Thursday, 7 July 2016


Trakai Island castle

Trakai is famous for its castle, but the village also has the interesting distinction of being home to a community of Karaim, a people who hold to a form of early Judaism. There is a connection between these two things: the original Karaim were brought to Trakai from the Crimea in 1397 by Grand Duke Vytautas to serve as his castle guards. We parked some way away from the castle to ensure we got the full picture.

Our first notable sight was this 17th century column housing a statue of St John Nepomuk, patron of fisherman and towns surrounded by water.

Just beyond it was the former Russian post office, dating back to the 19th century, with its unusual combination of stone columns and wooden construction.

A little further on was a much restored landside castle, built in the 14th century and ruined by the Teutonic knights at the end of that century. This does explain the famous castle is now called Trakai Island castle.

Along on the opposite side of the road is the Karaim church which does look different from a Christian one. It has the three windows which are apparently characteristic of Karaim buildings.

 The village has many wooden houses and now there was a rather lovely concentration of them.

Now you turn right to cross a footbridge to an intermediate island and then cross a second, longer, bridge leading to the castle. Although it has been very wet, there are still plenty of visitors.

The castle was built by Grand Duke Vytautas, mentioned above, and completed before his crushing victory (in alliance with King Jogaila of Poland) over the Teutonic Knights at Grunwald in 1410. We saw an information panel earlier in the walk which revealed that a staggering number of German soldiers were killed.

Later, the castle became of less strategic importance and was destroyed by Cossacks during the 1655 invasion by Russia. Perhaps rather surprisingly, the Soviet authorities sanctioned the reconstruction of the castle in the 1950s and it was completed in 1987. It is hard to know how archaeologically sound the modern version is, but it certainly is impressive.

Inside, there is a large open courtyard with a massive keep at the rear, the residence of the Grand Duke.

The rooms have been furnished to some extent, but the impressive things about Trakai are its overall appearance and its wonderful location. After wandering round for a while we exited the castle and walked around the perimeter of the walls. This offered good views of the beautiful Lake Galve and a surprising view across the lake to Uzutrakis, a late 19th century manor house.

Conditions: cloudy, but quite warm.

Distance: a couple of miles.

Rating: four and a half stars.

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