photo Jonas Petronis
Throughout its short and exciting history, Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) has been faithfully nurturing its distinguished traditions. What sets this university apart is its willingness to organize studies, scientific research, and life of the community in a different way. Intellectuals from Lithuania and abroad participated in the reestablishment of VMU and defined its goals, which remain unchanged today. At VMU, the forerunning principles are liberal and democratic, emphasizing aesthetics, honesty, tolerance, and the ability to think independently. Through these ideals, creativity, progress and the development of national culture are all brought into sharp focus.
From the very first days of the university’s re-establishment in 1989, the experiences of Western universities have been an important influence. Based on the model of universities like Harvard, VMU implemented a more modern approach to studies. In that respect, VMU differs from other Lithuanian universities in the freedom it gives students to choose and design their own study schedule, while also being the first Lithuanian institution of higher education to offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree studies. University also distinguishes itself by fostering multilingualism and multiculturalism: 30 foreign language courses are offered and, as a reflection of global trends, more and more lectures are taught in English, many of them by professors from abroad.
Located at the heart of Kaunas city, VMU is deeply ingrained in the life of Kaunas, as the city enjoys the university’s Jazz Connections Festival, performances by the VMU Music Academy’s lecturers, students and Alumni, the first professional university theatre in Lithuania and other cultural, social and artistic activities hosted by VMU.
photo Jonas Petronis
ABOUT KAUNAS CITY
Boasting of nearly 330 thousand inhabitants, Kaunas is one of the most significant cities of Lithuania. It is situated at the heart of Lithuania, at the confluence of the rivers Neris and Nemunas. Kaunas is the second largest city in Lithuania, located 100 km away from Vilnius, the capital city. This fast-growing modern city is rich in academic life; the city is a home town for 6 universities, 2 academies, and 3 affiliates of the universities located in Vilnius.
Kaunas is also an attractive centre of business, industry, science, studies and culture. Famous music, dance, and visual art festivals are held in Kaunas. It is the provisional capital of Lithuania (1920-1939), famous for its colourful history, cosy parks, remarkable Old Town and an interwar spirit.
Kaunas was and still is an important historical and cultural city of Lithuania, known for its active, young and ambitious people. In 1408, Magdeburg rights were granted to the city of Kaunas by the privilege of Vytautas the Great. In the early 20th century, Kaunas was the home of the Lithuanian Government and the capital of the country; this period is considered by many to be the golden age of the city. However, history tells us that even before this date, the city experienced many other periods of great prosperity and national importance.
Today Kaunas is home to a variety of festivals and events, including the famous Kaunas Jazz festival, Hanza days, Operetta, Pažaislis Classical Music festival, Bike show, Kaunas city days, Songs festival (listed by UNESCO), International Modern Dance Festival and many more.
photo Jonas Petronis
WHAT TO DO IN KAUNAS
Kaunas is an academic city with a rich history, offering plenty of interesting landmarks and fun places to visit. As a starter guide, here are some of the most important locations every guest of Kaunas should see. Each of the titles includes a link to a map showing the exact location of the landmark.
Built in the late 13th century, it is the oldest brick castle in Lithuania and the first one in Kaunas. Kaunas Castle played a significant role in the defence system of the city, suppressing the attacks of the Crusaders and their further movement into Lithuania, including the capital Vilnius. In 1362, after a long siege, the Crusaders destroyed the castle; however, later it was rebuilt and fortified. Kaunas Castle lost its strategic significance after the Battle of Žalgiris (Grunwald).
Town Hall (Rotušės a.)
Often called the White Swan of the city, the Kaunas Town Hall combines elements of Gothic, Baroque and early Classicism styles. In the Middle Ages, the Town Hall was the centre of the city: its square served as the marketplace and the location of various festivities and executions of criminals. After the re-construction of the building in 1973, the Town Hall was turned into the Wedding Palace, while the Museum of Ceramic Art settled in its basement.
St. Francis Xavier Church and Jesuit Monastery (Rotušės a. 7, 8, 9).
This late-Baroque style church was constructed in the early 17th century. In 1787, it was transferred to the Order of Franciscan Monks, later it served as an Orthodox Church, Alexander Nevsky’s Cathedral and a Technical College. In 1990, the Jesuit Community regained the church.
Kaunas Cathedral (Vilniaus g. 1)
The only Gothic style church in Lithuania, using Basilica design. Reconstructed a number of times, the church has acquired architectural features of the Renaissance and Baroque. The Cathedral has 9 altars and crystal-type arches in the sacristy.
Vilniaus Street (Vilniaus g.)
The most beautiful and the busiest street in the Old Town, intended only for pedestrians. A long time ago, it used to be the main road leading to the Town Hall. The majority of its buildings have survived since the 16th century and many of them have been reconstructed.
Vytautas’ the Great Church (Aleksoto g. 3)
This church was built in the 15th century, which makes it the oldest one in Kaunas. It is one of the first Gothic brick buildings of cross-shaped layout in Kaunas. The building belonged to Franciscan monks and was used as a warehouse of weapons during the Napoleonic Wars.
The House of Thunder (Aleksoto g. 61)
One of the most original buildings of the flaming Gothic architecture, the House of Thunder was constructed in the 15th century for Hanza merchants. In the 19th century, a statue of Thunder was found in one of the walls, which is why it was designated as a pagan temple. The first Kaunas Drama theatre was established in the house in 1844. Now the House of Thunder belongs to the Jesuit High School.
Kaunas modernist architecture (Putvinskio g. and Donelaičio g.)
Between the two World Wars Kaunas had a status of temporary capital of Lithuania. Thousands of new houses and public institutions were built during the 20 years interwar period, completely changing the city face. Throughout the 1930s a new modernist architectural style emerged, which brought a new visual identity to the city and indicated a vision of a modern European city. Today Kaunas interwar modernist architecture is being rediscovered again and is now one of the main representatives of the city.
You could find hundreds of modernist buildings all around the city with biggest concentration in city center and Žaliakalnis district. The best examples of modernist houses could be seen in Putvinskio street, from 52nd to 70th house. During the 1930s these houses were used by embassies, diplomats and Lithuanian intelligentsia. Many other prime examples can be found around the intersection of Donelaičio and Gediminas street.
Laisvės alėja (Laisvės al.)
It is a 1.7 km long pedestrian-only street, connecting the old and the new parts of the city. Its beginning and end precisely indicate the directions of the East and the West. The street is one of the first places that every visitor should see while staying in Kaunas. The street starts with Soboras and brings you to Vilniaus gatvė, where the Old Town begins. This street was built during the last years of the 19th century and finished in the 20th century. After a reconstruction in 1982, it became a pedestrian street. Nowadays, Laisvės alėja is one of the main places for entertainment in Kaunas. It has a special charm which invites to go for a walk during the sunny days.
Monument to Vytautas the Great (at the turn of Laisvės al. and L. Sapiegos g.)
This monument was unveiled in 1932 in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuania. Created by sculptor Vincas Grybas, it first stood in Panemunė, but was destroyed in the Soviet years. After the restoration of independence, it was placed at the junction of Laisvės alėja and Sapiegos street.
St. Michael the Archangel Church (Nepriklausomybės a. 14)
This is a neo-Byzantine style building (built in 1891-1895) with architectural traits of Orthodox sanctuary. The church was designed and constructed by Russian architects for the Kaunas military garrison. Later it functioned as an art gallery, until it was turned into a Catholic church.
Kaunas Funiculars (Skriaudžių g. 8 and Aušros g. 6)
Kaunas is the only city in Lithuania which has funiculars, one of the oldest means of transport. The funiculars in Žaliakalnis and Aleksotas are used for two purposes – transportation and pleasure trips. The funicular in Aleksotas links the old part of the city with the slopes of Aleksotas, which offer a beautiful view of the city. The funicular of Žaliakalnis goes up from downtown to the monumental Christ’s Resurrection Church, the roof of which also provides a spectacular panorama of the city.
Statue of Liberty (Vienybės a.)
This sculpture is the symbol of Lithuanian Statehood. It was inaugurated in 1928, destroyed during the Stalinist regime and restored in 1989.
Pažaislis Monastery (T. Masiulio g. 31, Kaunas)
One of the most beautiful architectural ensembles of the Baroque style in Lithuania, the Pažaislis Monastery was built in the 17th century as a Camaldoli Abbey under the supervision of Italian masters from Florence. Pažaislis music festivals are held here every summer. More information at: www.pazaislis.lt.