19th Century Fortress of Kaunas | True Lithuania
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19th Century Fortress of Kaunas

The massive ring of fortifications, batteries and other installations that surround the city of Kaunas is indeed impressive. Unlike in many other places where such magnificent 19th-century urban fortresses existed in Kaunas you can still see a large percentage of all this.

The Mighty Red Forts of the Fortress

All 13 forts still exist in various stages of decay. The first circle (1st-8th forts) surrounds the city center completely whereas on the intended second circle only one fort (the 9th fort) was completed and additional 4 (10th-13th) under construction by the time Germans captured the entire fortress after a mere week of siege (fortress commander was then tried by the Russians). No two forts of the 1st circle are more than a couple kilometers away from each other so that no enemy could easily enter the city without deadly barrage from the surrounding forts. Every fort is designed to resemble natural grass-covered hills for the advancing enemy, but inside the territory, there are many semi-subterranean structures (barracks, escarpments, warehouses, tunnels).

Two of the forts have been turned into museums. The 7th fort in the northern part of the 1st circle is the Fortress museum. Owned by a group of military history enthusiasts it is continuously improved although not yet complete. The museum that is set up in the concrete 9th fort (the newest of the completed forts) is dedicated to the genocides of people of Lithuania as the 9th fort used to be a prison (since the 1920s) and a place of mass killings in the World War 2. The museum was established by the Soviets to portray Nazi German brutality (some 15 000 Jews were murdered in the forts) but the place is now expanded to include Soviet massacres as well.

7th Fort of the Kaunas fortress served as the Central State Archive in the interwar period. This is still reminded by the name of the street leading to it - Archyvo. Now it became the Museum of the fortress owned and operated by volunteers who are carefully restoring the fort to its former glory. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The remaining forts are largely abandoned and while most can, in theory, be visited, muddy/dirty paths provide the sole access to many of them. One derelict fort that you can easily drive directly into is the 6th fort, which also served as a Soviet and German prison. Its eerie walls overgrown with grass and paintball is now played in some of the buildings. The nearby 6th fort roundabout where three major streets converge is overlooked by a small "forest" of large crosses. These were built by people largely in 1991 and represents the then contemporary strive for independence. There are crosses for Iceland and Denmark (a gratitude for recognizing independence), another one for the liberators of Kuwait (Gulf War). Some later crosses are related to other problems, such as abortions and organized crime. A small column calls for peace on earth to prevail.

Crosses and traditional chapel-poles commemorating the issues of the early 1990s near the 6th fort roundabout. The fort itself is behind these crosses. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Šančiai Borough: Abandoned Barracks and Warehouse Church

Together with the military installations, many new streets were laid, new districts were built with barracks for the soldiers, warehouses, and other infrastructure.

Among such districts is Šančiai to the southeast of the New Town. Red brick 3 stories barracks still line the Juozapavičiaus Avenue there. Some of them are restored and turned into hotels or apartments. Many others stand abandoned or even decayed to a mere outer shell with nothing purposefully changed since the times of the czar a century ago.

The old barracks lining up Juozapavičiaus Avenue in Šančiai borough. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Another interesting building in Juozapavičiaus Avenue is the Jesus Heart church, an interwar building (1938). Next to it still stands the old church, converted from a military warehouse after Šančiai became a civilian district.

The Military cemetery where soldiers of World War 1, World War 2 and other eras lie is also in Šančiai. Lithuanians, Germans, Russians, and others have their final resting place less than "a cannon shot away" in between them.

Panemunė Borough: Barrack Zone That Turned Into Resort

On the opposite bank of Nemunas from Šančiai is Panemunė, another district built for 19th-century barracks. Barracks of Panemunė are concentrated in two groups, both visible from the main Vaidoto street, the smaller one to the north and the larger one to the south, surrounding a stadium (the southern group of barracks served as Lithuania‘s military academy in the 1930s).

Panemunė also has a fair share of interwar wooden and brick buildings as its calm atmosphere between Nemunas river and Basanvičius park was sought for by Kaunas residents of the era. In fact, Panemunė was a recognized resort. The pre-1940 buildings are mostly on the outskirts of the district whereas the center of Panemunė is dominated by Soviet apartment blocks.

Nemunas enbankment in Panemunė in Autumn, a popular place for a stroll. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Basanavičius park (280 ha) north of Panemunė is larger than the borough itself and a popular place to stroll.

Freda Borough: Botanical Garden and Old Cemetary

To the west of Panemunė lies the district of Freda. Once it was home to the Central Fortification of the fortress that was effectively a ring 0 of its defensive might. In every place not covered by the rivers, this additional circle made the last major obstruction for the enemy before he could finally conquer the heart of the city.

Next to the former Central Fortification and the small Freda manor, the Kaunas botanic garden is now established. In summer tickets are sold whereas in winter it is free to visit. Not far away along a new district of modern homes (called Freda Township - Fredos miestelis) a 19th-century cemetery remains. The first commander of the Kaunas fortress, as well as German soldiers of the World War 1, are buried here next to the now abandoned Saint Sergei Russian Orthodox Church once used by the soldiers of nearby barracks. Several old barracks still survive in the neighborhood.

Napoleon Hill near Piliakalnio street between Freda and Panemunė is the location where the French Emperor's doomed invasion of Russia began by crossing Nemunas (trees now obstruct the views he saw).

Map of the Kaunas fortress, its districts (Freda, Šančiai, Panemunė) as well as the Aleksotas and Vilijampolė. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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  1. Hello,

    I’m looking for an information about an old beautiful church (which was consisted of a main tower and two steeples with spires but it was destroyed) in Sanciai, Kaunas, Lithuania.

    If you type in the search box, ” [LT] Old Kaunas: a church in Sanciai, destroyed by comrades Soviets”, you will find a photo.

    The image is from SkyscraperCity.com [LT] Old Kaunas, page 3, post #42, March 27, 2013, by Dziugas, and photo is described as “a church in Sanciai, destroyed by comrades Soviets,” (the 11th photo from the top).

    If you have any information about this church such as name of the church, location, history, etc., I will be appreciate.

    Also, [LT] Old Kaunas, page 3, post #51, March 23, 2013, by Dziugas, the 8th and 9th photos from the top.
    These two buildings’ information is appreciated too.

    I think the 8th photo from the top was “Kauno centrine elektrine “, Kaunas Power Plant, Vienybes square, built in 1900 by architect Edmundas Frykas, destroyed in 1944 by Germans.

    The 9th photo from the top was “Kauno centrine elektrine Daukant gatve, 1930m, Kaunas Power Plant on Daukant gatve built in 1930.

    I’m not sure if my understanding of these information is correct or not.
    Would you explain what happened for ‘Kaunas Power Plant on Daukant gatve”?
    I don’t find any information about “Kaunas Power Plant on Daukant gatve”.

    Thank you for your time.

    • The wooden church in the image stood at the location of current Vilijos parkas, next to Juozapavičiaus avenue.

      It was constructed in 1883 by the Russian Empire for its military garrison. It followed Russian Orthodox denomination and was named after Our Lady of Care. After Lithuania became independent in 1918 and the Russian military left Kaunas, the church was taken over by the Lithuanian military. As the Lithuanian military was Catholic-majority rather than Orthodox-majority, the denomination of the church was changed to Catholic and it was renamed after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (1920). Around the church, Lithuanian soldiers would be buried (~100) and a monument was built, often visited by the president for celebrations.

      After the Soviet occupation, all the soldier graves and the monument were destroyed. In 1950 so was the church. A park was created in the place which still exists there. Only a new wooden cross was erected to remind of the past.

      “Daukanto gatvė” means “Daukanto street”. “Kauno centrinė elektrinė” means “Kaunas Central Power Station”.

      Kaunas Central Power Station was indeed destroyed in World War 2 (1944). It stood in the current Vienybės square, which is next to Daukanto street.

  2. Mr. Augustinas,

    Thank you for your information about old beautiful church which was destroyed in 1950 by Soviet, located in sanciai, Kaunas.

    Indeed, [LT] Old Kaunas: a church in Sanciai, destroyed by comrades Soviets, was the “Exaltation of the Holy Cross Church” ( renamed in 1920, and located current Vilijos parkas, next to Juozapaviciaus gatve).

    I thought that church was a beautiful and would attract many tourists to Sanciai district, Kaunas.
    Well, there is only a wooden cross to remind of the past of the church in Vilijos parkas, Kaunas now. It’s so sad.

    By the way, the photos of Kaunas Power Station buildings (“Kauno centrine elektrine” and ‘Kauno centrine electrine Daukant gatve”).

    I thought the old photos of the 8th and the 9th from the top were different buildings because top of the exteriors were different.

    It seems two buildings of Kaunas Power Plants were destroyed in 1944.
    I thought Kaunas power station on Daukant gatve was also a charming building.

    Anyway, thank you for your information.
    I’m very impressed about your knowledge of Lithuanian history and architecture.


    • The Power station building is the same in both images. However, in 1925 the second floor was built and the facade was plastered.

      • Thank you for your explanation. I checked SkyscraperCity.com [LT] Old Kaunas, page 3, post #51, March 23, 2013, the 8th photo and the 9th photo from the top.

        It seemed the 8th photo of “Kauno centrine elektrine”(Kaunas Power Plant building) was a before 1925 reconstruction building because connecting part of tower building was a single story building.

        The 9th photo of “Kauno centrine elektrine” (Kaunas Power Plant building) was an after 1925 reconstruction building because connecting part of tower building was two-story building with plastered exterior.

        There were two different photos for “Kauno centrine elektrine” (Kaunas Power Plant building) that I found from the Internet, but none of them explained about 1925 reconstruction. So, I thought there were two different buildings in Kaunas, one located in Vienybes square and another one located on Daukant gatve.

        Finally, my question is solved.

        Thank you.

  3. Mr. Augustinas,

    May I ask you one more question about old Kaunas architecture?

    I found a very charming building in Kaunas whose name was “Liaudies namai”.

    I have no idea about this beautiful building’s history, location, and name of the architect.

    I only know that this beautiful building “Liaudies namai” is not existing anymore.

    Would you give me any information about “Liaudies namai”?

    Thank you very much.

    • “Liaudies namai” (literally “House of the People”) were built in 1899. The project is by Nikolay Andreyev, who was a Russian Imperial architect sent to the fortress city of Kaunas (he was responsible for more buildings there and in the Kaunas governorate; e.g. the Metropolis restaurant). The location was on the corner of Šv. Gertrūdos and Mapų streets. The building was used by sobriety society, later by inn and cinema. The building was partly demolished in 1936 as the nearby street was widened. The remaining parts were largely demolished under Soviet occupation.

  4. I thought the “Liaudies namai”(People’s House: located on the corner of Sv. Gertrudos gatve and A. Mapu gatve in Kaunas) was a charming folk style building with broach spire on top of the tower.

    If the “Liaudies namai” were existing, it might be one of the landmarks of Kaunas.
    Sadly, it was demolished.

    By internet, I checked the location (on the corner of Sv. Gertrudos g. and A. Mapu g., Kaunas) where ‘Liaudies namai”(built in 1899) had been standing.
    Well, there was nothing special now but it was just an ordinary place.

    The “Liaudies namai” is gone.
    It is a big loss for Kaunas and very sad thing.

    By the way, from your information, architect Nikolay Andreyev (aka. Nikolajus Andrejevas, 1856) also built the “Metropolis” Hotel and Restaurant (now located S. Daukanto gatve 21, Kaunas, built in 1899) where Japanese Vice-consul Chiune Sugihara (1900-1986) stayed final days in 1940 for issuing transit visas for 6,000 trapped Jews despite being told not to do so from Tokyo.

    The former “Japanese Consulate”(Vaizganto gatve 30, Kaunas) is now memorial museum “Sugihara House”(Sugiharos Namai).

    On September 4th, 2015 , The Embassy of Japan held unveiling ceremony for commemorative plaques which have been installed on the front, external wall of the Metropolis Hotel and on the wall at the platform of Kaunas Railway Station where Sugihara departed from.

    The installation of these commemorative plaques marked the 75th anniversary of the “Visas for Life” which Mr. Chiune Sugihara issued.

    From “Liaudies namai” information, I found Nikolay Andreyev’s (aka. Nikolajus Andrejevas) name who was architect of both of the ‘Liaudies namai” and “Hotel Metropolis”.

    It happened that Japanese Vice-consul Chiune Sugihara stayed at “Hotel Metropolis” and had been issuing transit visas for 6,000 trapped Jews.

    Wow, that’s very interesting.
    I would like to learn more historical buildings in Kaunas.

    Thank you very much Mr. Augustinas.

  5. Everything is very open with a really clear description of the challenges.
    It was really informative. Your site is extremely helpful.
    Thanks for sharing!

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