By Beata Bruggeman-Sekowska
Trakai was the home of the founder of Vilnius and had been the capital before Vilnius became one ( in 1323). Trakai was one of the main centers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Today it celebrates its 700th anniversray of existence.
It is located about 25 kilometers outside Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania and is the place where each Lithuanian recalls the glory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, back in the 15th century stretching from the Baltics to the Black Sea.
According to stories, Gediminas started building the first castle in 1321 on a peninsula of Trakai between Lakes Galvė and Luka. The capital was then moved from Kernavė to Trakai.
Grand Duke Kęstutis, son of Gediminas, settled in Trakai. The construction of the castle is said to have been completed in 1410. Major works were completed by his son Vytautas the Great, who died in this castle in 1430. The site was approximately 4 hectares in size and contained 11 towers of various sizes. Construction of a second castle on an island in Lake Galvė was also started. A small town was established near the castles. In addition to the two stone castles, there was also a third wooden castle in Trakai.
In the 16th century, Trakai lost its political significance and the economy was also declining. During the war with Russia in the 17th century, Trakai was looted and burned. The castles were also destroyed. The years of restoration followed. In 1962 a historical museum was opened in the castle.
Trakai National Park was designated in 1992 to embrace the historic city of Trakai. The most valuable monuments in the park are the Trakai insular castle, the remnants of the peninsula castle and the ancient site of the Senieji Trakai (Old Trakai) castle with a church and village. In the district and national park Trakai there are about 200 lakes. The most famous and largest lake is Galve with an area of 388 hectares. The beautiful castle of Trakai has been built on one of the many islands in this lake.
On a nearby peninsula there are also very interesting remains of a second castle. Two other large lakes are Vilkokšnis (337 ha) and Skaiscis (296 ha).
Do not forget to visit also wooden houses located at a Karaimų straat. They all face with their windows the street. They were built by the Karaims, people of a small Turkic nation. They came from Crimea to Lithuania when the Grand Duke of Lithuania – Vytautas was fighting against the Golden Horde. When they arrived in 1397-1398 Vytautas inhabited them in Trakai. Later Karaims also settled in Northern Lithuania.
During the first hundred years they were responsible for the castles’guard and later on they were generally occupied with agriculture, gardening, horse-breeding, trade and crafts.
When visiting Trakai make sure to check out this information website of the Trakai Municipality: https://www.trakai.lt/
And learn more about Karaims in Lithuania here: http://www.karaim.eu/en/home/
Author: Beata Bruggeman-Sękowska is an award-winning international journalist, TV correspondent, author, chief editor of international journalism centre, Central and Eastern Europe Centre, board member and a sworn translator. She was born in Warsaw, Poland and has also Armenian blood and roots in Lvov, which is part of Ukraine. She has been living in Heerlen, the Netherlands since 2005.