Lithuania’s Jonava takes pride in Jewish heritage and being home to London, Paris, Venice and Switzerland

  • 2023-01-24

Located on the banks of the river Neris, in the very center of Lithuania, the City of Jonava offers what others can just envy – major European destinations at a stone’s throw distance. The villages of London, Paris, Switzerland, Venice – all located in the Jonava district (their respective Lithuanian names are Londonas, Paryzius, Sveicarija and Venecija) – are a major attraction and amusement to curious foreign visitors but perhaps not such for the villagers.

It is believed that such names were given to settlements in the 19th century. The landlords named them based on the similarities with the mentioned European areas.

Jonava has also gained the international spotlight for the delicate Jew-themed novel “Stethl Love Song”, written by Grigory Kanovicius, one of the most prominent modern Jewish writers, a winner of the Lithuanian National Prize for Culture and Arts, and who was born into a traditional Jewish family in Jonava.

 One hundred years after the events of the novel, the face of the city has noticeably changed, but life goes on pretty much the same way here.

The city is sometimes called "The capital of the Midsummer holiday", due to the biggest feast “Jonines”, which takes part in Jonava on the 24th of June. Thousands of people participate in this festival every year.

“Except for this one day, we don't have big ambitions to become a resort or a tourist attraction. Jonava is an industrial city, so we strive not for tourists, but more for local residents. Our vision is a place for happy people, families, where they can live cozily and comfortably, work, spend leisure and raise children”, says Mindaugas Sinkevičius, the Mayor of the Jonava District.

Nowadays about 30,000 people live in the City of Jonava. Due to the small and compactly built residential area, Jonava is presented as a “7-min. City”: here you can get from one point to any other in just seven minutes.

The renovation of multi-apartment houses is particularly active in Jonava, and the network of bicycle-pedestrian paths connecting the coast of Neris, ponds, city parks and squares is being expanded. 

Recreational islands, benches, fitness equipment and children's playgrounds located next to the paths provide an opportunity to spend a pleasant time in the green oases of the city as well.

The City of Jonava and its district are being developed as a harmonious center of smart industry, logistics, innovation and national defence, nurturing multicultural traditions, distinguished by a developed, environmentally and family friendly infrastructure.

Sustainable mobility

The municipality, led by Mayor M. Sinkevicius, was the first in the country to approve and is already implementing a sustainable mobility plan, according to which the measures implemented in Jonava reduce the negative impact of cars, change the mobility habits and behaviour of the residents and improve the quality of life.

Particular attention is paid to the network of bicycle paths, which is 88 km long in the Jonava district and is constantly being expanded. You can go around the whole of Jonava by bike, admire scenic routes and relax in specially equipped rest areas.

“The goal is to let people discover bicycles not only for leisure, but to ride them to work and schools. That's why we're creating a system that makes riding a bike as comfortable as riding a car.

Not only are we expanding the network of trails, but have also installed special facilities near apartment buildings, like small garages, where residents can store their bicycles. We have also built bicycle sheds near schools, the library and other visited institutions, so that there is a place to leave them after arriving at public institutions”, says Mr. Sinkevicius.

A pedestrian-bicycle bridge of impressive architecture across Zeimių Street is the newest object Jonava city is very proud of. This structure has greatly improved the communication function by connecting the pedestrian and bicycle paths on different sides of the busy road.

The bridge also beautifies Jonava and has become a symbol of the modern city as well.

The city of sport

In the last few years, the City of Jonava managed to significantly improve its public sports infrastructure, build new sports facilities and host major sporting events of international and local significance.

The UEFA Futsal Champions League competition was held in the new Jonava Arena in 2019 and the European Futsal Championship qualifiers in 2020 as well.

A renovated Jonava Central Stadium was opened last year and a new public swimming pool is being built next to the stadium and arena complexes.

Due to the convenient geographical location and developed infrastructure, the City of Jonava is constantly chosen by the organizers of cycling, running and triathlon competitions.

All these initiatives were finally evaluated by the Union of Lithuanian Sports Federations, which declared the City of Jonava the Sports city of 2020.

Business in Jonava

Favourable loans have been granted to small and medium-sized businesses and efforts are being made to attract potential investors to the Jonava district.

Compared to other regions of the republic, Jonava has low rental prices for plots of land and a large number of qualified labour force.

A new mobile connection technology started in Jonava this year – Jonava became the first city in Lithuania equipped with a 5G connection.

The most important company in the region is “Achema”, the largest fertilizer factory in the Baltic region and the largest Lithuanian exporter. The company has 1,400 employees, whose average salary is around 1,200 euros.

According to Mr. Sinkevicius, there are several large industrial facilities in the district of Jonava, but these modern companies have not been an obstacle to live in a clean environment for a long time: “Achema” independently carries out an environmental monitoring program, measures and evaluates the impact of the company's activities on the air and the river Neris. The monitoring data does not exceed the permissible limits and is published publicly. The municipality also conducts independent environmental quality and noise measurements, and we constantly inform the public about the results, which is why the residents feel safe”.

The neighbourhood of industrial companies encourages the municipality to invest more in green urban spaces, high-quality water and other public infrastructure that would be favourable to the environment.

The first electric bus is already running on the city streets and  more electric buses are being purchased for 2023.

Jewish memory

Until the Second World War, the majority of Jonava's population consisted of the Jewish community, which today is remembered by the old houses of Jewish merchants on Kaunas Street and the old Jewish cemetery.

“A person is alive as long as he remembers what he must never forget”, are the words of the G. Kanovicius mother in his memoir novel “Stethl Love Song”.

Born in a Lithuanian Jewish family in 1929, prose writer, film and theatre dramatist, poet and translator G. Kanovicius is one of the most famous and productive contemporary Jewish writers.

His “Stethl Love Song” is like a monument or a song that commemorates the interwar life of the Jews of Jonava. It is an exceptional story about the city of Jonava, told by a young boy; a city which was caught in a war that wiped all its community from the face of the earth.

The Jonava public library and the municipality provide the annual G. Kanovicius literary prize. 

Jonava is also the birthplace of Abraham Kulvietis, the pioneer of Lithuanian writing, and the residence of Dr. Jeronimas Ralys, the translator of Homer's poems. 

One of the most valuable and beautiful objects in Jonava is the 400-year-old Skaruliai St. Anna's Church. 

Fascinating with its unique Gothic and Renaissance architecture, the church is also preserved with authentic sculptures, paintings and one of the oldest altars in Lithuania.

Having experienced many adversities during its history, Skaruliai St. Anna's Church has survived to this day without major changes and is protected by the state.