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Kaunas Castle is the oldest remaining stone castle in Lithuania. The castle built at the confluence of Nemunas and Neris rivers is mentioned for the first time in written sources in 1361. It is believed that it was built in the 14th century in place of a wooden castle that previously stood there in order to defend against the attacks of the Crusaders. A settlement began forming around the castle which later grew into the current Kaunas city.
Today, Kaunas Castle is one of the most prominent symbols of the city. The history of the castle is not well known. There were only a few historical sources about the castle, part of which were lost forever during unfortunate events.
The area where the castle now stands already had settlements in the 4th–5th century surrounded by defences made of wood and clay. Medieval Lithuania met the aggression of the Teutonic Order with wooden castles. One such castle may have also stood at the current Kaunas Castle site.
Stone castles began appearing in Lithuania in the 14th century and were built by German masters. The first stone castle in Kaunas and the oldest stone castle in Lithuania was built in the 14th century. It was destined to become one of the most important resistance points in the Lithuanian battles against the Crusaders. Because of its important strategic location, the castle was attacked a number of times.
The first stone castle of Kaunas was mentioned in 1361 in the letter of Master of the Teutonic Order Winrich von Kniprode ordering to gather information about the castle, specifically the thickness of its walls, as preparation for an assault on the castle. Medieval chronicler Vygandas Marburgietis mentions in his "New Prussian Chronicle" the commander of the Crusader Insterburg Castle who was sent by the marshal of the order to Kaunas, but was not able to cross Nemunas river with his soldiers. Nevertheless, the Crusaders were determined to execute their attack and spies that were sent during the same year gathered the necessary information. In the spring of 1362, when the main army forces of Lithuania were concentrated at the Blue Waters to fight against the Golden Horde, Kaunas castle was besieged by a large and well-prepared Crusader army assisted by soldiers from England, Italy, and various German lands. Enemies brought with them complex siege machines, dug a ditch from Nemunas to Neris, formed an embankment and built a fence of sharp stakes protected by guards. This way Kaunas Castle was completely blocked. A long and planned castle siege finally began. Assault towers were built and siege machines with wall breakers were used. The Crusaders flooded the castle's defensive ditches and pushed as close to the castle walls as possible. Lithuanian garrison led by Vaidotas, the son of Kęstutis, defended the castle as hard as it could. Even the Crusader chronicler Vygandas Marburgietis (Wigand von Marburg) had a few respectful words for the hated "heathens" – Lithuanians: "Even though the heathens could not catch their breath from the attacks that were executed day and night, they fought valiantly to the dismay of the Crusaders".
In March of 1362, Crusaders demolished the castle after a three-week siege. They celebrated their victory with Easter Vigil Mass on top of the ruins of the castle. After the Crusaders retreated, Lithuanians built temporary fortifications from earth and clay at the site of the former castle.
A second stone castle was built in 1368 on top of the inner wall foundation of the former castle. Its courtyard was surrounded by 3.5 m thick and 9.5–12 m high walls. All four corners of the castle had four flanking towers with two round and two square bases. A wooden gallery was built inside the castle along the walls, which was adapted for shooters who used gunpowder weapons. The castle was surrounded by a defensive moat. Kaunas Castle had many owners, and finally became the property of Lithuanians in 1404. In 1409, it was a place of resistance during the uprising of Samogitians and war against the Crusaders.
In 1408, when Kaunas was granted Magdeburg rights, the castle lost its strategic significance because the Town Hall (Rotušė) of Kaunas became the centre of all the city’s activities. In the 16th century, Kaunas Castle was used as a prison. Today, one of the divisions of the Kaunas City Museum is established here. Various cultural events are organized at the castle each year.
Even though the castle was significantly damaged by wars and natural disasters, its remaining parts are included in the List of Historical, Archaeological and Cultural Objects of National Importance.
Many legends have been created about Kaunas Castle. Poet Adomas Mickevičius mentioned Kaunas Castle in his poem "Konradas Valenrodas" Other stories about the castle are also full of mystery. It is said that the owner of the castle Bona Sforza kept an army here which was later swallowed by the ground and from that day on is waiting when Kaunas will face a great danger so that the army could appear once again and defend it. In old times people used to say that the sounds of talking soldiers, clanking weapons and neighing horses could be hear at night underneath the ground.