Pulling aside the veil of mystery: A journey through Lithuanian manors full of discoveries
History tells us that life and culture would evolve around manor sites. Forgotten for a long time, today manors become centres of culture and the spirit of art, music, aesthetics and wisdom is brought back to them. Throughout their history, many manors have been etched with marks of cultural life that was spun by adopting the most advanced technologies and practices of different countries. All this has endured to be seen at the enchanting Lithuanian manors to this day. From black swans to an exotic English garden: all this and more can be experienced on an adventure-packed journey through the land of architectural masterpieces and entrancing nature.
Gintaras Karosas, the President of the Lithuanian Castles and Manors Association, talks about the ways to have this exciting journey and the joys of discovery right nearby.
“If you choose to discover the charm of Lithuania away from the big cities, you will inevitably find yourself in the vicinity of the old Lithuanian manors and castles that are awaking from their slumber,” says Gintaras Karosas.
Located in a charming embrace of nature away from the hustle and bustle of the city, Lithuanian manors lure us with their architecture, in which you can discover masterpieces of different pan-European styles that took form in various periods. Tourists from European countries in Lithuania also discover pieces of their history, preserved in the interiors, exteriors or histories of the manors.
In their golden age, the manors adopted trends of European architecture and art, various crafts, science and the latest technologies, industry and horticulture, park planning, the latest industrial systems and technologies. The most prominent architects, artists, composers and writers were raised in the bosom of the cultural environment of the manors, and drew inspiration and themes from them.
The Lithuanian Versailles: Plungė Manor
This manor belonged to the Oginskis (Oginski) family who had great ambitions. Bogdanas Oginskis, as it was popular in the largest manors in Europe at that time, brought together, funded and maintained an orchestra of 60 people, which was well known in both Lithuania and far beyond. The orchestra’s performances included pieces by J. Haydn, V. A. Mozart, J. S. Bach and others.
Many buildings of Plungė Manor surviving to this day were built in 1873 on the initiative of the Duke Mykolas Oginskis. A German-born architect Karl Lorenz designed a Neo-Renaissance two-story palace and a park. Also in 1879, a Neo-Gothic stud farm building was built. The territory of the manor is adorned with Neo-Renaissance gates.
Even today, the homestead of Plungė Manor fascinates with its manor ensemble and the mysterious park surrounding it. The residence of the manor was created by Mykolas Oginskis together with the German architect Karl Lorenz. In constructing this complex, they drew inspiration from Versailles, the masterpiece of King Louis XIV of France and cultural standard of manors. Therefore, as you walk around the palace of Duke Mykolas Oginskis, there might come a moment when you feel like you have journeyed to France. The palace is also called the Versailles of Lithuania or Samogitia for a reason.
Today, the Mykolas Oginskis Palace houses the Samogitian Art Museum, which invites visitors to see the restored interior of the palace and exhibitions of artists’ works.
Hugo Scheu Manor
Surrounded by peaceful nature, the Hugo Scheu Manor is located in the seaside town of Šilutė. It is the only surviving complex of the East Prussian Manor – an elegant architectural piece of late Classicism. The manor is encircled by an English-style park. In the manor, you can discover an exclusive 18th century collection of paintings that adorned the manor during its boom years.
Liubavas Manor and an open-air museum
Like the Versailles of Samogitia, the Liubavas Manor once had its own fully retained orchestra housed in a huge ornate Baroque gate complex. In the beginning of the 20th century, a stud farm was established here and a modern water mill was built.
The inventory from the 18th century shows that the manor homestead already consisted of about 20 buildings: a second mill was being built, there was a working brewery (called bravoras in olden times), a treasury building and a bakery on site. Currently, the Liubavas Manor, located in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, is open to visitors. In 2013, a German film Wolfskinder was filmed in the manor. It is a story about young German children, also known as the Wolfskinder.
“When you visit Vilnius, you can spend half a day visiting the manors located in the area. Such as the manors of Liubavas and Markučiai. Nature- and art-lovers will enjoy Europos Parkas (the Park of Europe) located nearby. In the park with its open-air art museum, you can find the works of artists from different countries of the world,” says Gintaras Karosas, the President of the Lithuanian Castles and Manors Association, noting that places of interest can be easily reached by car or public transport.
The manor stands out in its engineering solutions. The pond near the main building was once powered by a power plant, a rarity at that time. In the second half of the 19th century, a stone-walled Dutch-type cap windmill of Akmena was built at the Akmena Manor, supplying flour to the entire area for years. In the beginning of the 20th century, the stone mill built by the landowner Hoppen was one of the largest in the region. The manor house, fragments of the park and ponds and the legendary stone mill have survived to this day.
The promise of eternal love in Kretinga Manor
The Kretinga Manor welcomes its visitors with 24 surviving buildings of the manor complex and a well-kept manor park, decorated with sculptures and fountains. In the park, you can find a double-sided bench carved in a block of stone, better known as the stone of love. The legend has it that the stone marks the secret meeting place of Russian Empress Catherine II and the then manor owner Platon Zubov. It is believed that after revealing their feelings to the stone of love, lovers will live happily ever after. In 2013, Ana Karenina was filmed at the manor. In the 19th century, the Kretinga Manor passed to Count Juozapas Tiškevičius (Tyszkiewicz), who rebuilt the palace and established an impressive orangery. The three-storey orangery a.k.a. the Winter Garden, offers a place for respite surrounded by greenery and fresh air in any season. The garden has over 500 species of plants.
It was once one of the largest private orangeries in Europe. The manor was also distinguished by the fact that it had its own hydroelectric power plant and a telephone line connecting this manor with the manors of Plungė and Rietavas. It is one of the few manor sites that has preserved nearly all the buildings or their fragments to this day.
The first mentions of the manor in written sources date back to the middle of the 14th century. Over the centuries, it has belonged to the families of Radvila (Radziwill) Oginskis, Prušinskis, Plevakas, Drazdauskas, and other landowners. The homestead is believed to have been one of the few residencies containing brick buildings built in the 17th century. The formerly thriving manor house has been brought back to a new life. Painter workshops, professional theatre performances and symphonic music concerts have been taking place at the manor for many years. The manor has an art gallery and a park of granite sculptures.
Alexander Pushkin’s footprints in Markučiai Manor
The Markučiai Manor is located in the south-eastern part of Vilnius. Written mentions of Markučiai go back to the end of the fourteenth century. In different periods, the manor belonged to the families of Jagiellonians, Radvila, Tiškevičius, and Chodkevičius (Chodkiewicz). However, the last and probably the most prominent owners of the manor were Grigory, the son of Alexander Pushkin, one of the most famous Russian Romantic poets and writers, and his wife Varvara. In 1906, when its last owners, Varvara Melnikova-Pushkin and Grigory Pushkin, settled at the manor, the St. Varvara Chapel was built on the hilly part of the Markučiai Manor. The Literary Museum of Alexander Pushkin was established on the initiative of Varvara Melnikova-Pushkin.
The architect of Markučiai Chapel was Mikhail Prozorov, and the author of the discovered icons is believed to be Georgy Molokin, famous Vilnius icon painter from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The icons of the chapel depict the namesake celestial guardians of the owners of the Markučiai Manor and their relatives. This discovery encourages us to look back and remember the architecture of Vilnius Orthodox churches and chapels, and the traditions of icon painting.
“Each castle or manor tells a separate legend, while the landscape and architectural heritage provide a unique opportunity to travel centuries back and experience the aura of the past,” concluded Karosas, wishing each visitor to discover a piece of their own culture while visiting Lithuanian manors.
Official Castles and Manors Association website: https://www.lietuvos.dvarai.lt/en/