True Lithuania

Medininkai Borderland Area

Medininkai village (pop. 500) 2 km from the Lithuanian-Belarusian border is (in)famous for several very different things.

A medieval 14th-century castle still towers above the village marking the importance it once held. Today however it is just a large walled enclosure. One tower has been restored to house a small museum offering nice images of Lithuanian castles in their heyday and medieval weaponry.

Medininkai castle external wall. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The wooden church next to the castle may be not that old (1931) but it is one of the first 7 parishes established in Lithuania. Today the mass is in Polish as 92% of the villagers are Poles. As the rest of Eastern Dzūkija, Medininkai has Polish street name translations next to the official Lithuanian plaques. This is controversial as centuries of Polonization, Germanization and Russification left Lithuanians wary of any official status to other languages.

During the Medininkai massacre (July 1991) Russians murdered 7 Lithuanian customs officials and handicapped the 8th one in order to make a point that Lithuania could never be an independent country nor have its own customs. The cold-blooded killing is marked by a memorial 2 km north of the village which includes the original demure customs office trailer where the tragedy took place, a plaque with gunned down ten commandments. While political events made Russia recognize Lithuania merely a month later (August 1991) it refuses to hand over the perpetrators so the sores of Medininkai are still alive. One of the busiest Lithuanian-Belarusian border crossings right next to the memorial shows that the desperate attempts to save the Union failed (while both Lithuania and Belarus were Soviet-ruled there was no border in this location).

3 km south of Medininkai Aukštojas hill is the Lithuania's highest place; a local lookout tower offers few vistas however as the height is merely 293,84 m (Lithuania is the world's largest country to lack a 300+ m locality).

The public transport is available but limited (~6 buses a day from Vilnius) so Medininkai is best accessible by car (30 km from Vilnius). It is not a top destination but is a pleasurable detour if one prefers out-of-the-beaten-path locations or a convenient stop en route to Belarus.

Tourist map of Medininkai area. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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