- February 13, 2015
Walking the streets of Vilnius: little is left of the old Trocka street.
Today we are going back to the Vilnius Old Town. This time we will walk through Trocka (Trakų) street. It is barely 280 meters long which makes it one of the shortest streets in Vilnius.
Thanks to its location (it was the starting point of the road to Troki (Trakai) and Stare Troki (Senieji Trakai) the street attracted magnates, merchants and nobles. A monastery and the church of Franciscans were constructed there already in the 15th century.
Throughout the centuries there were many residences of the magnates on Trocka. There were the palaces and houses of the Brzostowskis, the Fittinghoffs, the Chreptowiczs, the Ogińskis, the Pociejs, the Radziwiłłs, the Sapiehs, the Sulitrowskis, the Tyzenhauzs, the Umiastowskis, the Zenkowiczs, the Woyns, the Żylińskis dukes.
Duchess Gabriela Puzynina wrote about the residence of the Karpio-Platers (later the Tyszkiewiczs) in her book „W Wilnie i w dworach litewskich” (1825): “The then owner of the palace was count Ferdynand Plater who inherited it after his wife from Karpiów family. Count Ferdynand was full of contradictions. His face, to say the least, was not handsome, and his body way to thin. His appearance was definitely unappealing; however, he was gallant, well mannered, he used perfumes, he took care of his haircut, he kissed the ladies on their hands, and passionately looked into their eyes, he cajoled and used compliments quite frequently. Many were fond of him (…) once a lady wanted to check whether what they say about him is true and stuck a pin in his calf, unaware of it he walked through boulevards without any harm.”
Trocka formed itself already in the 14th century which makes it one of the oldest streets in Vilnius. Interestingly, in its long history the name of the street was never changed. A rare phenomenon in the history of Vilnius. To tell the truth, it was also called Trocka Road.
Visitors from abroad often mentioned Trocka as one of the most beautiful and rich streets, full of houses built with marble. It was the first street in Vilnius to be cobbled. The budget for cobbling Trocka came from the tolls paid for crossing the Trocka Gate.
There was a water pipe in Vilnius already in the 16th century. The water from the local springs (wigrowski springs) – the area of the contemporary Vingrių street – flowed down the wooden pipes to the palaces and the Franciscans monastery. There was a small Wingry river there as well. Once it was pure, drinkable. After a time, the citizens of Vilnius polluted the river so much that it turned into sewerage gutter, which in the 19th century started to be called Koczerga. From that time the underground river has been posing a threat to the existence of some of the Vilnius buildings.
Few of the old residences prevailed. They were plundered by the Teutonic Knights in the 1390. During the war with Moscow (1665-1661) Trocka was damaged by the Cossacks of Zołotarenko and Czerkaski. Severe damage to the buildings was done during the 1702-1708 war, when the city was occupied and plundered by Swedes and Russians. The street was also damaged during the 1794 uprising and during the end of the WWII. Quite frequent fires also contributed to the destruction of the street.
All these events lead to the fall of the exclusive and luxurious street to the status of ordinary street. One has to remember that buildings of Trocka were once located far beyond its current artery. Additionally, there were many orchards and gardens in the area. Only a minor park between the Pylimo (Zawalna) and Klaipėdos (former Żeligowskiego) streets prevailed.
Nevertheless, some valuable buildings endured. Most importantly, the St. Mary’s Franciscan church which is being slowly and systematically renewed to its former glory. There is a Józef Montwiłł statue in the square by the temple. He was a well known philanthropist and social activist from Vilnius. The statue was made by the sculptor – Bolesław Bałzukiewicz.
Let us go back to the beginning of the street. At Trocka 2 there is a two-storey palace which was owned by the Umiastowskis (transl. note: full family name: Umiastowski-von Nandelstädt) for over a hundred years. It was designed to resemble the shape of the letter “U”. Umiastowskis and Sadowskis’ coats of arms can still be seen above the gate leading to the yard. There is an extraordinary balcony in the south part of the yard. It was built in 1930. It covers the area of 8×8 square meters, and is surrounded by the railing made of iron and concrete. Once there also was an antique styled statue of a woman located on the pedestal, but due to being a potential target of thieves, it was moved to the Lithuanian Theatre, Music and Cinema Museum. When it comes to sculptures, the Umiastowskis’ palace (from the side of the Pylimo street) was embellished with the sculpture of St. Christopher the patron of Vilnius. The sculpture was removed after the war. In 1973, the sculpture of guardian-knight made by Stanislovas Kuźma was placed on the very same spot.
In 16th century, there was a brick-built house located by the Trocka Gate (the location of the future palace). The building, the surrounding land, and a special prerogative exempting from various taxes constituted king Stefan Batory’s gift to the gravediggers guild.
Let us go back to the Umiastowskis. Few generations of this family lived in the palace. The last owner – Władysław Umiastowski – was a multi-talented and well educated man. He was a Trakai marshal, a honorary member of the Vilnius court. He traveled a lot, and knew many renown Europeans. He was a great erudite, connoisseur of theatre, music and literature. He wrote many articles to the Polish and French magazines, and translated the works of French authors into Polish.
Władysław Umiastowski got married at the age of 49. His wife was a beautiful 20 year old countess – Janina Ostroróg-Sadowska. Similarly to her husband, she was a well educated traveler befriended with famous composer Richard Wagner and his daughters.
Władysław Umiastowski died in 1905. Obituaries were printed not only by Polish newspapers, but also by foreign ones, including Paris Le Figaro. In 1931, Janina Umiastowska funded a commemorative plaque in honor of her husband in the Church of St. John’s. Prior to the outbreak of the WWII Janina Umiastowska moved to Italy. One can only imagine how hard it must have been for her to leave her beautiful residence and her beloved city. In 1939, after the conquest of Vilnius, Soviets completely plundered the Umiastowskis’ palace. 33 fully loaded trucks took the furniture, vases, mirrors, and precious collection of paintings from the palace to Russia. Only a few chandeliers, which were later moved to the Verkiai Palace, were left.
Ściana Miejska (Miesto sienos g.), one of the narrowest streets in Vilnius, is located next to the Umiastowskis’ palace. Not everyone recognize it as a street, but is included in the official register of streets and has a sign with its own name. It is a short (only a few meters long) narrow dead end guarded by a small transparent gate which is open only during the opening hours of the “King & Mouse” (transl. note: whisky bar and shop). Beer garden of the bar covers the whole street, and the wall containing the official sign with a street name “Miesto sienos g.” also has an unofficial one – “Viskio g.” (Whiskey street).
Farther passage to the Kłajpedzka street is blocked because there is an apartment complex at the exit of the street (the street passes inside the complex). City authorities assure that one can actually walk through the street located inside the apartment complex, but they are unable to state how to do it. The private apartment complex is guarded by security. There are the remains of the old city walls located by the street, but unfortunately it is impossible to visit them.
The construction of the defense walls was ordered by the King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Lithuania Aleksander Jagiellończyk in 1502. Interestingly, the defenses were practically used only once. The walls guarded the Jakub Jasiński’s insurgents against the attack of the Russian army in 1795.
On the opposite to the Umiastowskis’ palace, “below the gazebos”, there is a Tyszkiewiczs’ palace which I mentioned above.
A bit farther, there is a popular Adam Mickiewicz’s Public Library. But let us mention another building. On the corner of Trocka and Niemiecka nr17/28, there is a Tyzenhauz-Fittinghoffs’ palace. It was built in the early classicism style. Additionally, the facades of the palace were never modified. Four main elements of the palace form a square yard with an entry through the Trocka-Niemiecka streets. It is one of the best buildings designed by Marcin Knakfus.
Translated by Damian Gabryś within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.