upper castle. It was used as a fortress for the last time during the invasion of Russian army in 1655, when for the first time in Lithuanian history, a foreign army captured the entire complex. Just after six years Lithuanian army managed to recapture Vilnius and the castles. Afterwards the upper castle stood abandoned and was not reconstructed.

Upper Castle: 1. Western tower; 2. Southern tower; 3. Castle Keep. (Enclosure 2)

Lower Castle: 4. Gates and bridge to the city (Pilies Street); 5. Road and bridge to Tiltas Street; 6. Vilnius Cathedral; 7. Palace of Supreme Tribunal; 8. Palace of bishops; 9. Royal palace; 10. Palace garden; 11. The New Arsenal; 12Gates oof the Old Arsenal; 13. Yard of Old Arsenal.

Royal Palace and Cathedral

The two principal buildings of the lower castle are the Royal palace and Cathedral. The remains of royal palace are one of the most important archaeological monument, which was investigates in the last decade of the 20th century. It is the first stone castle in Lithuanian history. It belonged to the grand duke of Lithuania and was built, according to the archaeological material on the place of the wooden castle in the middle of the 13th century. The building of the stone castle related to the christening of Lithuania in 1251 and the crown of the grand duke Mindaugas in 1253. The stone residence reflected luxury of the duke, because before there were built just wooden castle. At the end of the 13th century the stone buildings appeared on the southern of the jut and on the southern slope. But just small parts of them remained. At the beginning of the 14th century Gediminas wrote letters to the west Europe from the castle of Vilnius. Algirdas lived in the palace. Here were born his sons. Jogaila, as a king of Poland, declared with Vytautas the christening of Lithuania.

At the

beginning of the 15th century most probably after the fire in 1419, a big cathedral was built by Vytautas in the castle and between it and the hill – a new gothic palace. The grand Vytautas prepared for celebrations of his crown in this palace. The stone buildings of the 13-14th century were pulled down by building of the palace. The east building with three cellars was on the slope of the hill. The southern building was on the southern sslope of the terrace and the west building leant against the end of cathedral. The wall closed the inneryard of the palace in the north. There are left bricks, which are decorated with paintings of fantastic animals and glazed arms, figured bricks and tiles of the 15th century.

At the end of the 15th century and at the beginning of the 14th century the stoves of tiles, which were covered with many-coloured glaze, are characteristic for the Renaissance, decorated the ggothic palace. The cornices of stoves were decorated with arms of lords and noblemen and with fantastic scenes as well.

Kazimieras Jogailaitis and his son, the guardian of Lithuania – St. Kazimieras – had been living in the castle of Vilnius ffor a few years. In the junction of the 15th and 16th centuries there lived Aleksandras, whose remains rest in the mausoleum of the cathedral until now. About 1520-1530the Italian architects invited by Bona Sforca, the wife of Žygimantas Senasis, rebuilt the palace in the Renaissance style and expanded it. The east building was made longer. It is supposed that the southern and east buildings became higher, there was built the second floor. Most probably at the time the north building was built too. The squared stones were used for the building, the polished bricks of limestone and marble – for the floor.

The interior was decorated with stoves of many-coloured tiles. Nine-year-old Žygimantas Augustas was declared the grand duke of LLithuania in this palace. He met and fall in love with Barbora Radvilaitė. Žygimantas Augustas accumulated the library and collection of paintings and jewels, which were the richest in Europe. There, in the palace, was celebrated the solemn wedding of Kotryna, the sister of Žygimantas Augustas, and Jonas Vaza, the sun of Sweden king Gustav. After the fire in 1610 marble and especially sandstone were used a lot by repairs of palace. The cornices, made from sandstone and decorated with aarms of Vaza’s dynasty, adorned openings of windows, fireplaces and walls. The stoves were decorated not only with arms of Vaza’s dynasty but with arms of other noblemen too. At the end of the 15th century – in the 17th century many the same architects and sculptors, who worked in Krokuva, worked in this palace too, but still they got a peculiar style for the palace.

In 1634 at the time of king Vladislovas Vaza, the first play of opera took place in the theatre of palace. The opera was a new genre, reached not every capital-city of Europe. In August of 1655 the Russian army occupied the city and the castle without big battles, robbed it and burnt down a part. Just in December of 1661 after a few months of siege and fights, the Lithuanian army took back the damaged a lot castle. The palace, which was robbed and damaged in the battles, was not suited for a living of dukes. About 100 years it was abandoned. In the 18th century there were allowed to settle for a few tens of town-dwellers. In 1794, when the rebellion, led by Tadas Kosciuška, was suppressed and in 1795, after the tthird division of Lithuania – Poland state, Lithuania was annexed to the empire of Russia. Soon, in the autumn of 1799, the magistrate of Vilnius, according to the order of czar, gave over it to the trader of Keremenčiug to knock down it. In 1801 the palace was pulled down, bricks and stones sold and its foundation and remains of cellars were filled up with ruins. There is left just a part of east building (cellars and a part of wall in the ground floor) which was rebuilt into a living house. After1931 rebellion the Russian czar’s power pulled down the foundation of palace again, when it dig a protective ditch of fortress. When the fortress was abolished, about 1880 the ramparts were dig off, the ditch was filled up and the place of palace became a park. In 1987 the institute of monuments restoration started the investigation of palace territory and from 1988the research centre of castles, founded by history institute of Lithuania, took it over. Architects, archaeologists, historians have been working in this centre for 10years. In these years there are accumulated over 200000 finds: tiles, fragments of architecture, household utensils and articles of glass and iron. On tthe 10th of May 2002 it is officially started a reconstruction of the Royal Palace.

The Royal Palace and Cathedral formed a complex and stood side by side during the centuries, but the two buildings have different histories. There is evidence that in pre-Chistian times the pagan god Perkūnas was worshipped at this place. In 1251 the king of Lithuania, Mindaugas, built the original cathedral. In 1387 a second gothic cathedral with five chapels was built. It was burnt down and rebuilt again for a several time. In 1783 the cathedral was reconstructed according to a design by Laurynas Gucevičius in the neoclassical style and the church acquired its strict quadrangular shape. This design survived to the present day. And this design keeps eyes of mine and of many tourists, who stays astonished at the Cathedral.

The castle of Kaunas

The second castle, which I am writing about, is Kaunas castle, located in Kaunas. Archaeological evidence suggests that it could be built during the 15th century by Kęstutis to defend a road to Trakai. This castle, built in the gothic style, was the country’s first defensive bastion and the only double – walled castle in Lithuania. Its site is strategic – a rise

on the banks of Nemunas near its confluence with Neris. So it served as a strategic outpost and guarded nearby cities as well as trade routes.

According to the chronicles of Bychovc and Stryjkovskyj, the castle and the city was built by legendary Palemonas son Kaunas in 1030. Until 1280 there is no news about this castle, so we can make decision, it was not of great importance. One of the first mentioning of castle is in the chronicle of M. SStryjkovskij at the time of Gediminas rule. There was written, it was occupied by crusaders in 1317. In 1362 after a siege crusaders managed to destroy it. Legend has it that the castle was not destroyed and that 36 survivors remained. These survivors along with the knights are still burning in an eternal fire which can only be extinguished by an innocent person, who enters the castle via a secret cave. However, history books say that the castle was destroyed. IIn 1362 the siege of the castle lasted three weeks. During this attack, the crusaders constructed a siege tower and erected wall-penetration machinery. Primitive fire arms might have been used. At that time, the castle were 9 meters high and 22.1 meters in width. According to Marburgietis, the castle was of stone with high walls, surrounded by ramparts and ditches. It was surrounded be 5-6 m depth canal, which was not filled up with water. There were shooting-openings on top and from yard – wooden galleries. In parallel there was one wall more, but it was in two thiner. It was a supporting wall – it fortified the slope and at the same time it was a defensive wall. It hindered enemies to get into the yard. Most probably this castle had no defensive towers. In 1383 in island of Neris, there was built a new castle, called a new Kaunas. After 1398, the Teutonic Knights were no longer able tto recoquer the castle. Thanks to Vytautas the Great, who gave rights of Magdeburg to the city, Kaunas became one of the most important economic and administrative centre. After the Vytautas’ death there were administrative institutions. About 1533 – 1536 Kaunas fell to queens Bona lot, who imposed taxes to the city – dwellers, who had lots – they had to pay tribute in food – stuffs. In 1549 Žygimantas Augustas gave this castle to his wife Barbora Radvilaitė. After tthe Battle of Žalgiris the castle lost its strategic military importance and defensive function. It was used as s residence and because an administrative centre. In the middle of the 16th century the castle was strengthened and adapted to new defensive purposes by the construction of an artillery bastion near the round tower. The diameter of the bastion was about 40 metres and the height of the bastion’s walls was about 12 metres. The wall worked in conjunction with a defensive trench. At the bottom of the bastion a firing gallery was installed, which was linked with the tower. In spite of this the castle started to come undone. In 1611 part of the castle was flooded by the Neris and one tower fell down. In the forth decade of the 17th century the river reached the walls of castle and little by little pulled down the most part of buildings. The castle was used as a prison in the 18th century. Later the Russian administration gave a permission to build houses in the castle’s territory. The bricks of castle were used for cable – stone road, the bakery was built. Just in 1925 it was started to take care oof ruins. In 1930 the local administration of Kaunas bought buildings, which surrounded the castle and after a few years, when hovels, built on the territory of castle, were pulled down, archaeological excavations started. During the excavations it turned out, that castle was rebuilt at least twice. The castle had, the scientists guess, a plan of trapezium, defensive walls, round towers.

The wooden and later stone buildings stood in the yard. The whole castle was surrounded by ditch, which was filled up with water of Neris and it was strengthened by stone wall from castle side.

Further efforts to preserve the castle were made in the 1950s. At this time the round tower underwent some repair. Later the firing bastion was excavated from beneath several overlying strata. The excavated bastion was in very good condition. As part of its protection there was put roofing, as well as on the remaining towers and walls. The remaining portions of the round tower were not reconstructed to their original height, nor were the castle walls. The bigger part of them are only remaining foundation of the walls. Archaeological excavations continued at Kaunas Castle interrupted by periods of inactivity. The evidence from these archaeological works ssuggests that the configuration of the castle, excluding the ...

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