Beautiful Trakai in Lithuania
Trakai Island Castle
Trakai Historical Nature Park
Trakai Historical Nature Park was founded in 1991 and consists of the historical town of Trakai and the surrounding lakes, forests and villages. The total area of the park that preserves the cultural heritage and natural environs of the region, is 82 square kilometres. The nature of the area, with hills, ridges, lakes and marshlands, was formed by glaciers during the ice age, and holds a large variety of flora and fauna. Most of the visitors only focus on the Trakai town and castles, but the surrounding nature park would make a great destination especially for nature-lovers. If you are only on a short day trip, at least consider walking to the Trakai castles along the eastern shore of the island, where a walking path follows the coastline. From the bus station it’s a relaxing 3 kilometre-long nature walk, with several possibilities to stop for a swim for example.
Karaim heritage and culture in Trakai
Trakai is home to a small Karaim community, an ethnic group that origins from Crimea. Karaims were brought to Trakai in the 14th century by Grand Duke Vitautas, to serve as warriors and servants. Karaims were placed between the town and the Island Castle and trusted with the castle’s protection. The main street that leads to the Island Castle today is lined with colourful wooden houses, that are typical for Karaims. These houses usually have three windows in the front; it’s believed that the first one is for God, the second for the host and the third one for guests. Many of the Karaims of Trakai can still speak Karaim language that derives from the Turkish language family, and have kept alive Karaim traditions and heritage. Trakai is a great place for getting to know also the Karaim cuisine – there are several restaurant offering traditional Karaim dishes like filled kybyn or chebureki pies.
How to visit Trakai from Vilnius
When in Trakai, the main draws are the castles, museums and the Karaim houses, but there are also a lot of outdoor activities available from boat trips to horseback riding and paragliding. There are nature walks and beaches, and of course a lot of restaurants and cafes. For staying overnight, there are some guest houses and hotels, as well as cottages by the lake. Check our for example the small Guest House Karaimu 13 that rents rooms in a rebuilt Karaim house, or the Boutique hotel style guest house Viva Trakai, that has great views to the Island Castle.
History of Trakai castles in a nutshell
- Old, wooden Trakai Castle and a unified defensive system was built in Senieji Trakai in early 14th century, under the orders of the Grand Dutchy of Lithuania.
- Dutchy of Trakai, lead by Kestutits, moved the town to the current location, and a new castle was built on the peninsula on mid 14th century (Peninsula Castle).
- Another castle was built on an island in Lake Galve soon after (Island Castle), and a village grew around the castles. The Island Castle became the residence of the Grand Duke Vitautas of Lithuania.
- The location of Trakai was protected by surrounding defensive systems, but the old wooden castle was raided by Teutonic nights several times. In early 15th century the wooden fortress was replaced by a stone-built castle.
- In 1409, Trakai town was granted city rights, and it developed quickly to a flourishing city, and the Great Hall of the Island Castle welcomed many honored guests.
- In late 16th century the town’s importance started to decline. The castles stayed as royal property, but were used as prisons.
- After the wars between Russia and Poland (1654-1667), the town was burned, both castles demolished and the era of prosperity ended.
- In 1929, the Polish authorities ordered reconstruction and restoration of the Trakai Island Castle.
The reconstruction of the upper castle and a high tower were completed in 1961 (by Soviet Union authorities).
- Lithuanian authorities completed the works in the lower castle in the early 1990s.