Location: Map

Kernavė (German, 18th century: Kernau) is the oldest known capital of Lithuania, located northwest of Vilnius, with a little over 300 inhabitants. It is the seat of the district of the same name in the Rajongemeinde Širvintos.

In the 13th century, Kernavė was a feudal town with five fortified castles. Today only mounds remain of the prehistoric castles. The so-called heaps of rubbish were first mentioned in the Livonian Chronicle in 1279. The largest, the "Throne of Mindaugas", is said to have been the seat of a legendary king of Mindaugas. Sacrificial ceremonies are said to have been held on the "Sacrificial Mountain" in pre-Christian times. The Balts were not forcibly converted until the 13th century. The last pagan high priest is said to have retreated to the "mountain of Lizdeika" with the "holy virgins" and the "holy fire". Lizdeika was the nickname of the Lithuanian chief priest. The remains of a settlement from the 3rd and 4th centuries were found between the hills. Kernavė was also the home of the legendary Grand Duke Traidenis.

The Catholic Parish Church of the Virgin Mary Scapular in Kernavė was built in 1910-1920 in the neo-Gothic style.

From the hills there is a view of the valley of the Neris, a tributary of the Memel. The place was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2004.


History of Kernave

Kernave is a park that covers lands of the former capital of Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It is located on the right bank of the Neris River, 35 km from Lithuanian capital of Vilnus. In Kernave you can trace the history of Baltic people, learn the formation of the Lithuanian state. First human settlements date back from the 10th century BC to the Middle Ages. Large villages already existed here in the first century AD. In the 13th century Kernave is mentioned in the annals of G. Warthberg.
Kernave military fortifications contained a castle of great prince and five forts that stood on the high mounds. All of these defenses created a multiple defensive walls to protect the capital of Lithuanians. In 1390 the village was sacked by the invading Crusaders and burned to the ground. Since then the settlement was not rebuild and stayed intact through centuries.
Despite its violent end, Kernave offers a great glimpse into the past of pre- Christian period. In summer months of July and August administration of Kernave archaeological park holds "Days of Live Archaeology" where they demonstrate ancient crafts, ancient music and others. Additionally the tourists can participate in favourite medieval past times like riding horses, archery, bashing each other with swords and other fun things we know and love. Another massive and crowded holiday is celebrated around July 7th or Midsummer Day, occasionally associated with Slavic day of Ivan Kupala. Ancient customs and rituals are recreated on the site of the ancient capital.