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Medieval Lithuania

              Castles of Lithuania: Introduction |  Voruta |  Wooden castles |  Brick castles

Castles of Lithuania

       Lithuania was a land of wooden castles. Those wooden castles were the residences of the dukes and the main type of defensive fortifications. Lithuania defended itself against the aggression of the Teutonic Order by building wooden castles. It was not only defending its territory against the Order but also its independence. The legendary castle of Voruta, from which Mindaugas repulsed his enemies’ attack, the famous castle of Veliuona – the main Lithuanian outpost in the war with the crusaders – and a lot of other castles were wooden castles.
       The wooden castles vanished after they had performed their role, and merely the hillforts remained. There are about 450 late hillforts in Lithuania today – during the Middle Ages, most of them had castles built within their ramparts. Only little information on the appearance of the wooden castles has survived – some of it is supplied by archaeological research, some by later monuments of wooden architecture (for example, bell towers of wooden churches may have preserved architectural traditions of castle towers). Their analogues, the Russian castles, are also valuable – some wooden castles of the 17th century have survived in Siberia up to the present day. The historical sources have preserved information about Lithuanian carpenters having participated in their building*. They were famous for their skills in the whole of Eastern Europe (it is not an accident that the Lithuanian word "dailidė", carpenter, took root in the Belarusian language as "dojlida").
       Brick castles appeared in Lithuania in the 14th century. There were only a few of them though, and they were built by German craftsmen. The sovereigns had them built as their priority was to fortify the nucleus of the state. Kaunas, Grodno, Novogrudek, Lyda, Kreva, and Medininkai castles surrounded Vilnius (the capital) and Old and New Trakai, which were the main centres of the state, from the West, South and East.
       The most magnificent one was the castle of Trakai, built in 1409. Vytautas built it with the assistance of German craftsmen on Galvė Lake Island. Its fame spread widely, and in the middle of the 15th century the Duke of Tver', Boris Aleksandovich, decided to build a similar castle in his duchy. As the "Story" of monk Foma goes, "he built... a castle in the middle of a lake, and named it Troki"**. Thus the castles of Lithuania – both wooden and brick ones – were an example for Russia and influenced the development of the Russian castles.

       Tomas Baranauskas

       * Крадин Н. П. Русское деревянное оборонное зодчество. Москва, 1988, c. 79.
       ** Раппопорт П. А. Очерки по истории военного зодчества северо-восточной и северо-западной Руси X–XV вв. Москва; Ленинград, 1961, c. 213, 217. (Материалы и исследования по археологии СССР; № 105).

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