Trakai Island Castle

Trakai, Lithuania

Trakai Island Castle on an island in Lake Galvė. The castle is sometimes referred to as 'Little Marienburg'. The construction of the stone castle was begun in the 14th century by Kęstutis, and around 1409 major works were completed by his son Vytautas the Great, who died in this castle in 1430. Trakai was one of the main centres of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the castle held great strategic importance.

Trakai Island Castle was built in several phases. During the first phase, in the second half of the 14th century, the castle was constructed on the largest of three lake islands by the order of Grand Duke Kęstutis. The construction of Trakai Island Castle was related to the expansion and strengthening of the Trakai Peninsula Castle. Kęstutis moved his main residence and his treasury to the Island Castle.

The castle suffered major devastation during an attack by the Teutonic Knights in 1377. After the assassination of Kęstutis, a power struggle between Jogaila and Vytautas the Great for the title of Grand Duke of Lithuania began. The castle was besieged by both sides. Soon after the reconciliation between Jogaila and Vytautas, the second phase of construction started and continued until 1409. This phase is regarded as the major development in the history of the castle. Apparently, during the truce with the Teutonic Order, the construction works were supervised by the Order's stonemason Radike, four years before the Battle of Grunwald.

During the second phase, two wings were added, and on the southern side a 6-storey donjon was built. The donjon had movable gates which separated the palace from the forecastle. The donjon was used for several functions; besides serving as another defensive structure, it had a chapel and living quarters. It was linked to the multi-storey Ducal Palace, which had an inner yard. The inner yard had wooden galleries, which ran around the inner wall; these galleries were used to access various support facilities without going inside the palace itself.

The entire southern wing of the southern palace was used for the Ducal Hall. This hall was around 10 by 21 metres in size, and only the Upper Palace in the Vilnius Castle Complex could surpass its proportions. The Ducal Hall has preserved some of its original décor.

The expansion of the forecastle in the early 15th century marked the third phase of Trakai's development. The walls of the forecastle were strengthened to a thickness of 2.5 metres and raised with additional firing galleries. Three major defensive towers were constructed on the corners. The southwestern tower was also used as a prison. The top story of the towers was designed for soldiers and housed a large number of cannons. A main gatehouse was also constructed which, along with the Ducal Palace donjon, had movable gates. The gatehouse was reinforced with additional sections for firing galleries. Near the inner walls several buildings were constructed, including stables, kitchens, and other support structures. When the castle was undergoing this expansion in the 15th century, the water level of Lake Galvė was several metres higher than it is today. The castle builders took advantage of this by separating the Ducal Palace and the forecastle with a moat, just wide enough for small boats to sail through. They were connected by gates that could be raised in case of an enemy attack.

Trakai Island Castle lost its military importance soon after the Battle of Grunwald, when the chief enemy of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was defeated by the Lithuanian-Polish army. The castle was transformed into a residence and newly decorated from the inside. New frescos were painted on its walls, which have been partially preserved. Foreign emissaries were welcomed in the Ducal Palace.

Grand Duke Vytautas the Great died in the castle without being crowned as King of Lithuania in 1430. During the rule of Sigismund Augustus, the castle was redecorated in a Renaissance style, and it served as the royal summer residence for a short period of time. Lithuanian Metrica was kept in the castle until 1511. Later the castle served as a prison. During the wars with Muscovy in the 17th century, the castle was damaged and was not reconstructed again. It gradually fell into disrepair.

During the 19th century, castle reconstruction plans were prepared. Its original frescos were preserved and copied by Wincenty Smokowski. The Imperial Archaeological Commission initiated the documentation of the remaining castle in 1888. In 1905, the Imperial Russian authorities decided to partially restore the castle ruins. During World War I, Germans brought in their specialists, who made several attempts to restore the castle. Between 1935 and 1941, parts of the Ducal Palace walls were strengthened, and the southeastern forecastle tower was rebuilt, including sections of its walls. Lithuanian and Polish preservationists worked on the project, but the work stopped when the war gained in intensity. After World War II, a major reconstruction project was begun in 1946; active work started in 1951-1952. The major portion of the reconstruction was finished in 1961. The castle was reconstructed in a 15th century style.

Trakai Island Castle is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in Lithuania.

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Details

Founded: c. 1360
Category: Castles and fortifications in Lithuania

Rating

4.7/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Gisele Boer (2 months ago)
Definitely, it's overpriced: 12€ for a castle without context or information on the rooms. They should improve the areas with context about the expositions. Also, some rooms didn't have an explanation in English. The staff could be more friendly too. The area around the castle has a very nice market.
Peter Niessen (2 months ago)
Very interesting place to visit. They turned it into a museum, which is really interesting to visit. It is also a nice spot to just sit on a bench and enjoy the view.
Benjamin James (4 months ago)
Fantastic route around this lovely recreated castle. Each section gives you a piece of history of the castle and also the people and rulers of the surrounding region and their importance in history. Some amazing museum pieces coupled with incredible views in and around the castle make Trakai an absolute must see if visiting Lithuania!
chris frank (5 months ago)
This is an absolute must if you visit Lithuania. We stayed in Vilnius and visited Trakai for a day and thank God we did! The area surrounding the castle offers many chance for landscape watching while walking around and also many view points for relaxation and photographs. The castle itself is in an excellent position , beautiful and circled by nature. A calm lake full of birds and trees. The structure , which served as both a fortress and a noblemen's residence has very rich history! You should not miss it!!
James Clegg (9 months ago)
Breathtaking views and wonderful natural surroundings. The perfect place to escape the city and get some fresh air. There's a really peaceful feeling about the town.
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