It's great that you have decided to come to Lithuania for a visit, and you might consider taking a trip through the bright, cheerful and hospitable land of Lazdijai. Here, you can learn about our festivities, traditions and people. You can travel and relax in nature, or visit one or all of our many local lakes or a regional park, see interesting and valuable historical and cultural sites, or take part in our fun traditional events. Now, let’s take a closer look at Lazdijai and its history, nature and places of interest.
Lazdijai District Municipality is in the southwest of Lithuania, near the border with Poland and Belarus. Lazdijai is an important border town, and due to its proximity to the Republic of Poland it is known as Lithuania’s bridge to Western Europe. The name of the town originated from the name of the Lazdija River (also called Raišupis), which flows through the town. The name Raišupis is Yotvingian and is associated with the word ‘riešutas’ (nut). In Lithuania, nuts grow on the hazel trees that in Lithuanian are called ‘Lazdynai’, so perhaps the river itself was called Lazdija for this reason, and the town was in turn named after the river. In 1560, when Lithuania was ruled by Grand Duke Žygimantas Augustas, a land plot was allocated to found a town near the Lazdija River. Lazdijai began to grow from the junction of three roads, and it gradually expanded in all directions from this point. In 1597, King Zigmantas Vaza granted Lazdijai the Magdeburg (city) rights. The document that gave Lazdijai the privileges of a city also shows the city’s seal or coat of arms: a moose above three keys, against a red background. It was restored in 1994, and since then has been the symbol of both the town and the whole district municipality, where Lazdijai is the administrative centre.
Lazdijai District is home to more than 150 lakes, the largest ones being Dusia, Metelys and Seirijis. Nemunas, the largest river in Lithuania, passes through the outskirts of the district, while the Baltoji Ančia and Seira Rivers flow along the southern edge of the district. The area is rich in beautiful landscapes with 21 mounds and two regional parks, named Meteliai and Veisiejai.
Meteliai Regional Park is located between the largest lakes in Dzūkija – Dusia and Metelys – and it is the largest cultural tourism area in Lazdijai District. The park was established in 1992 in order to preserve the major lakes of southern Lithuania, as well as their surrounding environment, landscape, cultural heritage sites, unique flora and fauna, and important places for the breeding and resting of water birds during their migration. This regional park has many unique natural heritage sites, and there are as many as 113 species of plants and animals included in the Red Book of Lithuania to be found here. The park is also home to some very rare pond turtles that are protected throughout Europe, which are the symbols of this regional park. Not only there rare plants and animals, but also rich cultural heritage sites to be found in this area. The regional park’s territory in the 13th century was the homeland of one of the Baltic tribes, called the Yotvingians. In the old days, there was a royal mansion situated in the town of Meteliai, which Žygimantas Augustas gave as a gift to his wife Barbora Radvilaitė in 1549. Later, Meteliai was ruled by the Sapiega family. The area is rich in both cultural and natural heritage objects including: Prelomciškė Mound, Staigūnai Diocesan Cross Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary, Meteliai Regional Park Visitor Centre and the Transfiguration of Christ Church. The region’s natural heritage objects include the Great and the Hollowed Oaks of Širvintas, which are over 400 years old.
Veisiejai Regional Park consists of a marvellous set of soughing pine forests and lakes. It is the site of the Veisiejai, Kapčiamiestis, Šlavantai Lakes; the botanical heritage sites of Šlavantėlis and Liūnelis; Veisiejai and Vainežeris Manor Parks; Veisiejai St. George’s Church, which is also known as the Cathedral of Dzūkija; and the ancient defensive fortification of Vainežeris. The park is proud to be the habitat of the European tree frog, which is one of the symbols of the regional park. Such a large variety of rare species and their communities cannot be found anywhere in Lithuania other than in the inter-lake area of Šlavantėlis and Liūnelis. The protected Gymnadenia odoratissima population is the only one of its kind in Lithuania, and this orchid only grows along with another very rare plant that is found only here – Tofieldia calyculata. Pond turtles can also be found here. The Vainežeris and Veisiejai Manor Parks are unique attractions: the highlight of Vainežeris Manor Park is an oval pathway with centuries-old limes, maples and hornbeams; while Veisiejai Manor Park has a 200-year-old, 30-metre-tall and five-metre-wide Veisiejai ash tree, as well as a circle of 21 lime trees.
Lazdijai District is famous not only for its cultural and natural heritage sites, but also for its people and their history. Motiejus Gustaitis was one of the most renowned activists of the Lithuanian national resurrection, as well as a priest, poet and educator of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who worked as the Director of Lazdijai Gymnasium. One of the best lyricist in Lithuania, the poet Salomėja Nėris, was a teacher in Lazdijai from 1928–1931. She lived in the same house as Motiejus Gustaitis before her. Nowadays, this house is home to the Lazdijai Regional Museum, where you can find an exhibition dedicated to Salomėja Nėris. Emilija Pliaterytė was a participant, captain, and a Lithuanian Joan of Arc figure in the 1831 uprising, who left her mark in Lazdijai District when she led her troops in the battles in the forests of Leipalingis and Kapčiamiestis. At the beginning of the uprising, she gathered together the rebels in Dusetos District along with her cousin, then led a group of several hundred soldiers and fought herself in the first ranks of the rebels. The news of Pliaterytė’s courage spread throughout Lithuania. Unfortunately, Pliaterytė caught a disease and died, and her body was taken by a boat on the Ančia River to the Kapčiamiestis Church, where she was buried in the Kapčiamiestis Cemetery. Monuments to Emilija Pliaterytė were built in the Kapčiamiestis Cemetery and in the centre of the town. Another prominent resident of the land of Lazdijai was Lejzer Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto. Born in the town of Bialystok to a family of Lithuanian Jews, Zamenhof graduated from Warsaw University in 1885, obtaining a doctoral degree. His sister lived with her husband in Veisiejai, so he moved here to establish his practice as an eye doctor. Here, Zamenhof also prepared the material for the textbook in his newly-created language, known as Esperanto. For this reason, Veisiejai is now regarded as the birthplace of Esperanto. Another distinguished personality from Lazdijai is Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, one of the most famous Lithuanian partisans and a signatory of the Declaration of Independence in 16 February 1949, who lived in Bielėnai Village (Lazdijai District) and graduated from the Lazdijai Gymnasium. When the second Soviet occupation began, he joined the partisans and was elected as commander of the partisan area of Southern Lithuania. Nowadays, you can find a monument commemorating Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas in the square named after him in Lazdijai, in the very centre of the town, opposite St. Anne’s Church.
Every year, Lazdijai holds a range of interesting and attractive traditional events including: ‘Border Fest’ international festival, Commemoration of the Battle of Kalniškė, Oninės Festival, Rasa Festival, Organ Music Festival, ‘Lazdijai Autumn’, folk band festivals and more. The traditional ‘Border Fest’ international festival attracts thousands of spectators and participants every year, not only from different parts of our country, but also from countries such as Poland, Latvia, Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine. The Commemoration of the Battle of Kalniškė is an annual event dedicated to honouring one of the biggest partisan struggles against the Soviet army that took place in the Kalniškė Forest in 1945. Another fun traditional celebration is the Oninės Festival, which is organised in a picturesque area near Prelomciškė Mound on the shores of Dusia Lake. You are always welcome at any of our events. Please consider visiting the town of Lazdijai and its fascinating surroundings that are full of history and cultural heritage. See you in our beautiful land!