01 October 2016

Woke up at 7:30, Ubered to the airport. Picked up a rental for only 28 Euros a day- VW Passat.

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Traveled an hour north to Kernave, the first capital of Lithuania.

I started at the Archeological Site Museum, established following recognition of Kernave by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2004, administered by the State Cultural Reserve of Kernave.  Professional archeological research has been carried out in Kernave since 1979. The exhibit revealed a history dating back 11 millennia and included artifacts from each era: stone age arrowheads, bronze age tools, iron age tools, medieval cult objects and jewelry. I found particularly fascinating the artifacts of foreign origin: pottery from Kiev, glassware from Aleppo and Damascus, shells from the Maldives, coins from Rome- testament to city’s former status. In contrast, Kernave now boasts no more than 300 inhabitants.

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Upon exiting I was directed to the open air museum exhibition, reconstruction of a Kernave neighborhood during the 13th and 14th centuries.

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I looped back around to the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Scapular, which stands at the entrance to the reserve. The neo-gothic church was completed in 1920.

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I tried my best to appreciate the other historical markers near the entrance of the reserve, but once the view caught my eye it was hard to look away. From the observation platform I had an unbelievable panorama of the entire reserve, including the five extraordinary mounds, of which there are roughly 1000 in Lithuania. They are natural hills, adjusted for defensive purposes. Ascended via wooden walkways, the mounds were once united via ramparts and fortifications to form a unified castle complex. For the next few hours I walked from mound to mound while taking constant photographs.

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From the Castle Mound I had another striking panorama, particularly of Mindaugas’ Throne Mound (left) and Altar-Hill Mound (right).

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Legend has it that in medieval times a tunnel ran from Castle Mound to Trakai and Vilnius.

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Another unbelievable outlook from Mindaugas Throne, particularly of Altar-Hill Mound and the Neris River behind.

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Legend has it that the first ruler and only king of Lithuania, Mindaugas, was coronated on this sight in 1253. Along with the three outer mounds, Mindaudgas’ Throne served to protect Altar-Hill Mound in medieval times.

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Finally I made it up Altar-Hill Mound, the most central and seemingly intentional of the five. Altar-Hill Mound was the location of the ducal palace, certainly from the time of Grand Duke Traidenis (r. 1269-1282) and possibly since Mindaugas. It was settled in the first millennium BC. Kernave would remain the capital of Lithuania until Gediminas moved it to Trakai and ultimately to Vilnius in 1323. The wooden castles were destroyed by Grand Duke Kestutis and subsequently by his son Grand Duke Vytautas in the late 14th century in opposition to the ‘treacherous’ unification with Poland by their nephew and cousin respectively, Grand Duke Jogaila. The town would dwindle in prestige until the past century.

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Afterwards, I made my way up Lizdeika mound.

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The steep climb produced a glimpse into the Pajauta Valley below where the majority of Kernave’s inhabitants resided.

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Finally I journeyed to the outskirts of the valley to find Kriveikiskis mound, which is speculated to have been the sight of sacrificial offerings.

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From there I walked across the valley to the shore of the Neris.

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Near the Neris lied the remnants of an ancient burial ground from before the time of Jesus.

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Made the exhausting walk back up to my car in the late afternoon, drove back to Vilnius. Prepared for tomorrow the rest of the evening.

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