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TRAKAI, LITHUANIA



I was in Trakai with my brother. We traveled from Vilnus. We went out in vilnus during all nigth, until 8:00 a.m and when we arrived to the Hostel, we changed the clothes and we went to Trakai. Tha castle is really beautiful. When we went back to Vilnus we got sleep in the bus but thanks good ours stop was the last one.

Trakai is a historic town and lake resort in Lithuania. It lies 28 km west of Vilnius, capital of Lithuania. Because of its proximity to Vilnius, Trakai is a popular tourist destination. Trakai is the administrative centre of Trakai district municipality. The town covers 11.52 km² of area and, according to 2007 estimates, is inhabitated by 5,406 people. A distinctive feature of Trakai is that the town was built and preserved by people of different nationalities. Communities of Karaims, Tatars, Lithuanians, Russians, Jews and Poles lived here side by side.

The first settlements in this area appeared as early as the first millennium A.D. The town, as well as its surroundings, started developing in the 13th century in the place of Senieji Trakai (Old Trakai). According a legend, after a successful hunting party, Grand Duke Gediminas discovered a beautiful lake-surrounded place not far from Kernavė, then capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and decided to build a castle in the location. That is how the Old Trakai Castle was built in Senieji Trakai. The name of Trakai was first mentioned in Teutonic Knights chronicles in 1337. This year is considered to be the official date of town's foundation. When Grand Duke Gediminas finally settled in Vilnius, Senieji Trakai was inherited by his son the Duke Kęstutis. Duchy of Trakai developed and the town entered its best decades.


Grand Duke Kęstutis moved the town from Senieji Trakai to its current location, which is sometimes known as Naujieji Trakai. The new location was a place of intensive construction: a new castle was built in the strait between lakes Galvė and Luka and known as the Peninsula Castle, and another one, known as the Island Castle, on an island in Lake Galvė. A village grew around the castles. The new castles were the birthplace of the most famous ruler of Lithuania – Vytautas the Great. Vicinity of Trakai was protected by Senieji Trakai, Strėva, Bražuolė, Daniliškės and other hillforts from attacks of the Teutonic Knights. Despite the protection, both wooden castles were successfully raided by the Teutonic Knights several times in a row.


The town was in the center of a conflict between Grand Duke Jogaila (later to become King of Poland) with his uncle Kęstutis. In 1382 Jogaila's and Kęstutis armies met near Trakai, but Jogaila tricked Kęstutis and imprisoned him in Kreva. A few weeks later Kęstutis dies in captivity and Jogaila transferred the castles to his brother Skirgaila, who became a governor of Lithuania Proper. However, his rule was briefly interrupted when in 1383 joint forces of Kęstutis's son Vytautas and the Teutonic Knights captured the town. In 1392 Vytautas and Jogaila signed Astrava Treaty ending their quarrel. Vytautas became the Grand Duke of Lithuania while Jogaila technically remained his superior. Vytautas also regained his father's lands, including Trakai. Despite his official capital being Vilnius, Vytautas spent more time in Trakai. In early 15th century he replaced the older, wooden fortress with a stone-built castle. Some design elements were borrowed from the castles of the Teutonic Knights as Vytautas spent some time with the Teutons forming an alliance against Jogaila in earlier years.

Trakai became a political and an administrative centre of the Duchy, sometimes named a de facto capital of Lithuania. Construction of the brick castles was finished and a Catholic church was built. In 1409 the town was granted with Magdeburg Rights; it one of the first towns in Lithuania

to get city rights. The village started rapidly developing into a town. In 1413 it became a seat of the Trakai Voivodeship and a notable center of administration and commerce.

After the Grand Duchy of Lithuania joined the Kingdom of Poland into Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569, the castles remained a royal property, but the town's importance gradually declined, with the nearby Vilnius and the political center of the Commonwealth in Kraków being far more important. Nevertheless, it continued to be the seat of local Sejmik. In Polish sources the town name was started to be referred to as Troki. In 1477 the castle on the lake was a meeting place of king Casimir IV of Poland with Venetian envoys. After that the castle became sort of a luxurious prison for political prisoners. Sigismund I the Old imprisoned there the members of Goštautai family, believed to be conspiring with Michał Gliński. Also Helena, widow of Alexander of Poland was kept there in order to prevent her escape to Muscovy. The castle was refurbished by king Sigismund I of Poland, who set up his summer residence there. However, after his death in 1548 the castle gradually fell into disrepair.

During the wars between Russia and Poland between 1654 and 1667 the town was plundered and burnt. In the effect of the war with Muscovy in 1655, both castles were demolished and the town's prosperity finally collapsed. The castle ruins remained a historical landmark. During the Great Northern War (1700–1721) Trakai was plundered gain, famine and plague swept through the country.

After the Partitions of Poland in 1795, the area was annexed by the Russian Empire. After the World War I, the area was captured by Poland. In 1929 Polish authorities ordered reconstruction of the Trakai Island Catle. The works in the Upper castle were almost complete in 1939, when the Polish Defensive War started and the area was soon annexed by the Soviet Union and then by Nazi Germany. During the war, more than 5000 Jews from the Trakai region were murdered by the Nazis. In 1944, during Operation Tempest, the town was liberated by joint forces of the Polish Home Army and Soviet partisans. After World War II it was again annexed by the Soviets.

In 1961 the reconstruction of the upper castle and a high tower construction were complete. Then the works came to a halt as a result of Nikita Khrushchev's speech of December 21, 1960. The Soviet First Secretary declared that reconstruction of the castle would be a sign of glorification of Lithuania's feudal past. Works in the lower castle were not restarted until the 1980s and were completed by the Lithuanian authorities in the early 1990s. Today the Island Castle serves as the main tourist attraction and hosts various cultural events like operas and concerts.















March 2007

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