10. Trakai Island Castle (Small Castle), (second half of 14 cent.-15 cent.)

The Island Castle stands on Castle Island in Lake Galvė on the territory of the Lake Galvė Hydrographic Reserve and the Trakai Island and Peninsula Castles Cultural Reserve. The Castle ensemble covers approximately 2.15 ha on the island and can be seen clearly from the northern shore of Lake Galvė. The castle is joined to the town at the southern extremity of the island by two bridges. Between the bridges is the so-called Karaite (Karaimų) or Cow (Karvinė) Island. A moat divides the castle into two parts: the official quadrangular north-eastern part and the southern trapezoid fore-castle. Both parts are girt by a defensive wall and towers.

The Small, or Island Castle was a part of the general Trakai and Vilnius defensive ensemble and was the seat of Prince Kęstutis where he kept his treasury.Three islands were used for constructing the castle and 1.6-1.7 m of earth was filled in between them. Research has shown that when the castle was being built the water level was 1.6-1.8 m. higher than it is today. Later walls were built to protect the palace on this unstable construction site and the site caused the walls to collapse and the keep walls to split.

We can detect several phases during which the castle was built. During the first stage (second half of the fourteenth century, during the time of Kęstutis), a U-shaped ducal residence of the "convent" type with Romanesque features was built on the largest of the three islands. Fragments of this were found in archaeological excavations in 1960 near the southern front of the castle. During this phase there should have been polychrome decoration. Work on the forecastle was started at this time, but this was not completed and the castle was burned in 1377 during a German attack on New Trakai.

The second construction phase began after a long interval and lasted for a considerable time. This was the period when prince Kęstutis was murdered and power struggles dogged the Grand Duchy. Kęstutis's son Grand Duke Vytautas continued the work his father had begun around 1403-1409. He changed the layout of the castle. In place of the palace he built two parallel oblong two-storey wings with cellars. These were heated by stoves and joined together by a wall on the north-eastern side, while on the southern side there was a keep measuring 9.2 by 9.6 m, 35 m and 6 storeys high. On the ground floor of the keep there was an entrance way and draw-bridge. The guard house was on the first floor, while the fourth floor was home to the chapel. The fifth floor was set aside for defensive uses.

The palace yard (11.5 m wide, 20.8 m long) was paved with stones and entered via the draw-bridge and an arched gate at the foot of the keep and by small gates in the north-eastern wall. The palace cellars were entered from the yard and rooms on the first and second floors were accessed via a wooden gallery that ran around the inside wall.

All the floors and the cellars are divided by walls into three rooms and only on the first floor of the southern corpus is the whole space taken up by the ducal hall. The cylindrical vaults of the palace cellar and those of the first and second floors are ribbed arches. The floor was laid with clay tiles and the cellars had a beaten clay floor. The building was heated on the hypocaust principle. The edges of the door and window casements were made of profiled bricks. The lights were made of stained glass leaded windows.

Firing areas were but onto the roof of both corpuses. Four-sloped roofs were covered with rippled tiles and during excavations remnants were found of coloured glazed tiles.

A wall with buttresses surrounded the edge of the palace. Stone was the main building material and was used for the foundations and 45 percent of the walls. The higher sections of the wall, the corners, stairs and internal decoration were made of red Gothic brick. The southern wall was decorated with burned bricks in a geometrical pattern. The castle had Gothic features but the Romanesque style remained noticeable.

In the third construction phase (early 15 cent.) the territory of the forecastle was raised with gravel infill layers, three round corner defence towers were built and a fourth was quadrangular. This was the entrance tower. The towers had four floors of which the third was given over to shooting galleries. The towers were fitted to take a large number of cannon and were linked by a wall 2.3 to 2.1 m thick, two-storey western casements which contained the kitchens. The eastern casements were not completed, although they were used for housing horses. The south-western tower was used as a prison. There were a few separate wooden buildings in the courtyard. A fosse separated the forecastle from the ducal palace and was used for small boats to sail in.

After the Battle of Grunwald (1410) the castle lost its defence significance and gained the function of princely residence, as it had in Kęstutis’s day. It was maintained and decorated as we can see from the surviving decorative elements within the castle. The great hall was particularly decorative with stained glass windows and fresco secco wall paintings. The walls were painted in the Byzantine provincial style typical of the early fifteenth century and the main theme was praise for Grand Duke Vytautas and his courtiers. Polychrome decoration was applied to the castle interior and exterior.

Grand Duke Vytautas died in the castle on October 27 1430 while still waiting for a royal crown and after his death the castle began to fall into decay. Muscovite prisoners of war were detained there and Grand Duke King Sigismund Augustus thought of building a summer residence there. The castle was rebuilt in Renaissance style and was used for grand-ducal requirements until the wars of the second half of the seventeenth century.

The romantic castle ruins attracted public attention. In 1822 the artist V. Smakauskas came to Trakai as a student and drew the Island castle. Thirteen of his sketches still survive: one gives a general view of the castle while eleven are devoted to fragments of the castle Great Hall frescoes. In 1822-23 and 1837 pictures of the castle were made for the Vilna Gubernia Castle Atlas by the Trakai surveyor I. Wróblewski where they are accompanied by pictures of the Peninsula Castle. These people not only recorded national monuments but also in their memoirs they urged people to preserve them. Later the famous artist S. Vorobev came from St. Petersburg to Lithuania where he sketched the castle in 1855. In the second half of the nineteenth century N. Orda sketched the castle. The critical state in which the castle found itself was noted by the famous linguist E. Wolter in his 1894 study “Zur altlitauischen Topographie der russischen Stadte Wilna und Troki”, Mitteilungen der Litausichen Literarischen Gesellschaft. The first documents were drafted to preserve the castle circa 1888 on the initiative of the Imperial Archaeological Commission. They were joined in this work by the Petersburg engineer M. prozorov, the Statistics Committee chairman, A. Shverubovich, the Vilnius photographer S. Fleury and the sketch master Griaznov. Another move to save the castle was begun in 1901 by an archaeologist, V. Shukevich. The imperial Archaeological Commission allowed him to collect money to look after the castle and do research. He rented the castle from the town magistrate in 1903 and set about preserving the fore-castle’s south-eastern tower according to a project drafted by the engineer, B. Malewski. During World war One when the Germans invaded the Wehrmacht brought German specialists who researched the castle and prepared several articles dealing with preservation issues. At that time several postcards were printed showing the castle. In 1926 engineer W. Girdwejn, on the initiative of the Vilnius conservationist E. Römer, measured the castle ruins and in 1928 he made a geodesical photograph of them. Preservation and restoration work continued until 1941 under J. Borowski. The palace walls were strengthened, the keep and parts of the buttresses were restored and the derelict south-western tower of the fore-castle was strengthened. In 1935-36 work began rebuilding the Main Hall and the palace wall in the north-eastern part of the yard, and work began on the south-western tower of the fore-castle. In 1938 when the conservationist S. Laurenc was replaced by W. Kieszkowski, an even greater supporter of restoring the castle, the south-eastern fore-castle tower was rebuilt. The arches of the Main Hall came under restoration in 1939 and after Lithuanian took the Vilnius district from Poland in 1939 care for the castle passed to the Vytautas the Great Cultural Museum (Kaunas). Systematic work was done and J. Borowski was invited to supervise operations once again. However, work ended when Germany attacked the Soviet union. After the war attention was turned to the castle once more in 1946. However, in effect work began only in 1951-52. From 1955 work began on preserving and restoring the castle and in 1962 the palace became home to the Trakai History Museum. After restoration work on the fore-castle ended in 1987 the Museum extended its exhibition space there.

At present work is being continued according to the Trakai Island and Peninsula Castles Reserve directed maintenance and use programme as approved by the Lithuanian minister of culture in 2000.

Work is under way on drafting a detailed plan for the Trakai island and Peninsula Castles Cultural Reserve. The castle is the property of the Lithuanian Republic and lies in the Trakai Island and Peninsula Castles Cultural reserve.

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