As the old town flows down to the Nemunas you find Vytautas the Great Church perched on its north bank. Its precarious location has caused it to suffer from repeated flooding, with a deliberate burning at the hands of Napoleonic troops to just add injury to injury. It's built in the Gothic brick style of several other Kaunas churches, but its towering spire and riverside location make it stand out a little bit above the others.
This is the main road out of the old town, and for many the first impression they will have of Kaunas's old town centre. The main section starts at the pleasant Laisvės Avenue and finishes at the wonderful old town square. In between are classic examples of Lithuanian houses, as well as the lovely old telephone booths (pictured).
The Church of St. Michael the Archangel is located at the end of Laisvės alėja. It was built as an Orthodox church in Neo-Byzantine style between 1891 and 1895, when Kaunas belonged to the Russian empire.
(more to come)
The monument to Vytautas the Great - the most famous ruler of medieval Lithuania - is located on Laisvės alėja, near the Kaunas city municipality building. It was first erected in 1930, then demolished by the Soviets and finally re-erected in 1990.
After having (a, for me, belated) lunch, my hosts took me to a historical landmark: the Ninth Fort Museum, whose construction began in 1902 and was achieved at the eve of WWI.
From 1924 on, the Fort served as city prison, but it became famous during the first Soviet occupation (1940–1941) when it was turned into a prison of NKVD, from which political prisoners were sent to Soviet camps.
During the subsequent Nazi occupation, the Ninth Fort served as a concentration camp. It became a museum in 1958.
The memorial you see in the photos was built in 1984 and dedicated to the victims of fascism at the Ninth Fort.
Visiting this fort is rather strucking, especially if you go with a guide. Our guide spoke quite good English, so I could easily understand his explanations. However, I wouldn't have found the museum if I had been travelling alone, because it's still a hidden spot.
Here you see the potentially breathtaking view over Kaunas. Unfortunately, the sky was dark and cloudy, but panoramas are always beautiful, aren't they?
The building with a smile depicted on it is part of the local university. I will have to look for the names of the other buildings and the bridge (any help would be appreciated).
After visiting the whole complex of Pažaislis Monastery, my hosts took me to a wood nearby (has it got a name?) where I could see what remained of an old tree. There was also a commemorative landmark whose meaning I have forgotten (and, sadly, I still can't read Lithuanian).
At the end of this pleasant walk, a beautiful belvedere was waiting for me...
The museum of Pažaislis Monastery is a very interesting jump into the past. It offers a comprehensive look on the past history of this place.
It is arranged in a very visitor-friendly way, with descriptive panels as you can see from these photos. Oh, yes, the museum is the only part of the monastery where photos are allowed.
Pažaislis Monastery is a magnificent example of Italian Baroque in Lithuania.
It was founded in 1662 by the Grand Duchy of Lithania Great Chancellor Krzysztof Zygmunt Pac for the Camaldolese Hermits. The church was planned by Italian architects Carlo and Pietro Puttini, and Giovanni Battista Frediani. The towers and the dome were added in 1755.
The Russian authorities closed the church in 1832 and turned it into an Orthodox church. The church wasn't given back to Roman Catholics until after 1920, and in bad conditions! It was restored by sisters of the Lithuanian convent of St. Casimir.
After World War II, the Soviet authorities converted the church and monastery into all sorts of non-religious buildings: an archive, a psychiatric hospital and finally an art gallery.
In 1990s the complex was returned to the nuns of the convent and reconstruction work began, again.
Today, Pažaislis Monastery is one of the must-see attractions of Kaunas, but unfortunately it doesn't seem to be advertised enough. When I was there with my local friends, I saw rather few tourists - and it was June.
The Pažaislis Monastery can be seen from afar thanks to its dome emerging from among the roofs. When you get there, you are "welcomed" by an intimidating gate (see photo).
Opening times: Monday-Saturday 10-13 and 14-17, on Sundays only for the Holy Mass at 11.
As soon as I met my friends Martynas and Asta at the Kaunas railway station, they took me on a long trip around the outskirts of the city.
The first stop was at Pažaislis Monastery, one of the most famous in Lithuania, which they had, however, never visited (nice to see that Italians aren't the only who neglect their own treasures...). They were more interested in showing me the lake and the wood nearby, which is also nice as you can see in these photos, but I was keener on seeing the monastery!
The Nemunas is Lithuania's largest river and also known in the German-speaking world as the "Memel". The smaller Neris flows along the north of the old town past the castle into the Nemunas. At the confluence of the two rivers, you will find a park. Looking towards the direction of flow, you will see trees and meadows - a panorama which makes you think that you are in the countryside.
On the southern bank of the Nemunas river, you will find the borough of Aleksotas which is located on a hill. There, you will not only find a couple of places of interes (for example the aviation museum), but you can also enjoy a wonderful view over the city centre of Kaunas. At the lookout, you will also find a state of the ancient Pagan god Perkunas, the god of thunder. He can be found all over the country and has been adopted as an unofficial symbol. The funicular railway, which is listed as national heirtage, was not working at the time of my visit.
Antanas Zmuidzinavicius was a Lithuanian artist whose work as brought into a new-built museum after his death in 1966. So far, so good – probably that would have been the end of the story, if Zmuidzinavicius had not found an interesting hobby. Hhe collected devil figures from all over the world and that collection drew attention from locals and later from tourist. After Zmiudzinavicius' death, the devil collection began to grow. The museum built an annex for the devil collection only in 1982 and today, it takes up more space than the original collection of paintings by Zmiudzinavicius. There are more than 3000 different devils in the collection. Indeed, it interesting to see how people all over the world personify evil powers. Try to find a devil from your country while you are there! For Germans and Russians, it is quite easily to find. The highlight of the collection is a piece of carved wood, showing Hitler and Stalin as devils dacing over Lithuania. But with all the big and small devils, don't forget to have a look at the paintings as well.
Kaunas was a centre of Jewish life in the 19th and early twentieth century, but this was all destroyed during Soviet and Nazi German occupation. Once, there were 25 synagogues in Kaunas, now only two remain working. The more intersitng one is the Choral Synagogue, a Neobaroque building from 1872. The synagoguge contains a memorial o the victims of the Holocaust. Time has left its marks on the building, but still it is better preserved than many other structures in Kaunas. Have a look inside, if you have the chance as its interior is splendid.