The precise construction date of the first Kaunas Castle is unknown. Archeological data suggests that a stone castle was built on the site during the middle of the 14th century. Situated on an elevated bank near the river junction it served as a strategic outpost and guarded nearby cities as well as trade routes. A written account states that in 1361, the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights Winrich von Kniprode issued an order to gather information about the castle, specifically the thickness of its walls, as preparation for an assault on the castle. During 1362, Kaunas Castle underwent a siege by the Teutonic Order. The siege of the castle lasted three weeks. During this attack, the Teutonic Knights constructed a siege tower and erected wall-penetration machinery; primitive fire arms might have been used, since gunpowder technology was emerging in Europe. At that time, the castle walls were over 11 meters high, when its firing galleries are factored in. According to Wigand of Marburg, the castle's garrison consisted of about 400 Lithuanian soldiers, commanded by Kęstutis's son Vaidotas. After three weeks, the Knights managed to breach the castle’s walls, and soon afterwards the castle was taken. On Easter Sunday in 1362, the knights conducted a Mass at the castle to commemorate their victory.
Kęstutis soon regained and rebuilt Kaunas Castle, but it remained a point of contention between Lithuanians and Teutonic Knights for many years. In 1384 Kaunas Castle was re-captured by the Teutonic Knights. At this time Grand Master Konrad Zöllner von Rotenstein began reconstruction of Kaunas Castle and renamed it Marienwerder. The presence of the Knights in Kaunas meant that the entire defensive system of castles along the Nemunas was threatened. Confronting this situation, the Lithuanians launched an attack on the castle later the same year.
It seems likely that the Lithuanians mustered an army near Vilnius as a strategic maneuver, since Lithuanians could use the downstream flow of the Neris River to transport artillery and military provisions from Vilnius; the Knights were forced to use overland or upstream transport. During the 1384 assault, the Lithuanians deployed cannons and trebuchets; the besieged Teutonic Knights had also installed cannons in the castle, which apparently destroyed the Lithuanians' trebuchet. Nevertheless, the castle was retaken by the Lithuanians.
After 1398, the Teutonic Knights were no longer able to reconquer the castle. After the Battle of Grunwald, Kaunas Castle lost its strategic military importance and was used as a residence. The castle served administrative purposes after the death of Vytautas the Great. Sigismund Augustus gave this castle to his wife Barbara Radziwill in 1549. During the 16th century, the castle was strengthened and adapted to new defensive purposes by the construction of an artillery bastion near the round tower. The diameter of the bastion was about 40 meters and the height of the bastion's walls was about 12 meters.
In 1601, Kaunas Castle housed courts and an archive. At some time in 1611, part of the castle was flooded by the Neris River. Due to its convenient location, it was used by the Swedish military during its war with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, after which its military functions ceased. In the mid-17th century, large portions of the castle were again flooded. The castle was used as a prison in the 18th century; later the Russian administration granted permission for houses to be built in the castle's territory, which resulted in significant damage to the castle itself.
For many years afterwards, Kaunas Castle stood abandoned. In the 1960s the round tower was opened as a museum, but due to the tower's structural deterioration, the museum was transferred elsewhere. Today the round tower of Kaunas Castle houses an art gallery. The castle is open to tourism, and hosts occasional festivals. Major reconstruction work started in 2010.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.