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Trakai Castle is the only castle in Eastern Europe that is built on an island. People say that Trakai was built due to the whims of a woman. Birutė, the wife of Duke Kęstutis, did not like living in the Old Trakai, because there was not enough water in the surrounding area, unlike in her native Palanga. Thus, in the middle of the 14th century, Kęstutis started building a new castle on a peninsula surrounded by lakes in order to please his wife.
Trakai Island Castle is a Gothic castle situated in the town of Trakai, on Galvė Lake Castle Island which can be reached through a pedestrian bridge. Built under the initiative of dukes Kęstutis and Vytautas, it was one of the residences of the rulers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The castle is now restored and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Lithuania; various events are held in the castle, there are also archaeological and historical exhibits, as well as a hunting museum. A park was built on the island, near the castle.
It is believed that constructions of the castle were initiated by Kęstutis, and finished in the first half of the 15th century by his son Vytautas. Constructions of the palace of Trakai Island Castle lasted for a rather long period of time. Structures, building technique and materials were changed during the construction process. Nevertheless, essentially it is a Gothic, representational defensive structure, the external architecture of which is rather simple, while the facades and the interior are ornate. It was built as a fortress to defend itself against its enemies, and was never taken by its attackers. The most advanced 15th century fortification ideas are reflected in Trakai Castle. The castle's buildings – magnificent architectural ensemble – is a masterpiece of medieval defensive architecture of Lithuania. The architecture of the castle is of Gothic style, however some elements also had traces of the Romanesque style. All of the rooms were vaulted, while the castle's window reveals were decorated with profiled bricks. The second floor of the right wing of the palace had a representative hall with stained-glass windows.
The castle, expanded on the eve of the Battle of Žalgiris, was innovative. The corner fore-work towers were adapted for flanked defence and had 15 cannons. After the Battle of Žalgiris (1410) and after the Teutonic Order was crushed, the castle became the residence of the Grand Duke. During the same period, Trakai was a flourishing city visited by many merchants, honourable guests and foreign envoys who were received in the representative hall of the island palace.
In the 16th century, when the castle lost its military function and residency role, its value declined and the visits of grand dukes became less frequent. Lithuanian Metrics that were stored in the Island Castle were transferred to Vilnius in 1511. The Island Castle became a prison for nobles.
After the destructive invasion of Tsarist Russia in 1655–1661, Trakai city was looted and burned, the Island Castle was badly damaged and no longer restored. The city itself was no longer able to recover and became a provincial town.
19th century ideas of romanticism encouraged interest in Lithuania's past, particularly in Trakai Castle. Artists painted the ruins of the Island Castle and the remaining fragments of wall murals. And the architects and engineers were preparing castle restoration projects.
After World War II, the preservation, restoration and reconstruction works of the castle were continued by Lithuanian restorers. Castle restoration works began in 1953 – the central palace was rebuilt and the restoration works of the fore-work were completed. The restored corner fore-work towers and the western casemates also changed the volumetric spatial composition of the entire castle. The Island Castle – the symbol of Lithuania and Trakai recovered its 15th century image.
In 1962, the Island Castle was transferred to Trakai History Museum. After the restoration of independent Lithuania, honourable guests were once again received and various contract were signed here. Various displays and exhibitions were installed in the castle which also holds concerts, festivals and events. Thousands of visitors visit the castle every year.