• January 20, 2015
  • 193

Vilnius region known and not known – “Nad Wyżyną Oszmiańską” (“At the Oszmianka Highland”)

Lithuania is often associated by tourists (especially foreign ones) with Vilnius and the nearby Trakai. Small towns are usually forgotten and treated marginally. Meanwhile, a lot of ‘treasures’ can be found in the areas near Vilnius. The promotion of the settlement is in the hands of their residents, people of Nemėžis, from whose initiative the album “At the Oszmianka Highland” was created.

The Oszmianka Highland, i.e. the Lithuanian-Belarusian borderland, is a region in Lithuania where tourism is definitely not developed enough. The residents, however, think that the local towns have a lot to offer to their visitors. This region was to be promoted by the project “The promotion of the areas of Nemėžis by creating a tourist route”, which was executed during the last two years and funded by the European Union. It aimed not only at creating the tourist route, but also launching a website and organising a bicycle touring interest group. To that end, there were 15 bicycles purchased, which can be rented in Nemėžis in order to go on sightseeing.

The final part of the promotion of the region within the programme was the release of the album “At the Oszmianka Highland”. It contains the aerial pictures of landscapes of the Oszmianka Highland. The initiator of the album, Władysław Kondratowicz, wanted to show primarily the places described by Władysław Syrokomla in the second volume of the guide for the areas of Vilnius region “Wycieczki po Litwie. W promieniach od Wilna” (“Travels around Lithuania. In the area of Vilnius.”) released in 1857. The pictures were taken by Evaldas Černiauskas and Žygimantas Jasiulionis, whereas the project was set up by Oskaras Anosovas.

The promotion of the book, together with the official conclusion of the project, took place in Medininkai Castle. The artistic programme was prepared by the project partner – the Museum of Władysław Syrokomla in Borejkowszczyzna (Bareikiškės). “We accompanied the creation of this album in a way because the author of the text is Alina Balčiūnienė, who works in the museum” – said director of the museum Helena Bakuło – “we prepared the programme according to the works of Władysław Syrokomla for the presentation of the book.” The museum is the initiator of interesting projects, which aim at spreading information about the region. Apart from promoting books, the museum is, for instance, the co-author of the virtual tour around the Oszmianka Highland.

What can also be seen in the area? The first point on the trail is Nemėžis – a small town, which due to its location near the road from Vilnius to Minsk, within over six hundred years of its existence was repeatedly a witness of beautiful, or dramatic events of our history. Large armies marched through there; this was the place where Alexander Jagiellon met his wife Helen, who was coming from Moscow; on the 3rd of November 1656 Republic of Poland made truce with Russia there. In 1794, the division of insurgents under the command of colonel Jakub Jasiński stationed in Nemėžis. However, Nemėžis is best known for being one of the oldest Tatar settlements in Lithuania.

No documents about the beginnings of settlements in Nemėžis remained. German Tatars, however, are convinced that their ancestors came to Lithuania in 1397, together with the armies of Tokhtamysh, who sought the ally with Duke Witold in the internal struggle for the power in the Golden Horde. They were no prisoners of war, but free people, for whom Lithuania became a new home. According to the Tatar tradition, the name Nemėžis derives from “the land beyond measure”, which was given to Tatars by Duke Witold, whom he domiciled near Vilnius, not far from his castle by the road to Ashmyany. It is them who Władysław Syrokomla wrote about with genuine affection in his “Wycieczki po Litwie” (“Travels around Lithuania”): “Tatars shed much blood there to protect their adopted homeland. They turned down the appeal of their Crimean confreres, who wanted their help to plunder Poland. They thankfully remembered how they expressed themselves in their request to Sigismund I that Witold did not tell them to forget the Prophet, and turning his eyes to his sacred places he instructed them to repeat his name as their Caliphs. They swore on their sabres that they would love Lithuanians, who told them that the sand, the water and the trees were common. The confreres knew that they were not strangers there.”

Miedniki (Medininkai) also has a long history. In the 14th century, there was a large brick castle built on a quadrangle plan with a quadrilateral tower in the quoin with 5 floors. The tower was about 30 meters high. The half of the second tower adjoined the walls from the outside, on the south. The castle had 4 gates, located on each side. It was one of the favourite castles of the King Casimir Jagiellon. His son, Saint Casimir, lived there as well. In 1385 the castle was captured by the Teutonic Knights, and destroyed in 1514 and 1655. In the 16th century it belonged to the Goštautai family, and later to the Ogiński family and the Grabowski family. Before the Second World War it belonged to the Drohojowski family. Since 2004, the ruins of the Medininkai Castle have been the branch of the Trakai History Museum. Thanks to the financial support of the European Union, the defence walls have been strengthened, and the tallest tower (where currently the installations are located) has been rebuilt. One can look at weapons, silverware, and hunting trophies there.

Without a doubt, the Władysław Syrokomla (Vladislovas Sirokomlė) museum in Bareikiškės is also worth visiting. The renovation of the manor house, in which Vladislovas Sirokomlė lived and wrote in the years 1853-1860, was funded by the European Union. The area adjoined to the manor house has been taken care of; the tourist equipment rental and washing facilities were built. Apart from the exposition dedicated to the poet, the pottery was created. There are workshops, exhibitions, and literary gatherings organised in the museum.

Based on: inf. wł., tic.vrsa.lt

This text includes photos from the album “Nad Wyżyną Oszmiańską” (“At the Oszmianka Highlands”)

Translated by Tomasz Szatkowski within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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