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Aukštaitija (Northeast Lithuania)

Aukštaitija (literally: High Land) is an ethnographic region in the Northeast Lithuania.

Many of the most interesting small towns in Lithuania are in Aukštaitija. This includes Kėdainiai with its brick old town, Biržai with its 17th century castle, Ukmergė with its 19th century downtown, Rokiškis with its beautiful manor and church, Joniškis with its basketball museum, Anykščiai with its many interesting places, and the newest one, the Soviet-built Visaginas where the workers of Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant lived, the essential place for anybody interested in how life was under the Soviet rule.

Kėdainiai boasts a brick old town that is perhaps the prettiest historical district among the smaller towns of Lithuania. It has 5 churches of 4 Christian denominations and 2 synagogues. The tower of the Reformed church is visible in this picture. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Aukštaitija National Park with its 126 lakes provides a nature‘s answer to Aukštaitija‘s towns. In the surrounding areas (such as Molėtai area) many people of Vilnius own summer homes. Eastern Aukštaitija has the largest concentration of lakes in Lithuania and most of them are outside the National Park limits but are not any less beautiful.

Lake Sartai (5th largest in Lithuania) from a 33 m lookout tower in Baršėnai village. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The only main city in the region is Panevėžys (pop. 100 000). Largely damaged in the World Wars the city lacks the appeal of some local towns. In spite of that Panevėžys is still the best place for shopping with its newly-built Babilonas shopping district that includes several shopping malls and many smaller shops.

The southern part of Aukštaitija enjoys the proximity of Vilnius and Kaunas whereas its northeastern reaches are less accessible and therefore suffered depopulation with many towns and areas now having fewer inhabitants than they did 100 years ago.

Town of Žagarė is an extreme case of depopulation, having its number of inhabitants halved since the 19th century (4500 to 2250). Its former importance (and place in the top 20 of Lithuania's largest cities) was signified by 2 Catholic churches, 1 Lutheran church, and 2 synagogues. The stagnation, however, led to a more throughout preservation, with such wooden homes as pictured here still predominating towns-turned-villages of northern Aukštaitija (Žagarė, Rozalimas, Žeimelis among others). Žagarė is still famous for its cherries. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Northwestern part of Aukštaitija is unique architecturally in that lack of wood in the 19th century implicated the use of different materials for construction there. Even pre-1860 churches are built of brick while barns are built of adobe. However, it is the turn-of-the-century (19th-20th) century gothic revival churches that are the most impressive. Anykščiai church is the tallest in Lithuania, Rokiškis one is among the most beautiful, but many others exist.

Northern Aukštaitija is also known for many windmills still standing in various stages of decay (some rebuilt) and for beautifully restored manors, like the ones in Rokiškis and Pakruojis. In Central and Northern Aukštaitija the narrow-gauge railway with its authentic pre-war wooden stations may eventually prove to be a major tourist destination (many local enthusiasts would wish so), but today suffers neglect and limited services.

Some buildings of the partly-restored Pakruojis manor, the largest in Lithuania. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Demographically Aukštaitija is dominated by Catholic Lithuanians. Only in the immediate surroundings of Visaginas the Russians predominate whereas in the Biržai area there is a significant minority (10%) of Reformed Christian Lithuanians. Additionally, over the entire span of Aukštaitija there are a few Old Believer Russian villages in hard-to-reach places. Many of them are depopulated now after the inhabitants moved to local towns and cities, where the Old Believer communities and their small wooden churches also exist.

Map of Aukštaitija. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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  1. Hello Mr. Zemaites,

    Please help me.
    I have been looking for the answer for weeks but I still not find the answer. So, I decided to ask you a question.
    Since you are very knowledgeable about Baltic states, I would like to ask you about Daugavpils, Latvia.

    My question is:
    Was Dunaburg(present-day name: Daugavpils, Latvia) part of the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia?

    I know Latgale is a Catholic majority region in Latvia. On the other hand, the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia was a Protestant majority vassal state until it was annexed by the Russian Empire.

    When I see the map of Latvia, it seems Daugavpils locate within Latgale region.
    But I checked maps of the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia, it seemed Dunaburg( old name of Daugavpils) locate within the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia.

    I’m very confused. Would you help me solving my question?
    Thank you for your time.

    • Daugavpils (Dunaburg), in its borders that were back then, was not part of the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia. However, its Griva suburb, which is now also considered a part of Daugavpils, was. The boundary of the Duchy went along the Daugava river in that place, meaning that what was north of Daugava, including Central Daugavpils, was outside the Duchy and what was south of Daugava was inside it.

  2. Thank you Mr. Zemaites.

    The answer is Daugavpils(Dunaburg) was not part of the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia. Wow, I feel good !
    I also found the article from the Wikipedia which titled “Inflanty Voivodeship (1621-1772, capital: Dyneburg, also known as Dunaburg/Daugavpils).

    – Inflanty Voivodeship (1621-1772)

    The Inflanty voivodeship, also known as Polish Livonia, was an administrative division and local government in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, since it was formed in the 1620s out of Wenden Voivodeship (capital:Wenden, present-day name: Cesis) and lasted until the First Partition of Poland in 1772.
    The Inflanty Voivodeship was one of the few territories of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to be ruled jointly by Poland and Lithuania.

    The Inflanty Voivodeship , also called the Duchy of Inflanty, due to a 1667 bill of the Sejm, was the minority remainder of the Duchy of Livonia, which had been conquered by the Swedish Empire during the Polish-Swedish War of 1621-1625. The seat of the voivode was Dyeburg(also known as Dunaburg/Daugavpils).

    The name Inflanty is derived through Polonization of Livland, the German name for Livonia. In modern times the region is known as Latgalia in the Republic of Latvia.

    The information of articles is limited in English, name of the towns are sometimes in German, Polish, Russian, Lithuanian, Latvian or Estonian. It’s confusing.

    I’m still not sure that modern day of Eastern part of Semigallia which is called Selonia still belong to Semigallia(Latvian name:Zemgale) or not, because south bank of Daugava River is still city of Daugavpils or Daugavpils Municipality. It sound like part of Latgale region in Latvia. Oh, I sigh.

    It seems historically, Daugavpils was an important city in Baltic region but there is not much information about Daugavpils. Lack of information, I mean not only Daugavpils but also many Baltic region’s cities and towns.

    Anyway, thank you very much for your information. Your information helps me to understand more Baltic States’ history.

    • Historically, southern part of what is now Daugavpils was Semigallia and the northern part (downtown) Latgale. Now, there are various interpretations. In some ways, such as the prevalence of ethnic minorities, Sellonia is closer to Latgale than to Semigallia.

      You may read my other website “On Latvia” which is about Latvia. This is an article on Daugavpils, for example, which includes its history:

  3. What confused me is description of Latvian regions, especially regional maps.

    I find the article from Wikipedia which titled “Planning regions of Latvia” with map.
    There are five planning regions Latvia:
    1. Riga, largest city:Riga, area:10,132 square Km.
    2. Vidzeme, largest city:Valmiera, area:15,246 square Km.
    3. Kurzeme, lagest city:Liepaja, area:13,596 square Km.
    4. Zemgale, lagest city:Jelgava, area”10,733 square Km.
    5. Latgale, largest city:Daugavpils, area:14,549 square Km.

    The boundaries of the regions aligns to the boundaries of the municipalities of Latvia following the municipality reform of 1 July 2009.
    The planning regions of Latvia are not administrative territorial divisions, since they are not mentioned in the law that prescribes the administrative territorial divisions of Latvia.

    This article’s map shows eastern Semigallia (Zemgale) region Selonia (Selija) is pert of Latgale.

    Wikipedia’s article “Cultural regions of Latvia”, map shows: Kurzeme, Zemgale, Selija, Vidzeme and Latgale.

    I find the other article states, “The constitution of Latvia recognizes four distinct regions: Kurzeme, Zemgale, Vidzeme and Latgale.

    The other articles about Riga’s Freedom Monument describe, Milda is holding up three golden stars, which represent Latvia’s historical regions of Kurzeme(Courland),, Vidzeme and Latgale.

    Oh, I sigh.

    And thank you for linking your other website “On Latvia”.

    I enjoyed reading your article Daugavpils, especially ‘History of Daugavpils’.
    How Daugavpils had been developed by Russian Empire such as Daugavpils Fortress (1810-1876), construction of Saint Petersburg-Warsaw road (1834), construction of Saint Petersburg-Warsaw railroad (1860) through the city, etc.

    Also, I liked your article about Daugavpils’ “Churches Hill” area located north of Downtown.

    In Churches Hill area, tourists can see four different Christian denominations churches in city of Daugavpils That’s great!! I like to see old churches, especially different architectural style of churches. There is Lutheran Cathedral (1893), Roman Catholic Church of Blessed Virgin Mary (1905), Saint Boris and Saint Gleb russian Orthodox Cathedral (1905, once a garrison church) and Old Believer Church (1928).

    Daugavpils is not popular tourist destination but after reading your article, someday, I would like to visit Daugavpils and Jekabpils (I think most tourists hardly know this Latvian town).

    Thank you very much.

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