Karaim culture in Trakai

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Less than 30 kms away from Vilnius a really lovely town, called Trakai, is located. It’s easily accesible from the capital and definitely makes a must (half) day trip from Vilnius. But while most of the people go there to see the beautiful red-brick castle built on the lake island I was always fascinated by something else that can be found in Trakai – the remnants of Karaim culture.


History of Trakai

Trakai was founded in the XIVth century. The legend says that after the successful hunting, the Grand Duke Gediminas discovered this pretty lake surrounded by beautiful landscape and decided to build the castle there. Shortly after the area developed a lot and two new castles were created – the peninsula castle and the beautiful island castle. Around these the town started to grow and more and more people moved in. Even if Vilnius was (and still is) the capital of Lithuania, the Grand Duke Vitautas that ruled the Duchy in the early XVth century, spent more time in Trakai and made it a political and administrative center. In 1409 Trakai, as one of the first places in Lithuania, got the city rights.


Karaims in Trakai

It was also Vitautas that brought Karaims to Trakai. This ethnic group that descents from Turkish-speaking family came to Lithuania from Crimea (now part of Ukraine that I really would love to visit). At first there were few hundreds Karaim families living in Trakai, now there’re about 250 people living in the country, mostly in the area around Vilnius. They were preferential group, living close to the castle and working as doctors or translators that was especially useful during the war times.


Karaims have an unique culture that can be best observed in Trakai. The main street of the town that leads to the Galve lake – named Karaimu gatve – is full of colourful wooden houses, so typical for this group. They usually have 3 windows from the front – it is believed that the first one is for God, the second for the host (I also came across the version with Vitautas) and the third one for guests. Karaims have their own religion – Karaite Judaism – and they gather in the special type of synagogue – kenesa. One of them can be found in Trakai as well.


Karaim food in Trakai

Trakai is also a perfect place to try the typical Karaim food as the town is full of restaurants (made mostly for tourists but still with fair prices). They serve a delicious food and are such a cosy place to spend some time in. The cuisine is distinctive for its oriental aromas and spices and old, traditional receipes are used. The most famous Karaim dish is kybyn – a big dumpling made from the paste cake, baked in the oven to the golden colour. Usually it’s filled with lamb or beef but there’re also vegetarian options with spinach or cabbage. One of two are usually enough to feel your stomach! And they are oh so good!



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Visiting Trakai

For some reason I always happened to visit Trakai in autumn or winter, when the weather was grey, gloomy and depressing. Still I really enjoyed the place, mostly because of the unique culture that I could observe there. Sadly it looks like this culture is slowly disappearing so if you’re in Lithuania be sure to visit Trakai – it might be one of the last chances to witness the Karaim culture in its natural place. I’m sure I will go back there whenever I have a chance, to get to know more about the place and its people. I will just make sure it’ll be in a nice weather so I can also enjoy the lakeside some more!


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  • Reply
    19/08/2015 at 10:37

    I visited Trakai in summer. It was really beautiful and full of colours. And the kybyns are great. now you reminded me of this place and next time I’ll be in Suwalszczyzna I’m going to visit this beautiful place once more :D Alone without a guide rushing me here and there ;)

    • Reply
      03/09/2015 at 21:46

      Was it very busy in the summer time? Both times when I visited were in late autumn/winter so the weather wasn’t the best but also there were hardly any people around! ah, Suwalszczyzna is amazing, I so would love to explore it better!

  • Reply
    Ten days in the Baltics: Lithuania | Tiny Lady, Big World
    13/11/2015 at 20:00

    […] Grand Duke Vytautas in the 14th century from Crimea. I don’t claim to be an expert — this blog does an excellent job of detailing Karaim culture, including the significant influence […]

  • Reply
    Trakai Island Castle | Tiny Lady, Big World
    17/01/2016 at 03:18

    […] Grand Duke Vytautas in the 14th century from Crimea. I don’t claim to be an expert — this blog does an excellent job of detailing Karaim culture, including the significant influence […]

  • Reply
    28/02/2016 at 20:06

    I was un trakai last year and tasted the kybyn. It is ibcredible but this is exactly the same than “empanadas” from northwest provinces of Argentina. Amazing coincidence considering the distante and different cultural roots.

    • Reply
      29/02/2016 at 16:18

      it’s really sounds interesting! I was in Argentine and tried empanadas but didn’t really connect it with Karaim food. but now, after your comment I can definitely see it!

  • Reply
    Tom MacAulay
    24/07/2018 at 10:15

    Sweet tourist stops
    Be sure to visit Moldova and go to north, Soroca region, and travel to tiny village of Cosauti where live master stone masons of the country. You see the ukraine across river Nistru.
    Beautiful day there

    • Reply
      11/08/2018 at 12:56

      Thanks for the tips! I’ve been to Moldova already but only to Chisinau and Transnistria and I’m really hoping to go back soon so I will make sure to include Soroca region in my itinerary then!

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