Since the beginning of my stay in Lithuania I’ve heard only bad words about Kaunas. Some had told me that it is a grey, industrial, ugly city; others instead saved the aesthetics and architecture of the city, telling me that the real unpleasant element of the town is its inhabitants described as unfriendly and snooty. During this two month the whole series of news made grown on me the curiosity to understand if there is some truth beyond this worlds or I have to consider it just urban legends.
When I just got off the bus I look up to the sky that actually was grey and leaden, but this is the only real feature that I found among the many tales. At the bus stop my special guide was already there waiting for me excited to take me around to discover the beauty of hers beloved city. Standing with her there was hers father, who as a great lover and connoisseur of Lithuanian history also delights himself by accompanying tourists to visit the major attractions of the city. Our journey begins in a totally unconventional way in fact the car was not directed at the historic centre but rather toward the Reservoir Regional Park, one of thirty national’s parks.
This park, characterized by junipers that cover most of the surface, was officially opened in 1992 on the shores of an artificial lake created after the construction of the dam that limit the waters of the Neris river that generally during the autumn’s months due to the torrential rains flash overflowed the entire city. In this park you can enjoy a wonderful view and not far away in a strip of land stands the Pažaislis monastery. This monastery, as my guide told me, it was built during the 17th century in the Italian Baroque style. Inside the church, recently restored, you can admire frescoes and decorations and around it has been build a great cloister which exudes peace and tranquillity and just for this reason many Russian Lithuanians’ poets throughout their lives have come to retreat into what in Latin is still called Monte Pacis and still retains theirs graves. However, this monastery along the centuries has changed numerous uses, originally of Orthodox Camaldolese monks property was then looted by Napoleon’s troops and became soon after the nerve centre of the anti Tsarist repression whereas in Soviet times it hosted first an archive and later it was intended to be a mental hospital up to return in 1948 in the hands of the nuns of the order of St. Casimiro.
Left this untouched oasis we head towards the city centre to which we access along the Vytautas the Great Bridge also known as Aleksotas Bridge, which has a very peculiar history. My guide told me that this bridge during the years in which the city was divided between Polish and Russians, it was considered as the longest bridge in Europe because to cross it took two weeks. Although it would seem a paradox the reason is simple, the two communities were using two different calendars indeed, if one side of the river the day were scanned by the Gregorian calendar on the other side was instead used the Julian’s one.
It was from Vytautas the Great’s Church that started our tour inside the old town. The Church stands in the north dock of the Neman River and Grand Duke Vytautas built it in 1400 to commemorate the blessing that the Virgin Mary had revealed to him saving his life from the battle. Here lies one of the oldest streets of the city, the way that merchants used to cross after long trade travels to enter in the city. Here is possible to see the Perkunas’ House that was originally a sort of merchants’ office it was later purchased by the Jesuits who built a chapel and used it as a school. From here we passed through the colourful Town Hall square straight to Vilniaus street, one of the most fascinating alleys. Since then on we decided just to get lost in the narrow streets until we get to a small bakery next to the cathedral. After a rest in the name of good delicatessen and hot coffee the tour continued in the archaeological park where are lying the fortress and the medieval castle’s ruins up to go to see the point of intersection of the two rivers that flow through the city by joining in a single bed. Here my lovely guides explained me the legends on the name of this city that according with the most validated one the name derived by the son of a rich patrician fleeing Rome. While escaping from the emperor Nero that promise to kill him, the man decided that if he would survive he donated the name of his sons to each piece of land in which they found a safe shelter. Our journey does not end here and will brought us even to a walk of 1.7 km in the longer commercial boulevard of the Nation. Here you can see the new post office, the State Musical Theatre and not very far away the ancient Bank of the State currently bankrupt. At the end of the tree-lined street tower St. Michael the Archangel Church, originally orthodox was only later consecrated as a Catholic.
Before heading to dinner to eat the fabulous “cepelinai” obviously handmade, we stop in the square where stands the war museum, there is also the freedom monument and the eternal flame. This corner contains a summary of the troubled history of this country, a statue recalls the smugglers of books and another a mother in the action of teaching to her baby Lithuanian language in order to not lose secular traditions of a population.
If this long tale didn’t convinced you enough to change his mind about the city of Kaunas you just have to see it with your own eyes.