On the outskirts of the Town of Aukštadvaris, on the left bank of the Verknė River, is a sight that deserves at least a short stop. After all, it’s where you can see the Aukštadvaris Mound and settlement, the slopes of which reach a height of up to 15 metres. The swaying trees are like a signpost for Lake Pilaitė on the southeast side. This is why the mound is sometimes called Pilaitė Mound.
People lived in Aukštadvaris 4,000-5,0000 years ago. Stone axes and various flint tool found on the shores of the lakes are evidence of this. The history of Aukštadvaris is inextricably connected to the mound on the left bank of the Verknė River. Archaeological finds show that people settled there in the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE. For five or even seven hundred years, people lived on the site of the mound, and homesteads were built near it in the 5th century. Between the 6th and 8th centuries, a rather large settlement grew near the mound, with homesteads placed quite far apart forming a scattered village. It is believed that at that time, one of the main roads ran through the mound along the Verknė and Nemunas rivers. This road facilitated the rapid growth of the settlement.
A solid wooden castle was built on the mound in the 11th and 12th centuries, to which a large two-hectare densely populated settlement was attached. It is speculated that the owner of a wooden castle kept and protected masters of various crafts in the castle during this period.
In 1381, the crusader chronicler Vygandas Marburgietis mentioned the area Nawenpill. Some historians tend to think that this is what the Germans called Aukštadvaris – a name that exists in historical literature.
More detailed data about Aukštadvaris is known from the 15th century. At that time, the Aukštadvaris Manor belonged to the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. It is believed that the name of the settlement originates from the manor, which is located on a high mound. A book of Lithuanian Metrics covering the years 1440–1498 states that, “the ruler donates two people to Jonas from Aukštadvaris.” This may be the oldest mention of Aukštadvaris in written sources. Unfortunately, this record specifies neither the ruler nor the date of the record. The earliest record is dated to 1446. This is the beginning of Kazimieras Jogailaitis’ rule. We cannot claim that the inscription about Aukštadvaris is from the same year; it could also be from later years.
In another source we find a much more accurate mention of Aukštadvaris. A record dated 7 March 1452 refers to the transfer of uncultivated land belonging to Pergailas to Senkas. If there were no previous exact mention of the manor or settlement, then that date can be considered Aukštadvaris’ birthday.
In the second half of the 15th century, Aukštadvaris belonged to Duke Andrius Dorogobuiskis, and it was later transferred to Goštautas as the homeland of Goštautai.
The beginning of the 16th century was dramatic for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The war with Moscow began in 1507. Its ruler Vasily III besieged several cities within the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, approaching Smolensk. The Duke of Moscow announced his intention to lead an attack to free abused Orthodox people. In the same year, Bogdanas Sapiega was the deputy of Aukštadvaris. Together with the deputy of Skirsnemunė, Petras Aleknavičius, he went to Moscow as a messenger and was detained there, even though he had letters of protection from Vasily III. The ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Sigismund the Elder, took care of the fate of the envoys and freed them from captivity in Moscow.
On 29 May 1511, Sigismund the Elder granted Jokūbas Kuncevičius a privilege for loyal service to people in various counties, including Aukštadvaris. This document is interesting in that it lists individuals who lived in Aukštadvaris and its surroundings at the beginning of the 16th century.
As the town began to develop around the dukes’ manor, which was located on a mound (the High Manor), it came to be called Aukštadvarys (or Aukštdvarys). In 18th century Latin, Aukštadvaris is called Alta Aula.
Legend has it that in ancient times, the daughter of the ruler of the castle that stood there decided to go for a ride. She left the castle in an ornate and luxurious carriage pulled by four horses. There was a chest full of money as well as a tiny puppy in the carriage. Descending from the castle hill, something frightened the horses and they pulled the carriage and its passengers directly into Lake Pilaitė near the castle, where the entire crew drowned. Although the parents searched for their daughter for a long time, their efforts were in vain. After a while, locals sometimes reported seeing a beautiful chest floating in the lake with a small puppy sitting on it, especially after sunset. After these sightings, the lake would be calm again. Believing in this legend is up to you.
The remains of the old settlement, including a jeweller’s workshop, jewellery, remnants of metal melting furnaces, arrows and spears were found during an archaeological survey of the mound in 1967-1960.
In the earliest phase of the mound’s construction, the site was about a third smaller, surrounded by a two-metre wide wooden defensive wall, the inside of which housing enclosed rectangular columnar buildings. Stone axes, bone yolks, lined pottery and animal bones were found in their place. These findings prove that the settlement dates back to the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE.
At a later stage, on the outskirts of the site, in the former four-metre wide by 0.5-metre deep excavation stood a long columnar building consisting of several three-metre long premises. They found brass jewellery, clay weights, ceramics and charred grains there. There was a large yard on the site. Around the 4th and 5th centuries, an embankment was poured on the edges of the site, on which a two-metre wide wooden defensive wall was built. These fortifications were protected using bows (35 triangular iron arrowheads were found).
The mound was significantly upgraded in the 14th century: a 15-metre wide embankment was added to the slopes, pouring layers of earth, and a six-metre wide by 2.5-metre deep ditch was dug at its foot. On the embankment stood a four-metre wide wooden defensive wall, and buildings up to four by four metres in area on its inner side. Some of these buildings were inhabited. Iron crossbow arrow heads, knives, reels, hooks, a splitter, a key, a brass brooch, fragments of various other works, ringed ceramics and charred grains were found there.
During this period, the Navinpils Castle that stood on the mound was attacked by crusaders with cannons. The castle surrendered and was burnt down, but was soon rebuilt by the Lithuanians; historical sources dating back to January 1382 mention this. The castle was eventually burnt down when it lost its defensive significance. In the 16th and 17th centuries, wooden mansion of the Grand Duke stood on the mound, which is confirmed by the remains and findings of the buildings of that period. Although these buildings no longer exist, one can still feel the grandeur of past centuries when standing on the mound.