Legend about establishment of Trakai Castle

Original version
Legend tells that Trakai appeared on women's whims. Kestutis’ Duke of Trakai and Samogitia, wife Birute was unsatisfied that there is very little water in Old Trakai (about 3 km from Trakai) compared to her birthplace Palanga. As the result in the end of XIV century Kestutis begun to build new castle on the peninsula and about 1376 moved there. Later Duke Kestutis and his son Vytautas the Great built another castle in the largest Galves lake island.
Alternative versions
Folklore: the Ghosts of Trakai Castle: Stories of the Castle Watchman Once, on a summer evening the sky was covered with dark clouds and the wind became strong. It also began to rain. Antanas heard some creaks and grinding in the castle courtyard. He came out into the yard and saw that the gates to the yard were open, that they were creaking loudly. He was greatly surprised at what he saw because he remembered quite well that he had closed and locked the gates. He had a feeling of uneasiness in his heart and decided to also check the main entrance gates to the castle. Coming to those gates, he saw that they were also open and the wind swung them from one side to the other. Antanas felt disturbed because he remembered locking all the gates. There was no reason to leave the gates open for the entire night. He took the key out of his pocket, put it into the keyhole and tried to lock the gates. But something didn’t seem right to him. He lifted his head, and in front of him on the foaming waves he saw a white fluorescence. He came out of the castle in order to see better and walked to the very shore. There he was struck by terror. The white fluorescence slowly changed into a giant head of a knight enclosed in a helmet. The head didn’t float on the dark waves of the lake but seemed to be suspended above them. Antanas tried to turn and run back, but his legs didn’t move. It was as if they were tied to the ground. And then he saw another fluorescence. It was a white column of light coming out of the southwestern tower of the castle. In this light he could clearly make out the outline of another knight. In place of the face, the knight had a white blank spot. He wore a long garment and held a raised sword pointing in the direction of the lake. “It must be Grand Duke Vytautas,” figured Antanas because he had seen a similar image at the exhibition of the castle’s museum. But the column of light started to fade and the figure of the knight very gracefully and slowly descended on the defensive wall, then on the ground, and finally passed through the gates into the castle. Gradually the terror, by which the watchman had been taken, disappeared somewhat and curiosity took the upper hand. He decided to follow the apparition. Antanas saw that the figure of Vytautas passed slowly into one of the openings of the same tower and disappeared. He didn’t have enough courage to follow the ghost into the tower. Suddenly he felt very sleepy. He could hardly reach the Grand Hall, his usual place of stay, when he fell asleep in the wet raincoat which he hadn’t taken off. At dawn Antanas was awakened by noises and knocking coming from the yard. The cleaners had arrived with their buckets and brooms to tidy up the castle, he thought. But how did they enter the castle if all the gates were locked? Then he remembered what had happened the night before. At first he dismissed it all as only a dream, but the wet raincoat told him otherwise. The watchman made up his mind to go to the yard and look around the southwestern tower. The storm had calmed down and the rain had stopped. There were puddles on the ground and the sky was bright and blue and the sun was shining gently. There was nothing special inside the tower, there were no signs of the strange events of the previous night. The gates were unlocked as he had left them, and the key was still in the lock. This made it easy for the cleaners to get in, Antanas reasoned. The watchman went up to the lake’s shore. The water of the lake was a bit waved and there were white foams in the distance resembling heads of knights. As he turned to go back, suddenly Antanas saw a familiar thing in the reeds. It was his cap which he somehow must have dropped the night before in the dense of the reeds. The cap was all wet and Antanas put it into the pocket of his raincoat. This was the only time in his life that Antanas saw the hovering head of the knight over the water. A fellow worker also saw the head once during a storm. But to Antanas, once in a lifetime was enough. He thought that perhaps Grand Duke Vytautas had beheaded his greatest enemy, a crusader knight, and had thrown his head into the waters of Lake Galve. T hat’s why the lake is named Galve (“The Head”). And the knight’s head, as if seeking revenge, emerges menacing from the bottom of the lake during a storm and faces the castle. The watchman saw the Grand Duke’s ghost several other times. Once it was in autumn when a thick fog covered the lake and engulfed the castle. Vytautas again appeared in a column of light above the southwestern tower, gracefully landed on the ground, hovered through the gates which appeared not to be locked, and slowly disappeared into the same tower. It is said that Vytautas’ ghost was seen above the tower not only by Antanas, but also by other residents of Trakai. So the legend was born that if in a bright full-moon night you sat on the other shore of the lake, opposite the castle, you might see Grand Duke Vytautas over the tower before dawn. One who is lucky enough to see the Grand Duke’s ghost will have good luck throughout the year.
Main characters
Duke Kęstutis and his wife duchess Birutė / The watchman and the Grand Duke’s Vyatautas ghost
Connected artistic / architectonic / historical heritage
Trakai is well known for its unique lakes and the medieval castle complex that was revived from its ruins in the last century. Senieji Trakai and Naujieji Trakai Peninsula and Island Castles are the main features of the region, and today they reflect not only the material, architectural, but also the spiritual heritage of Lithuania. During the years of formation of the Lithuanian state, Trakai was one of the most important political and military cities. The structure of Trakai Island Castle appears to be simple and modestly decorated, thus portraying the consolidation of the 15th century defence (fortification) ideas. It was considered a masterpiece of medieval defensive architecture, and it was the only castle built on water in Eastern Europe. Trakai Island Castle was home to all the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. Later, Zygmunt II Augustbroke the tradition when he built a palace in Vilnius, at the bottom of Gediminas Hill in XVI century. 9 After desolating invasion of Muscovy troops in 1655–1661, Trakai was plundered and burned down; the Island Castle was destroyed and remained ruined; the city did not revive and became a small provincial town. In the 19th century, Romanticism ideas provoke interest in Lithuanian past, especially in the castles of Trakai. Artists painted the ruins of the Island Castle, made copies of the remaining fragments of the wall paintings, engineers and architects prepared restoration projects for the castle. The reconstruction of the Island Castle started in 1929, but it wasn‘t uninterupted. Reconstruction of the outer ward buildings was concluded in 1987. After the corner towers and the western casemates of the outer ward were rebuilt, the Island Castle that is a symbol of Lithuania and Trakai assumed the look it had in the 15th century. After the restoration of Independence of Lithuania, Trakai Island Castle again welcomes honoured guests; important state treaties were signed there. In 1962, the Island Castle was conveyed to Trakai History Museum. Both permanent and temporary exhibitions are now open to the visitors; numerous concerts, festivals and other events take place in the Island Castle in the present days.
Local traditions or historical connections
Vytautas the Great Celebration Vytautas the Great is without doubt one of the most prominent and important figures in Lithuanian history. His glorious victory in the Battle of Grunwald, the expansion of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from the Baltic to the Black Sea and other important achievements mark very important milestones in the history of Lithuania. Every year, on the day of Vytautas’ death, 27 October, everyone is invited to Trakai Island Castle to take part in the events commemorating the Grand Duke. Tributes to Grand Duke Vytautas are paid in the main hall of the Castle. He lived a long life and admirably followed his ambition to become a king. His life, surroundings, medieval culture and other topics are discussed during the event. The celebrating guests can also enjoy a live music concert on the occasion.
Didactical Relevance
Trakai is a part of Trakai Historical National park. Efforts are placed to preserve the authentic natural environment. Here you can meet travelers from the West, for whom catle is not the most beautiful, but it is nature! They have number of castles back home but it is the nature they lack, which would be untouched and aesthetical. Therefore, in addition to study tours, museums, trips by boats, yachts or steam boat, swimming or diving, fishing, camping and visits to cafes, many consider walking in the city or just sitting near lake also as relaxing and enjoyable. As famous world class ballet legend and honorary citizen of Trakai Maja Pliseckaja once said: if there is a paradise on earth it is here in Trakai.
Didactical Activity
Cultural aspect – students can discuss how different etnic/culture groups lived together in harmony, because At the end of XIV century the Crimean Tatars were brought to Trakai and settled here by Vytautas the Great. They were loyal to the duke’s castle guards and custodians. It is estimated that now in Trakai (approximate population 6000) lives about 60 Karaites. here situated their house of worship – kenesa and Karaites unique ethnographic exhibition. Geography aspect – lake and island as objects also talk about reasons which people chose to start settelements Historical aspect – Grand Dukes and importance of castles

Video

Trakai Castle legend animated
Animation of the Trakai castle legend
Legend of Trakai castle
Legend of the castle
Trakai Castle
Drone footage of the castle

Images

Trakai Castle
Trakai Castle
Trakai Chapel
Trakai Chapel
Trakai Castle
Trakai Castle
Trakai Island Castle
Castle of Trakai

External Sources

Trakai Island Castle
Audio guide, History, events, Educational Programmes, map how to reach Trakai and etc.
Lithuanian gem - Trakai Castle.
look trough Trakai city why to visit and legend of establishment of Trakai

PDF version of the legend in national language

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