Eastern and Central Europe (Eyewitness Travel Guides)

(Ben Green) #1

Lithuania is blessed with an
unblemished natural landscape of
rolling hills, lakes and rivers. The
east ern half of the country is known
as the “highlands” and the west as
the “lowlands”, even though the
terrain is almost universally flat.
Following a tumultuous history,
the country is forging a positive
political and cultural role for itself in
the expanded European Union.
Many of its fine historic buildings
have sur vived, and folk culture
colours every corner of the country.

At the beginning of the 13th century,
Lithuanian tribes, such as the
Samogitia and Aukštaičiai, began to

unite in the face of incursions by
Germanic crusaders. In 1253, Duke
Mindaugas (r. 1235–63) crowned
himself king of the united
tribes. How ever, his acceptance of
Christianity enraged the Samogitians,
who murdered him and reverted to
pagan ism. In the 14th century, the
Teutonic knights (German warrior-
monks) returning from the Middle
East joined the fight against the
pagan Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In
1410, they were defeated at the Battle
of Grünwald (Žalgiris) by the armies
of Lithuania and Poland, which had
forged an alliance by marriage in

  1. Fear of Russia led to closer ties
    between Lithuania and Poland and
    the creation of the Commonwealth



he largest of the three Baltic States and one of the hidden

jewels of Europe, Lithuania takes pride in its relatively

undiscovered landscape of clean lakes, ancient forests and

coastal dunes. The capital Vilnius, which has a UNESCO-protected

Old Town, combines the romance of breathtaking Baroque archi-

tecture with the modern trappings of 21st-century Europe.

Pavement café along cobbled Castle Street leading to the Old Town, Vilnius

The enchanting red-brick Trakai Island Castle on Lake Galvė
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