Trakai water castle in Lithuania
27 kilometers southwest of Vilnius is a medieval pearl in the Baltic States – the Trakai moated castle. It was built on an island in the idyllic Galvesee and is one of the last remaining evidence of an era in which the Baltic country stretched from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea. Between the 14th and 15th centuries, the grand dukes chose Trakai as their residence, and from here the rulers ruled their vast empire.
A castle as the cradle of Lithuania
The history of Lithuania comes to life in this fortress, and the picturesquely situated moated castle was apparently impregnable for a long period of time because it was almost never conquered by hostile powers. It can only be reached via a drawbridge that crosses the former moat that has now dried up. The attacks of the German knights on their way to Vilnius also failed because of this facility made of red bricks. Trakai is considered the cradle of Lithuania.
The battle of Tannenberg
The origins of the Trakai moated castle go back to the 13th century and the era of the Grand Dukes Algirdas and Skirghaila. They lived in a historic castle, of which only a few remains of the wall have survived. After the historic Battle of Tannenberg in 1410, which led to the victory over the Teutonic Order, the castle on the island in the Galvesee was forgotten for some time. Up until the 16th century, the disgraced nobles were housed in a prison here.
The Karaimemen as castle guards
Ultimately, Trakai fell victim to the turmoil of the Russo-Polish War in 1655. In the 20th century the most important castle in the country was built and restored according to old plans with its 33 meter high towers. Today the complex serves as a reminder of the era of the grand dukes with an interesting exhibition. The surrounding area is the ancestral home of the Karaimemen minority, which can be assigned to the Turkic peoples. She was relocated from the Crimean peninsula in the 14th century and served as a castle guard in Trakai.
Hill of Crosses in Lithuania
The Catholic faith has taken deep roots in the consciousness of the people of Lithuania. This is shown, among other things, by one of the most striking sights in the country – on the Hill of Crosses. The pilgrimage site is located near the university and episcopal city of Siauliai, an important traffic junction and a location for important economic sectors.
The fulfillment of a dream
Numerous legends are entwined around the hill with the many crosses. One of them goes back to the middle of the 19th century and says that a man put up the first cross there out of gratitude after his daughter had survived illness. In the dream a woman in a white dress is said to have told him to do this. Another version has been told in Lithuania for three centuries. Afterwards, a prince from Vilnius donated the elevation on his way to Riga and swore to erect a cross in the event of a victorious trial.
The symbol of resistance
The fact is that after the death of the dictator Stalin in 1953, the numerous victims of the Gulag were commemorated on the Hill of Crosses. Over time, this hill has become a symbol of the resistance of the Lithuanian people to the rule of the Soviets. What was a thorn in the side of the regime at that time, so that the rulers destroyed more than two thousand of these crosses overnight in April 1961 with bulldozers. But they were put up again – especially in the 1970s.
A mass with the Pope
Since the day of Lithuania’s independence in 1991, the Hill of Crosses has been a place of pilgrimage for the entire nation. Many people come here, especially on Christian holidays. In 1993 Pope John Paul II visited this symbol of faith and held a mass in front of a hundred thousand Lithuanians at the foot of the impressive hill with its now almost 50,000 crosses. On this occasion, the Franciscan Order was given the task of caring for the sanctuary.