But this weekend in Trakai was not worth going for long walks around the neighborhood, but to celebrate the 700th anniversary of this small but very nice place.
According to legend, it was the beauty of this place that led Prince Gediminas to decide to move the capital of the principality from Kernavė to Trakai and to build a new castle there. However, the great and experienced warrior probably also appreciated the strategic location of the castle, which could serve not only as a princely residence, but also as a reliable outpost defending important trade routes.
2022 has been declared the Year of the Karaites in Lithuania
In addition to the round date of 700 years, Trakai has another reason to celebrate – 2022 has been declared the Year of the Karaites in Lithuania.
It all began around 1398, when after a victorious battle in the Crimea in the 14th century, the Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas invited 380 Karaites families to settle in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Initially settled by the ruler in Trakai, the Karaites gradually spread throughout Lithuania. The Karaites became the prince’s personal guard of the Island Castle, and controlled the western borders of Lithuania from German knights.
The resettlement of Karaites from the Crimea to Lithuania continued until the 16th century. Lithuanian princes treated this people well – the Karaites proved to be excellent warriors and horsemen, a guard devoted only to the ruler. They became the most reliable personal guard, as they obeyed only one person – the Duke.
The Lithuanian Karaites were gradually divided into two groups, warriors and civilians. The military guarded castles, bridges and other strategic objects, while the rest were engaged in small crafts. They traded, traded, were interpreters and clerks, worked the land – excellent gardeners, the Karaites raised some special varieties of cucumbers. The Grand Duke of Lithuania granted only the Karaites (as non-Christians) the right of self-government, or Magdeburg law.
Getting to know Trakai
The best place to start your acquaintance with Trakai is with the famous Trakai Castle, located on an island on Lake Galvė, opposite the older Keistut Castle. Keistut had a hand in creating the island castle as well, but the Trakai castle is most strongly associated with Keistut’s son Vitovt.
Under Vitovt the castle was in its heyday. Lavish receptions and feasts were held in honor of foreign ambassadors and distinguished guests from all over Europe. Vytautas died here on October 27, 1430.
By the end of the 16th century Trakai was gradually receding into the background of the political life of the country. Its remoteness from the main trade routes led to the city’s economic decline. Soon it became a place of exile for the unwanted nobility; the castle was used as a prison. During the invasion of the Russian army in 1655 the castle became a ruin.
The restoration of the castle began to be considered only at the end of the XIX century, and even then the work on the island was more a conservation of the ruins. The towers and walls of the castle began to be restored only in the 30s of XX century. And the main works were unfolded only in the Soviet era. In the castle, by the way, there is an interesting exhibition, devoted to the restoration. And the most impressive is that much was restored in those years due to the pure enthusiasm of people – archaeologists, architects, and many others who strived to recreate the former greatness of Trakai.
From Galvė Lake, where the castle is located, you can enjoy a beautiful view of Užutrakis Manor, which was built in the style of Classicism at the end of the 19th century. If you go around the lake on the way to this place, it will take 10 km, and the boat ride takes only 20 minutes – almost everyone offers a boat ride on the lake. There are more serious options – on the boat with a guide. All this, of course, costs money.
It also costs money to park near the castle. It also ends very quickly and if you don’t get there early, you have to leave your car pretty far away.