Lithuania: Few castles but a whole lot of history

  • 2005-08-03
While the countryside of both Latvia and Estonia are dotted with quaint country manors and castles of great grandeur, it is a little harder, even for knowledgeable academics, to identify many remaining Lithuanian castles. But Lithuania once had many wooden castles - residences of dukes and barons that served as powerful defensive fortifications against attacking enemies.

According to Tomas Baranauskas from the Department of Archaeology at the Lithuanian Institute of History, the legendary Voruta Castle, from which King Mindaugas is said to have held back his enemies, and Veliuona 's the main Lithuanian outpost in the war with the crusaders 's were both wooden castles.

Baranauskas explains that wooden castles vanished after they had performed their role, and now only hillforts remain. Today there are about 450 hillforts in Lithuania. But while the mounds where the castles once stood remain, very little tangible information about the wooden structures has survived. Some information has been gathered in the form of artifacts from archaeological digs and some has been gleaned from later wooden structures such as church towers which may have been designed in the style of their wooden castle tower predecessors.

It is clear that a few brick castles appeared in Lithuania around the 14th century. These were mostly built by German occupiers of the time. Baranauskas cites the castle of Trakai, built in 1409, as the most significant and outstanding example that still exists today. And this rare Lithuanian castle is impressive on a Baltic scale - rivaling anything that can be found in Latvia or Estonia.

It is no secret that a lazy Sunday drive though the Lithuanian countryside will not be rich with the views of castles on hillsides and tales of White Ladies in towers, but for those interested, the remaining hillforts reveal a history which will no doubt fascinate any history buff. Lithuania can be said to have very few castles, but the history that belies that fact is rich indeed.