Legend has it that roundabout 1323, Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas went on a hunting expedition in the holy pagan valley of Šventaragis, near the confluence of the Vilna and Neris rivers. After a successful hunt during which Gediminas speared an enormous bison, he and his entourage set up camp on a hill overlooking the valley, because there was no Ramada Inn.
During the night, Gediminas had a dream in which an iron wolf appeared to him, howling with the strength and volume of one hundred wolves. The dream so affected Gediminas, that he went to ask the high priest, Lizdeika, (a guy who his dad found as a baby in an eagle’s nest) to interpret it for him.
The high priest told him the dream meant that a mighty city should be built on the spot where the dream was dreamt, and that the loud howling of the wolf meant the city’s name would reach lands far beyond its borders.
This sounded good to Gediminas. He ordered a castle to be built on the hill, and around that castle the capital city of Vilnius, Lithuania, sprung up. Originally built in wood, the castle burned down during the 14th century and was then rebuilt in brick. It was attacked many times by Teutonic knights who wanted to convert the heathen Lithuanians, and all that remains of the original castle complex today is the upper tower (which was rebuilt from its foundations during the 19th century).
The castle is iconic to Vilnius, and if you come to Lithuania, it’s practically a crime not to visit it.
We set off to climb Gediminas hill on the second morning of our trip, making a deliberate decision not to tell the children that there was an elevator on the opposite side that could transport them to the top in about ten seconds flat. We were going to be doing a lot of walking in Lithuania, and those kids needed to learn how to buck up.
The view from the top of the castle was spectacular.
A museum inside the tower housed several suits of armor, as well as various tools and weapons that were excavated around the site. I was pleased to see that a fully developed medieval knight was about the same height as me. If my kids ever build that time machine they’re always talking about, I could totally go back to medieval Lithuania and kick some Teutonic butt.
One floor of the castle housed an exhibit that included a TV video. It didn’t matter what was playing (a black and white documentary about the “Baltic Way” human chain that took place in 1989 across Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia to protest Soviet occupation), the children made themselves right at home in front of it and began to watch. This was to become a pattern throughout our trip.
We revealed the existence of the elevator (or “funicular,” as the English guidebooks call it), just in time for the trip back down the hill. The funicular, of course, was the highlight of the whole castle tour. I mean, who gives a flying ant about iron wolves and chain mail shirts when one can fight his sister for the glory of pressing the DOWN button, instead?Subscribe to the blog. (It's free!)