Kaunas (pop. 307,500), the second largest city of the country, is situated on the confluence of the Nemunas and the Neris. The city boasts a compact, well-preserved and nurtured Old Town, which is a concentration of valuable cultural and architectural monuments including Kaunas Castle, Gothic Perkūnas House (The House of Thunder), Vytautas the Great and St. Gertrude Churches, Kaunas Town Hall, also called The White Swan, and a number of others. In addition, the city has interesting objects of engineering heritage, i.e. funiculars launched 70 years ago; one of these lifts people to the Aleksotas hill which, like the Insurrection Church, opens beautiful panoramas of Kaunas.
Pažaislis Monastery, the pearl of the Lithuanian mature Baroque of the European scale settled by Kauno Marios (Kaunas Lagoon), hosts international Pažaislis music (classical) festivals every summer. The city offers a number of opportunities for cultural and leisure activities: several drama, pantomime and dance theatres, a puppet-show, and Musical Theatre, which is the initiator of the perfect annual Opera festival in Kaunas Castle. The International Kaunas Jazz Festival represents an annual fiesta of music. The unique features of this festival include carillon jazz, the Jewish theme in jazz performed in a synagogue and others.
There are many museums in Kaunas. M.K.Čiurlionis Art Museum offers a chance to see the works of M.K.Čiurlionis, the genius of the Lithuanian art who is ranked alongside M.Shagal, V.Kandinski and K.Malevičius. M.Žilinskas Art Gallery displays a large variety of Western works of art of the latest centuries. Visitors to the Museum of Devils (with over 3,000 items), the only museum of its kind in the world, will experience a number of merry impressions. Vytautas the Great War Museum acquaints its visitors with the history of Lithuania. Nearby is a symbolic Statue of Liberty and the eternal fire commemorating those who died for Lithuanian independence.
Quite different is the 9th Fort Museum which was an integral part of the Kaunas fortress during the occupation of the Tsarist Russia and served as a branch of the Lithuanian prison during the in-between-war period and was a death camp during Nazi occupation.
Kaunas is also a city of students and athletes, with 5 higher education schools and the famous Arvydas Sabonis’ basketball team Žalgiris.
History of Kaunas
The city originated in the 13th century when the first brick castle in Lithuania, the biggest defence fortress at the time was built. In 1408 the city was granted the Magdeburg rights. Afterwards Kaunas began growing at a fairly rapid pace, especially its importance as the centre and main port for trade with Western Europe. In the 16th century, Kaunas was one of the best developed cities in the Lithuanian Grand Duchy.
From 1920 to 1940 Kaunas was the provisional capital of Lithuania. Certainly, this had a positive influence on the city’s development. This period also witnessed the formation Laisvės Avenue, presently a pedestrian boulevard, the only non-smoking area in the whole of Europe.