Fortresses of Kaunas, Lithuania

Kaunas city municipal administration

Kaunas City used to be one of the largest military fortresses in Lithuania. The redevelopment and exploitation of fortified heritage sites is a priority on local and on national level as well. Development and adaptation of these sites to the needs of the local community in the context of 21st century would restore and protect the cultural assets, revive the present territory and would contribute to economic growth.   
By participating in several European funded projects, the Municipality of Kaunas has experience in visualising possible scenarios for identification of new economic functions and establishment of PPP constructions. Kaunas can also bring into At Fort its significant experience gained throughout the implementation of various European funded projects.
The Lithuanian partner will benefit from other experiences on how to use renewable energy sources when re-developing fortified heritage sites, as well as from good practices in innovative redevelopment techniques, a field in which Western European countries have advanced expertise.

More info: www.kaunas.lt


History

 
Kaunas is the second largest city in Lithuania, located in the very centre of the country on the confluence
 of the two largest Lithuanian rivers: the Nemunas and the Neris, surrounded by the green hills. The city is the centre of Kaunas region as well. The crossing of the main water and overland routes was the original motivation for the growth of the city.
The history of Kaunas Fortress dates back to the end of the XIX century when Lithuania was under the occupation of the tsarist Russian Empire. The period was marked by a number of wars in Europe and the union of Germany and Austria-Hungary forced many neighbours to reconsider their political situation. Russia needed to fortify its western frontiers. Due to the convenient geographical location Russian officials decided to construct a fortress in Kaunas as an obstacle to prevent the military attacks from the West with further incursions towards Riga and Vilnius. The natural advantages of the city convinced the Russian Tsar Alexander II to ratify the plan of Kaunas Fortress covering an area of 25 sq. km in 1880.
Kaunas Fortress is a system of the defensive fortifications of polygonal type built in Kaunas and its environs during the period of 1882–1915. The construction was carried out in several stages by Russian military engineer units and hired construction specialists from various Russian provinces. First, a defence circle consisting of 7 forts, 9 batteries, and central fortifications was built between 1882–1907. The construction of administrative buildings in the city centre, the reconstruction and refinement of fortifications were executed later. The plan of the second defence circle (65 sq. km) was confirmed by the Russian Tsar Nicolay II in 1912 and involved all the latest military engineering and construction achievements of the period, replacing bricks with concrete, but its construction was interrupted by World War I in 1915.
 
During World War I, the complex was the largest defensive structure in the Russian Empire occupying 65 km2 (25 sq mi). The Fortress was battle-tested in 1915 when Germany attacked the Russian Empire. Kaunas Fortress withstood the assault of the German Army for eleven days before it was captured. After World War I, the military importance of the Fortress declined as the advances in weaponry rendered it increasingly obsolete. It was used by various civil institutions and as a garrison.
 
The Lithuanian researcher of architectural heritage Jūratė Tutlytė noted in the foreword to the photo album Walking around Kaunas fortress by the famous Kaunas photographer Gintaras Česonis: “Rules and needs of the military fortress, which conditioned Kaunas life for a third of the century (1882–1915), formed a peculiar defensive system bearing an exceptional historic, urbanistic and cultural significance today. The fortifications have left a clear stamp on the entire Kaunas city, its planned, volumetric and spatial composition. The most emphatic architectural ensembles have become important accents in volumetric and spatial arrangement of the town. From above the forts, batteries, elements and segments of the central fortress, which are rather complicated to be overlooked and reflected in the context of town structure, picturesque perspectives of Kaunas landscape open. The walls tell the stories of several periods: at the beginning of the 20th century, Kaunas surrounded by nine forts became a first-class fortress; after the First World War, having lost their strategic importance, the forts were desolated for a long time. Later they served regenerative army of the Republic of Lithuania. During the Second World War some forts became prisons and death camps. In Soviet times, the forts functioned as military bases, the majority of which were liquidated after the army had moved out. Today Kaunas fortress has not found its place in the life of the city except for single artistic actions; it has not been adapted to new cultural, recreational or tourist activities. Although desolated and decaying, Kaunas fortress is still one of the largest and best preserved objects of the kind in Eastern Europe and calls for reflection on its potential in new times of the town.” (Ed. Tutlytė, J. Pasivaikščiojimai po Kauno tvirtovę. Walking around Kaunas fortress. Gintaras Česonis. Kaunas: Meno tvirtovė, 2007. p. 2.)
Source: Pociūnas, A. Kauno tvirtovės gynyba 1915 metais. Vilnius: Generolo Jono Žemaičio Lietuvos karo akademija, 2008.
 
Kaunas 6th fort
The 6th fort is situated in the eastern part of Kaunas city, on the right bank of the Nemunas River, on the upper terrace of the river valley. This fort belongs to the first circle of Kaunas Fortress and presents a typical example of the fortification techniques of the time. The construction of the 6th fort was carried out from 1883 to 1889.
 
The fort is regular hexagon with an asymmetric framework. Its front is directed towards the northeast. The fort consists of a garrison, bombproof shelters, powder-magazines and other defensive buildings, which are partly covered with earth and connected via the complex system of tunnels, corridors and ventilation channels. The architecture of the 6th fort buildings could be attributed to brick and historical style.
 
The condition of most building constructions is satisfactory, however some parts are in a bad condition. The fort’s inner area is overgrown with weeds, bushes and trees. The fosses are semi-filled with water due to the damaged drainage systems. There is neither electricity nor other functioning infrastructure available at the site.
 
After World War I, the 6th fort was used as a prison by the newly established Lithuanian State. During World War II the fort was transformed into a concentration camp. In 1941–1944 it was used by the German Army, and in 1944–1948 – by the Soviet army.in 1944–1948 – by the Soviet army.
 
In the Soviet Era the fort served for military purposes. The garrison and some other buildings were transformed into garages and warehouses. Since the final withdrawal of the Russian Army from Lithuania in 1993, the fort has not been used.
 
The 6th fort is surrounded by the dwelling boroughs which are regularly built on together with the fire-floor dwelling houses containing elements of the perimetric building. The dwelling territories do not come close to the fort and leave some space which helps to perceive it better visually. In this way it is more memorable. The surrounding buildings are regular enough, although higher than the fort, but this creates some conditions of visual focus. The fort is not as dominant in its environment as the 2nd or 1st forts, nevertheless, it is still understood as a certain contrast to the surrounding environment. When the suitable function is found, the understanding of this contrast with the semantic potential of the object will simply grow. It has to be stressed that in regard to the semantic potential the 6th fort competes with the close warehouse that looks similar by its architectural forms and with the redoubt complex in K. Baršausko Street. However, the fort wins in this competition due to its more expressive architecture and close transport network. The fort, as well as the other forts, is associated with other objects of defensive system while a good access makes it a sufficiently important element of the structure that secures the unity of the city view-text.
During the last ten years Kaunas City Municipal Administration began to look for ways of adopting the abandoned forts for the needs of the city. Several years ago the Municipality and two universities of Kaunas participated in the EU INTERREG III B project Baltic Fort Route. The project offered ways of utilising the forts for cultural purposes and developed their renovation plans.
developed their renovation plans.
The 6th fort is a pilot object of Kaunas City Municipal Administration in the project AT FORT.

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Fortresses of Kaunas


Label: Fortress

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