Mounds in Lithuania are more than mere hills. They represent the legacy of pagan culture, which despite having lost its early purpose today, serve as a wonderful adornment of these unique landscapes. Those looking for picturesque places are encouraged to visit the Piepaliai Mound located in the Kaunas district of Babtai. It offers an impressive panorama and an opportunity to admire the sunrise or sunset.
There are almost 900 mounds in Lithuania. These objects of cultural heritage are expressive accents of the cultural landscape, which were once as significant as fortifications, settlements, castles and manors. Over time, many of the mounds used in the Early Metal Age, Iron Age, Medieval, and Modern periods have lost their original function.
The mounds and the ditches that surround them are the defensive fortifications on which the safety of the castle inhabitants depended and which required the most labour, strength, material and ingenuity to install. The defensive equipment reveals that the mound was important in the fight against crusaders. Living spaces were created on the mounds, and craftsmen and traders lived in residential and farm buildings built there.
The Piepaliai Babtynas Mound is located on the right side of the Babtai/Raudondvaris. The mound dates back to the 1st and early 2nd millenniums, and was mentioned in the Warsaw Geographical Dictionary in 1880. Its secret is not its greatness or its height, but the panorama that opens from it that invites visitors to experience what the true beauty of Lithuanian nature means. Climbing 101 steps to a small observation deck at the top of the mound offers a great view of the Nevėžis River and the Babtai settlement first mentioned at the end of the 16th century. The height of the mound is around 15 metres. The site at the top is triangular in shape – 17 metres long by 24 metres wide, with a 3-metre-high and 18-metre-wide embankment at its end. It offers a great view of the Nevėžis, the most important river in Central Lithuania, which flows into the Nemunas. According to one etymological interpretation, the river’s name derives from the phrase ‘non-crayfish’, which means ‘river without crayfish’. But there were always a lot of crayfish in the river basin. Another interpretation is from the Lithuanian word ‘nevežti’, which means, ‘do not transport’, because the flow of the river is slow (‘nevēźā’ in the Baltic language). In ancient times, the Nevėžis served as the border between the regions of Aukštaitija and Samogitia.
The origin of the mound’s name is also related to the Žemaitkiemis Manor, which is located nearby. The Piepaliai Mound was once called Žemaitkiemis. The area was subsequently renamed on the initiative of the manor owner V. Nagevičius in the 20th century during the interwar period.
The mound also has a second name, Babtynas, which originated from the nearby Babtynas Manor, which dates back to the 16th century. In ancient literature, the mound is also called the Babcina Mound. Previously, the village was called Babcinà, Babcýna, Babtinė, Babtynė, Babtiniai, Babtynas and so on. It is believed to have originated either from the town of Babtai or from the personal name Babtas. The nearby Babtai was mentioned in 1394 in the descriptions of the crusader war routes as a ‘homeland’ (courtyard Baptindorf). Although it can be assumed that in 1386 an excerpt from the description of the crusader scouts von dannen czu Bapto j mile writes about Babtai even earlier. The first wooden church was built in the Babtai settlement in 1672, and in the 19th century the Church of Saint Apostles Peter and Paul was erected in its place. Fires ravaged the town several times. It is difficult to explain the name of the Babtai, because there are no words with a similar root (babt- or bapt) in Lithuanian, Latvian or Prussian. It is most likely a place named after someone. Unfortunately, the names of Babtas or Baptas have not survived to this day, but bearing in mind that the town originated no later than the second half of the 14th century, the personal name might have been quite peculiar at the time, and gradually disappeared.
Today, life is quiet here but it wasn’t always this way. A local excavation of the mound found remains of bricks and other ancient buildings. The mound itself stands in a picturesque place – in the highlands, nestled in the Nevėžis Valley. The Asiūklis Stream surrounds the mound to the south and southwest, and the Nevėžis Valley to the east.
It is possible that a small community of people lived on the flat top of the mound before construction of defensive fortifications began. Then came the foothill settlements, also known as the papiliai. So, standing at the top of the mound, it is worth concentrating and imagining the hustle and bustle that once surrounded the mound – buzzing people, noisy craft workshops and intensive trade.
Even today, many legends surround the mound, including one that asserts the mound is haunted and another that states Swedes built it in the time of Napoleon. The imagination is particularly aroused upon hearing the legend of two brothers who found a chest of money and argued over who would guard it while the other went to fetch horses to help transport the chest. When one swore, “so that they would go down to the ground” (it’s a Lithuanian saying), the chest fell into the Nevėžis River and is still hidden somewhere in the river bed.
Nowadays, Baltic traditions are revived every year on and around the mound in the warmer months. Christian and public holidays are celebrated and people come to watch the sunset, make bonfires and sing ancient folk songs. The celebrations bring together residents of nearby areas as well as guests from other cities.