On 23rd April 1289 the Landmeister (provincial Master) of the Teutonic Order in Prussia, Meinhard von Querfurt, attacked the lands of the Skalvians. Afterwards he ordered to construct a Teutonic fortress which was to replace an old Prussian fort called 'Ragaine'. The new stronghold was named 'Landehut', meaning 'the land's guarding fort' or 'the land's defence'.
At the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries, the Teutonic Knights were involved in exhausting battles with Lithuania over Skalovia. At that time the former name of the fort, 'Ragnit', was revived. Ragnit Castle became the most part of the defence system built by the Teutonic Knights in the borderland between Prussia and Lithuania, and also one of the major links in a chain of fortresses protecting the Monastic State of the Order.
Despite being a powerful stronghold, Ragnit Castle sometimes fell into the hands of enemy. In 1397-1409 the Teutonic Knights built a new brick and stone castle in Ragneta. The works were supervised by the Master of the Teutonic Order, Konrad Fellenstein of Marienburg.
A huge stone and brick fortress was raised, surrounded with a moat and an embankment, which formed an enclosed square. The size of the inner ward was about 1.000 square meters. The main entrance, decorated with a granite doorframe, was located in the west wing. The entrance could be closed securely with an iron grate. Some time later a watchtower, about 25 meters high, was raised near the castle.
In November 1678 Ragenta Castle was seized by the Swedish troops, who stayed in the castle for about a year until Grand Master Frederic Wilhelm arrived with reinforcements and forced the occupants to leave the castle. Once the Swedish troops had withdrawn, the castle underwent necessary repairs.
During the Napoleonic wars, French troops stationed in the castle. In December 1812 Russians entered the town, lead by General Alexander Kutuzov, a relative of an outstanding Russian army commander, Michail Illarionovich Kutuzov.
In the 1930s, the historic fortress of Ragnit lost its defensive character. The castle was reconstructed to function as a seat of a law court and a prison.Today we can admire the ruins of the castle, including its watchtower, which still stand in the centre of the town, on the Neman River. Unfortunately, the devastation and unsanitary appearance of what has been left of the fortress are a sad reminder of our indifferent attitude to the past. A few years ago, when some filmmakers were looking for a location to shoot war scenes, the ruined fortress was rediscovered. Some effort was even made to preserve the ruins. All in vain, God's Eye has turned away from the town's dwellers and does not watch over the castle or the town. So it is the residents of Ragnit who should assume the responsibility for their historic heritage.References:
The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.
The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.
In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.
In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.
After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.
In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.
In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.