Early history of Kaunas
Based on the findings of archaeologists, the history of what is known as Kaunas today started in the second or first millennium BC. It was a time when people started settling in the areas of present city as two rivers convergence provided them crucial sources of food and water.
There is a common belief amongst historians that Kaunas was officially founded in 1030 but only in 1361 it was first mentioned in written sources. Because of constant threat from Teutonic Knights, dwellers of the city built a stone wall as a mean of protection, which, unfortunately, later proved to be vulnerable. As these Knights were in constant conflict with Lithuania, in 1362 the they managed to capture the city and destroy the symbolic Kaunas Castle, which has been considered one of the most important military victories against Lithuania. Only, couple of centuries later, the castle was rebuilt.
Due to a perfect location, Kaunas has been offered to join Hanseatic League (commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns) in 1441 which led to the opening of a new Hansa merchant office which was the only one in Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Due to successful and rapid development of the city, by the 16th century, Kaunas had a public school and a hospital which and was considered to be practically the best-formed town in the state.
The city suffered multiple times due various military intrusions throughout the history. After the split of Polish–Lithuanian country in 1795, Kaunas was invaded by the Russian Empire and has been forced to become a part of Vilna Governorate. But that was only a start of awful few decades for the second largest Lithuanian city.
In 1812, during the Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, the city was ravaged by the French army two times, which destroyed years of hard work and development by devoted residents of this great city.
After the invasion was over and the city has been slowly rebuilt – Kovno Governorate has been established in 1843. As Kaunas was a center of the province, a railway connecting Russian Empire and Imperial Germany was constructed in 1862 which made the city an important international railway hub and allowed Kaunas to regain it’s economical and political strength.
As the Empire did not want to repeat it’s mistakes and allow it’s cities to be destroyed again, especially because the political relationship with Germany was intensifying, it was decided to build a huge fortress which was meant to protect Russian Empire’s western borders.
The construction started in 1882 and took 33 years to complete. As the tension escalated – the fortress was used as intended in 1915 when Germany attacked Russian Empire. Even though Kaunas’ Forts were the largest defensive structure in WWI, occupying 65 km2 (25 sq mi), it only withstood 11 days of assault before being captured.
Unfortunately, during the WWII some of the complex was used for detention, interrogation, and execution by Nazi Germany. Around 50,000 people were executed there, including more than 30,000 victims of the Holocaust.
The 9th Fort is now a museum devoted to the Holocaust and tragic times in Lithuanian History. Even though other parts of the fortress have been bought by private owners, not much work has been done yet and the question remains when or if it will be done.
Interestingly, some fans of extreme scuba diving have been diving in the 8th fort as it is now lays under water. You can find some photos of their experience here.
If you are planing a trip to Kaunas and would like to visit the 9th Fort, please find more information by visiting this page on Kaunas tourism website.
On that note, our reader Raimonda wrote a great article for us about Kaunas a while a go which you can find here. If you would like to share your experiences and stories of the city you love or you have been to, we would love to receive it on Facebook or firstname.lastname@example.org and would be delighted to share it with our wide reader base around the world!