Manor Houses in Western Lithuania
The glory and decay of Manor Houses
Lithuania Minor – a turbulent history
Western Lithuania is being shaped by several cultures. Since the territory has been historically divided between two political entities – Prussia (later German Empire) and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (later Russian Empire), the term Manor House bears two, slightly different connotations in these two historically different parts of Lithuania. In the Prussian part (historical region of Lithuania Minor), a Manor House (Gutshaus) was a mansion of a rich landowner who has accrued his wealth due to the land reform in the Kingdom of Prussia in the early 1800s. Meanwhile, in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (historical region of Samogitia), a Manor House was a country house of landed gentry representing an unreformed feudal society and featuring a wide array of edifice types – from huge nobility palaces to modest wooden residences. Lithuanian castles and manors guaranteed our country’s soldiership, economics and culture for ages. The enlightened persons who lived and created in these buildings helped the country in achieving its goals, maintaining statehood and fighting for their families and the country’s majesty. The brick walls of every castle or manor tell us a legend. All you have to do is listen attentively.
Where to visit
Traces of the past
The nobility palaces in Palanga, Kretinga and Plungė and the Gutshaus of the Scheu family in Šilutė (Heydekrug) are used as museums whilst most of small residences are neglected and decaying. Just one of them (Vilkėnas) is used for hospitality business.They are valuable cultural heritage monuments witnessing the long-foregone culture of South Baltic landed gentry. Since none of the manor houses belong to the heirs of the former landlord families anymore, and have not been acquired by new private owners, they all have changed their identity. Macikai manor (Gut Matzicken), the birthplace of Hermann Sudermann (1857–1928), a German author, was converted into a POW camp (STALAG 1C) in 1939, after the annexation of the Klaipeda Region by Nazi Germany, which stayed till the Soviet occupation in 1945, and then it served as a Soviet concentration camp for German POWs and political prisoners (GULAG-3) till 1955. Besides Lene Grigoleit, there are many other family connections of the manors in Lithuania Minor with Germany and of the manors in Samogitia with Poland. Hermann Sudermann was born in Macikai (Gut Matzicken). Heinrich Theodor von Schön (1773–1856), Prussian statesman, governor of the Province of Prussia (West and East Prussia), who assisted in the liberal reforms during the Napoleonic Wars, was born in Šereiklaukis manor (Schreitlaugken). The Plater family, the owners of Vilkėnas manor are related to Emilia Plater (1806–1831), hero of the 1830-31 Uprising against the Russian Empire in Poland and Lithuania. Duke Michał Kleofas Ogiński (1765–1833), popular Romanticist composer, was the owner of Rietavas manor. The lords of manors in Lithuania Minor spoke German whilst the majority of the lords of manors in Samogitia spoke Polish. Almost none of them spoke Lithuanian. The exception were few philanthropists (e.g. Hugo Scheu) and, particularly, impoverished landed gentry, lords of small Samogitian manors who played the pivotal role in preserving the Lithuanian language and facilitating the Lithuanian National Revival in the 19th century. The lords of manors in Lithuania Minor were exclusively Protestants whilst the lords of manors in Samogitia were exclusively Catholic. Rietavas manor was an important centre of innovations in late 1800s. In 1882, the first telephone grid in Lithuania was established there and on 17 April 1892 in Easter, the first electric street lights were turned on in Rietavas manor, park and church (earlier than in Vilnius, Kaunas or Klaipeda cities). Having withstood centuries, fights and wars, the times of glory and misery, the most beautiful Lithuania’s buildings tell us the stories and legends, and reveal events without which there would be no us, no Lithuania. The grand dukes of Lithuania built their palaces, castles and manors already in the 13th century. The earliest remaining residence of the sovereign is Trakai Castle, constructed in the period from the second half of the 14th century to the beginning of the 15th century. There are several residential Renaissance and Baroque style manors and a bigger number of Classicist manor homesteads. We succeeded in retaining the majority of buildings from the 19th century – the structures of that time were known for free architectural style improvisations.
Authentic nature and Culture
The beauty of Lithuania is the realness
Western Lithuania is located at the river Nemunas and the coastline of the Baltic. Along the coastline you may visit the sea side resort Palanga with pristine beaches and the aristocratic flair of the 19th century or the old town of Klaipeda, the precious harbor town formerly known as Memelburg. But don’t miss the Neringa resort. The entire resort is located on the Curonian Spit, which is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. At the estuary of river Nemunas inland there is a spot perfect for nature trails, hiking and birds observation. The regional park of Rambynas is located by the Nemunas and the Lithuanian State border with the Kaliningrad region, used to be the site where the Baltic tribe named Scalvians once built their shrine, and now, from the sightseeing platform one can see the Ragainė Castle and Tilžė. You will find authentic villages with Manor Houses or at least traces of them, since a lot of them have been demolished in one of the wars.