Castles - witnesses of history: Latvian and Lithuanian situation 1

Laura Rimkutė, 2015-02-27
Kaunas Castle. Photo by A.Masiokaitė, from archive

In brief: In writing their history, Lithuania and Latvia can be proud of their breathtaking battles with the Crusaders and the Livonian Brothers of the Sword. And where the fierce battles took place, (not only) fortified castles were built inevitably. However, nowadays, after looking at these countries, we see a slightly different situation in how the castles are used and preserved.

The current territory of Latvia is rich with preserved ruins and castles of stunning grandeur. Almost every district has an extant castle or manor. In addition to the luxury residences built during the modern times (e.g., the famous Rundalė palace built in the eighteenth century) there are many extant castles (although most of them had turned to rubble) from the Livonia period.

The history of castles started when the Livonian Brothers of the Sword started showing up in the current territory of Latvia after Riga was founded in 1201. Dauguva River became a fulcrum, where the first castles of Livonian Brothers of the Sword were built.

In Lithuania the first castles that where built were wooden. They were used as residences and also had main defense functions. In Medieval Lithuania wooden castles helped to fend the aggression of the Teutonic Order and to defend their independence. However, later on, wooden castles vanished and only mounds were left.

Stone castles started appearing in Lithuania during the 14th century. There were not many of them and they were built by German craftsmen. Castles were mostly built in the nuclear territory of the state. Those where the main centers of the state - capital Vilnius, Old and New Trakai, and castles surrounding them from the west, south and east: Kaunas, Gardinas, Naugardukas, Lyda, Krėva and Medininkai. The most spectacular of them all was Trakai Island Castle finished in 1409, which duke Vytautas built on the Island of Galvė Lake with the help of German craftsmen.

Research carried out in the 20th century shows that Latvians find their castles very important - first of all they are a symbol of fighting against the German conquerors.

During the interwar period some castles were transferred to the Latvian Ministry of Defense (for example the castle of Krustpilis). In general, many castles where turned into an interwar governmental institutions, schools.

Soviet period changed things again. In the literature of this period we can see a feudal aggression in the Baltic countries emphasized. Castles became a tool for spreading the communist ideology about the damage, that was done by the feudal class and about how regular people where abused by them. Castles did not get enough attention and care. They served as Pioneer Houses, where used for the Soviet Army needs and etc.

Since Lithuania and Latvia share a common history - the evolution of castle preservation was very similar as well. In the 19th century Lithuania the remains of the castles were intensively destroyed, because people had no clue about the values of historical buildings and the conservation possibilities.

In 2004 - 2005 Latvians and Lithuanians have come together for their castles and prepared a project "Living Manors and Castles: the Development of Cultural tourism in Lithuania and Latvia." its goal was to accelerate the development of cultural tourism on the both sides of the border and to increase the integration of these objects into the global market of tourism, as well as to promote the cooperation of tourism entrepreneurs and museums.

Read comments
Write your comment