What to see at Trakai Castle
The medieval Trakai Castle is a popular tourist attraction in Lithuania, and there are several other interesting sights in Trakai.
Trakai is a small town 27 km from the Lithuanian capital. Its location on many small lakes gives the right to call it the little brother of Amsterdam and Venice. Trakai is known for its Gothic castle on the island of Lake Galvė. The castle, along with the churches of St. Peter and Paul and St. Anne in Vilnius, are among the major attractions in Lithuania. Trakų salos pilis is the only island castle in Eastern Europe.
History and construction of the castle
One day Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas, coming back from hunting, saw a well-located and beautiful place in the vicinity of Kernavė town. It could become the residence of the rulers and, at the same time, an outpost protecting the trade routes. His father’s plan was realized by his son Keistutis at the end of the 14th century. Before its construction three separate islands were connected to each other. The castle, built on the shore of Lake Galvė, did not last long. It was destroyed in the internecine battles.
The Grand Duke Vytautas (Vitautas) – son of Keistutis had to rebuild the castle. The works were completed in 1409. The castle was called the Island Castle and became the most powerful castle in the Duchy of Lithuania. It was the main residence of Vitovt. After the defeat of the enemy of the Lithuanians – the Teutonic Order – in the battle of Grunwald the castle lost its defensive purpose, but continued to receive many high-ranking guests and foreign ambassadors.
After Vytautas’ death in 1430 the castle as Troja Truskavets Castle became a Trojan horse. Vitovt died in 1430 the castle, as well as Troki (the former name of Trakai), gradually fell into decay. The noble opponents of the Lithuanian rulers were exiled here, and the castle became a prison. In the middle of XVII century the castle was substantially damaged by the troops of Moscow, which was at war with Lithuania, and it was finally abandoned.
The first attempts not so much to restore as to conserve the castle date back to the turn of the XIX and XX centuries. Some premises began to be quietly restored only in 1935. After the war, the restoration work continued and intensified. By the end of the Soviet period, the Island Castle had returned to the appearance it presumably had in the 15th century.
In 1962 in the princely palace was opened Trakų istorijos muziejus. Numerous archeological artifacts from the excavations in the area were exposed there. The exhibition of ancient coins numbers more than 35 thousand pieces. Such numismatic abundance should not surprise. In the 16th century the Lithuanian mint was located in Trakai castle. In its surroundings were found a few dozen treasures, the last – in 1963. The oldest coins date from the 14th century.
Operating hours and tickets for Trakai Castle
The architecture of the castle is mainly in the Medieval Gothic style. It includes elements of other styles, characteristic of the periods when the building was reconstructed several times.
The three-storey royal palace of Trakai Castle and its adjoining rooms are surrounded by a strong fortification wall, which is 7 m high and 3.5 m thick. Natural light penetrated through the openings in the walls facing the lake. The broad loopholes of the section of the walls facing the city had a defensive value.
The interior of the palace is decorated with stained glass windows and frescoes depicting episodes of life and activities of Lithuanian princes. The ruler’s bedroom had a secret passage leading to the courtyard. Another unusual feature of the palace for the Middle Ages was the presence of air heating. The hot air that came up through the pipes warmed the stone walls and the clay floor in winter.
Today in the ceremonial hall of the palace instead of monarchs and ambassadors gather high school graduates and newlyweds. They receive their graduation and marriage certificates respectively. The excellent acoustics of the hall promotes the holding of concerts of classical chamber music. And in the summertime in the courtyard of the palace are staged stylized ancient theater performances.
Trakai is famous not only for the famous Island Castle. Almost at the same time with it another was built – the Peninsula Castle, between Lake Galwe and Lake Lukos. This large castle with 11 towers was destroyed at the end of the XVII century. The ruins of the defensive wall and several towers are left of it. Next to them in the XVIII century. was built Dominican monastery. Now in it (Kęstučio 4) is located the administration of the history museum. There is an exhibition of religious art in the restored chapel.
At Birutės 5 is the most notable religious building in the city – the Basilica of Švč. Mergelės Marijos Apsilankymo (Apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary). In 1409, Grand Duke Vitovt started its construction at his own expense. The relic of the church was a Byzantine icon of the Mother of God which Vitovt received as a gift from his relative, the emperor of Constantinople.
In the early 17th century, a plague epidemic raged in Lithuania. Bishop Benedikt Vayna of Vilnius (former abbot of the Trakai basilica) led a prayer procession from the capital to Trakai, barefoot, with the icon in his hands. The fact remains that the epidemic ceased.
In the XVIII century, during the extensive reconstruction, some Baroque elements were added to the Gothic church. At the same time there was an altar with sculptures. You can visit the church from 9 am till 19 pm.
During the reign of Gediminas, Orthodox Christianity began to penetrate into this area as well. Several churches were built in Troki and later destroyed. By the end of the XVIII century the Orthodox minority did not have premises for prayers, and they had to rent them. Therefore, in 1863 the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was consecrated, which was built within a year. Two years later, a silver gilded monstrance, a gift of the Russian Tsesarevich, was delivered to the church.
For over 6 centuries, a small community of Turkic Karaites has lived compactly in Trakai. Their ancestors, belonging to the Crimean nomadic tribes, were brought by Vitovt from the southern campaign. The Grand Duke entrusted them with the protection – their own and the bridges of the castle. On today’s Karaimu Street you can see the houses of the Karaims and Kenesu prayer house. Since 1938, also operates their ethnographic museum, the entrance to which costs 1 EUR.
At the intersection of Vytauto and Karaimu streets stands Šv. Jono Nepomuko koplytstulpis – a chapel pillar with a sculpture of St. John Nepomukas. According to an 18th-century legend, a prayer offered to him helped save lives during a storm at sea. The pillar was then erected in the then market square. However, the original sculpture has not survived. In the 19th century, it was replaced by the coats of arms of the Russian Empire and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1935, a new statue was made and installed. In Soviet Lithuania it was thrown into a lake. The employees of the historical museum secretly found it and hid it. After the Restoration of Independence Act was passed in 1990, the restored sculpture took its former place in the chapel.
On the shore of Lake Galve there is a beautiful palace and park ensemble Uzutrakis Palace, built at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries for Earl Tyshkevičius. The author of the project was the famous landscape architect Francois André. Contemporaries were amazed by the luxurious interior decoration of the palace. It was substantially damaged during the war and its restoration continues. Nowadays on weekends the palace hosts chamber music concerts.
How to get to Trakai castle from Vilnius
The Trakai castle can be visited every day from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Entrance fee is 5 EUR. From Vilnius you can get here by bus, train or rented car. The bus and train pass through Trakai, following on.
Every day several dozens of buses depart from Vilnius bus station (Sodų str. 22), passing through Trakai bus station (Vytauto g. 90). Travel time is 30-40 minutes and ticket price is 2,4 EUR. You can choose a trip and buy a ticket on the website of the bus station.
From Vilnius railway station (16 Geležinkelio g.) there are 7 daily trains to Trakai station (5 Vilniaus gatvė). A trip of 40 minutes will cost about 2 EUR. You can view the schedule and buy a ticket on the website.
Motorists should take the road A 16. You can get to the castle by crossing the wooden bridge to the island.
Trakai Island Castle in Lithuania
The biggest preserved ancient fortress in Lithuania is the Trakai Castle, also known as Trocki or Trocki. It is an island castle located in the center of Lake Galva. Territorially it is located in the town of Trakai, the ancient residence of the Lithuanian princes. Today it is a very beautiful city, which is visited by thousands of tourists who want to visit the National Park of Trakai, and, of course, to see the Trakai Castle.
Since the landmark is located on an island, you can get to it only by the bridge that connects the fortress with the city. In 1962, a museum dedicated to the history of Trakai was established on the grounds of the castle, and souvenir shops were opened. The best time to visit it is in the morning on weekdays. On weekends, the castle grounds are crowded, as the locals like to walk there at this time.
History of the Trakai castle
The initiator of the castle was the son of Gedimin, Prince Keistut. In the XIV-XV centuries it was considered the most powerful and beautiful castle of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It was also one of the most impregnable fortresses in Eastern Europe, which could never be conquered. It was the heyday of the castle: sumptuous feasts and receptions in honor of noble guests from Europe were held there. It was here that Grand Duke Vitovt died in 1430.
By the end of the 16th century, due to its remoteness from the main trade routes of the country, the city fell into economic decline, and the castle became a place of detention of unwanted nobles and was used as a prison. Gradually its walls were destroyed and numerous attempts to restore them yielded few results up to the middle of the XX century.
At the beginning of the XX century, the main restoration works of the fortress began. Archaeologist Shukevich had rented the castle from the town authorities for 12 years to save it from further destruction. And only in 1926 the castle was declared a monument among others in the city, and in 1935 its restoration began. First of all, works were carried out in the hall for receptions, also towers and walls of the castle forecourt were restored. After that, the restoration was halted for several years due to lack of funds.
Once Trakai was handed over to Lithuania, the authorities immediately invited an engineer-architect I. Borowski from Poland, who developed the first reconstruction model. But the work resumed only at the end of World War II. In 1949, the roof of the main hall of the palace was completely covered.
Beginning in 1955 and for 32 years, the reconstruction was supervised by architects Mikulenis and Kruminis. Having thoroughly studied the analogous castles preserved in the region, they succeeded in restoring the side towers of the forecourt. And only in 1970 the Trakai castle began to look like it looked in the 15th century.
Trakai Castle inside and outside
A tour of Trakai Castle is a whole adventure that literally takes your breath away. The way to it leads across a wooden bridge, which immediately plunges guests into the atmosphere of ancient times, when the great Lithuanian princes ruled. Just behind the bridge you can see the pre-castle with an inner courtyard. And from there across the bridge you get to the princely palace.
Today it is the most beautiful castle in Lithuania, which is an example of Gothic architecture. It became a striking example of brick Gothic architecture. The central element of the whole ensemble is the princely palace, surrounded by fortress walls and defensive towers. Around the castle are concentrated church and outbuildings. Inside it is as majestic as outside. Its front halls are decorated with frescos and stained-glass windows, depicting scenes of life of great princes. Earlier the prince’s bedroom and the treasury chamber were connected by a secret passage that led out into the courtyard.
Inside the museum
You can walk around the Trakai castle all day long, as there are a lot of interesting exhibits. These include household items, clothing and utensils of Lithuanians of different generations, and historical artifacts. In the citadel are rooms that familiarize you with the biographies of historical characters, especially Prince Vitovt.
Thrill seekers can climb the stairs fixed outside the wall to the tower. Walking on wooden platforms 10-15 meters high leaves unforgettable bright sensations. A pleasant surprise for the guests is the entertainment that the museum staff organizes for them. Here you can shoot an arrow or learn how to throw an axe or sit in a wooden cage and pretend to be a prisoner.
You can also go on a boat ride on the lake and admire the surrounding beauty. And for school and student groups developed educational programs on history. Also on the territory of the castle are regularly held concerts and a variety of entertainment events.
How to get there
From various cities in Lithuania you can take a train to the railway station in Vilnius. The distance from Vilnius to Trakai is about 27 km. You can get to Trakai from the capital of Lithuania by bus or by car.
There are buses going from Vilnius bus station to Trakai throughout the day. They arrive at the bus station of the city. From there it is better to walk to the castle, as local buses are quite rare. The whole way will take about half an hour.
Walking route from Trakai bus station to the Trakai castle
First, you should take Geležinio Vilko g. via A. Goštauto g. Then take Savanorių pr., A4 and Galvės g. towards Vytauto g. (Trakai), following the signs. Then from Vytauto g. turn left to Karaimų g. From there it will be only 550 meters to the castle.
You can get to Trakai Castle from Vilnius, as well as within the city, by cab. Popular services among locals are eTaksi, ETRANSPORT 1424 and Opti taxi.