Big Grassy Mounds

Kernavė (18 June 2013)

I was not visiting a popular tourist attraction and the attempt to get there posed quite a bit of challenge to me. There was not a lot of detailed information about how to get there and it took me a while to find something that looked current and probably accurate on the web. The day before when I was at the bus station to get to Trakai I had walked around to figure out which bus I should take to Kernavė. Quite thankfully the sign over the right platforms indicated the name of the town even though Kernavė was not the final destination for either of the 2 buses. I was gleeful that I did not have to approach any grouch at the bus station to ask for help.

That morning, I took the right bus and made it to the little town of Kernavė without drama. The bus stopped at the junction a short stroll away from the Kernavė Archaeological Site Museum, although the proper bus stop was some distance away, and that was very helpful.

I was a bit early for the museum and so I decided to take a look in the area first. The first thing that caught my eye was the church.

Kernavė church

How people perceive this church can probably go between Christmas or Halloween. That morning when I arrived the sky was overcast and everything looked a little dark. And then as if to provide special effects, there were multiple birds hovering above the church. I could not see what birds they were and they could very well be crows. I did think that the building could look like some infernal fiend’s lair. Without the hovering birds however the church may look like something out of a Christmas carol. But I prefer the Halloween comparison.

Next to the church were a wooden chapel, a brick chapel and the remains of the old church.

Wooden chapel

Brick chapel which is the mausoleum of the Romer family

The remaining foundations of the old church

The Kernavė Archaeological Site Museum holds finds from the archaeological site and tells the story of the ancient town and its people. Kernavė was the capital of pagan Lithuania and had a rich and long history.

I think I was the first visitor of the day at the museum. The building seemed new and the exhibits covered a somewhat small part of it. However, the exhibits surprisingly kept me indoors for more than 2 hours because there were so many things to look at and read about.

Ancient dwelling in Kernavė

Model of remains of a former inhabitant

The exhibits included the usual tools, weapons, furniture and jewellery of the ancient inhabitants but I was particularly fascinated to see remains of both pagan and Christian burial items being exhibited together. At some stage in the history of Europe, pagans and Christians lived together and, at least in ancient Kernavė, apparently in harmony. Why can people of different faiths in modern times not get along?


Pagan and Christian symbols

The skies were clearing by the time I left the museum and headed out to the hill forts. These are big grassy mounds today standing at the edge of the terrace between the modern town and the Pajauta Valley below and there are wooden steps available for climbing up each one. When the area was settled in ancient times, the hill forts provided land for homes and also strategic positions for defensive structures. A ducal residence used to stand on Aukuro Kalnas, one of the hill forts.

At first the inhabitants lived in the Pajauta Valley by the River Neris. Then because of invasions and changes in the climate and water levels, the people gradually moved up to higher ground around the hill forts and beyond on the terrace. The ancient town was finally destroyed by the Teutonic Order at the end of the 14th century and never rebuilt.

Aukuro Kalna and the Pajauta Valley beyond

Pajauta Valley

View of hill forts from the Pajauta Valley

Walking back to town

View of the hill forts

The area is called the Lithuanian Troy because of its wealth of archaeological remains. It appears that the ancient town of Kernavė is like the Camelot of Lithuania where many stories and legends find their source. However, all physical evidence of the ancient town is today buried underneath the earth and grass and only the shape of the hill forts are visible today.

I took a short walk through a part of the town to get to the bus stop. Of course I would later realise that the bus back to Vilnius stopped at the same junction where I had got off that morning but the little walk was a pleasant one. And a little too peaceful. The modern town was very quiet that day and except for a couple of visitors to the museum and archaeological site I wondered where everyone was. Even the local school was all quiet. How surreal it is that a thriving ancient capital would become this sleepy little town that was practically empty on a Tuesday afternoon.

Kernavė house

The iron wolf who appeared in Gediminas’ dream and led to the building of Vilnius

The Kernavė bus stop

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