Panemunė Castle is unique for its remarkable size and its surviving mural paintings that hark back to the era of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. What makes it truly special is the harmonious synthesis of different historical periods and the styles that embody them: Renaissance, Baroque and Classicism.
THE LEGENDARY CASTLE OF LITHUANIAN GRAND DUKE VYTENIS
It is believed that the area surrounding Panemunė Castle was also the site of the Manor House of Vytenis, the Grand Duke of Lithuania. The legend has it that this prominent ruler of Lithuania was buried here. During the inter-war period, the two mounds formed in the park surrounding Panemunė Castle became to be known by the name of Duke Vytenis and that of his wife.
THE ORIGINS OF THE MANOR HOUSE OF PANEMUNĖ
In the second half of the 15th century Panemunė went into the ownership of the prominent noble Bilevičius family. They owned the castle up until 1597. It was during that period or perhaps even earlier that the first wooden and masonry buildings of the manor were erected. The masonry fragments have survived to this day, and the archaeological finds bear witness to the lavish lifestyle of the nobility of the period.
THE ARCHITECTURAL WORK OF THE ARCHITECT WHO DESIGNED THE LOWER CASTLE OF VILNIUS
In 1597 a merchant of Hungarian descent, Janus Eperjes, bought Panemunė after he came to Lithuania during the rule of Stephen Báthory. Once he acquired the citizenship of Lithuania and a nobility status, he served as a royal pantler of Samogitia and married Uršulė Gecaitė who came from a noble family. After the old masonry castle was demolished, a new one was built in the Renaissance style. It is believed that the construction of the castle started in 1604 to the designs of Dutch architect Peter Nonhart. He was one of the most renowned architects who worked in Lithuania during that period. He was also behind the reconstruction project for the Palace in the Lower Castle of Vilnius which was reconstructed at the commission of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in the beginning of the 17th century.
THE RESIDENCE OF THE RULER OF THE DUCHY OF SAMOGITIA
Although Panemunė was in the ownership of four generations of Eperjes’s offspring who initiated multiple renovations of the castle, the plan and architecture of the castle retained the Renaissance style.
Larger modifications to the castle were made after Panemunė went into the ownership of Antanas Anupras Gelgaudas who later became the ruler of the Duchy of Samogitia, or the Governor of Samogitia. In place of a closed castle, a principal courtyard (the so-called cour d’honneur) was constructed after demolishing the northern wing, and a representative suite was created in the southern wing. It was built according to the French model and consisted of a dining room, an ante-room, two living rooms, a dance hall and a gallery. The rooms were decorated with murals. The surviving fragments of the mural paintings mostly reflect the decorative trends typical of the Classical, the Empire, and the Biedermeier styles.
THE DETERIORATION AND REBIRTH OF THE CASTLE
The owner of Panemunė, Antanas Gelgaudas, was a leader in the uprising of 1830–1831 in Lithuania. Following the suppression of the uprising, his property was sequestered, i.e. transferred into the temporary ownership of the occupying Russian Empire. Although the manor was rented and continued to serve as a place for economic activities during that period, the castle began to deteriorate. It was not until 1867 that Panemunė was returned to the Gelgaudas family, namely, their descendant Stanislovas Puslovskis who initiated the restoration of the castle.
The restoration works were brought to a halt by the outbreak of the First World War and the Land Reform which took place during the period between 1919 and 1939 in the Republic of Lithuania and which had a particularly negative effect on the major manors of Lithuania as they were only left with allotments of just 80 hectares each. The state assumed the ownership of the estate of Panemunė. The year 1958 marked the start of a long restoration process which continues to this day. Two out of four wings have already been restored and Panemunė Castle is now ready to welcome visitors after being closed for almost two centuries.
MODERNITY: THE CASTLE TODAY
Owned by Vilnius Academy of Arts, Panemunė Castle regularly hosts symposiums, exhibitions, debates, lectures, and seminars conveying modern and reflective thinking in step with current times and raising current issues.
For the latest information about exhibitions and events held at the Castle, please visit www.panemunespilis.lt