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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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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If you think of visiting Lithuania or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it:
- Bohemian Vilnius – The Republic of Uzupis
- Old Town in Vilnius in pictures
- A mini guide to things to do in Vilnius, Lithuania
- and more!
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