A TOUR AROUND PAGĖGIAI REGION BY CAR
Route: Šilgaliai – Pagėgiai – Mikytai – Lumpėnai – Bitėnai
Detailed route: Šilgaliai – Pagėgiai - Algimantas Mackus Gymnasium – Algimantas Mackus memorial tablet – a statue dedicated to the connection of Lithuania Minor to Lithuania proper – Pagėgiai railway station and a historical little oak – Birutė Street – Bronė Savickienė memorial tablet - Kristijonas Donelaitis Gymnasium-Palace – Būbliškės – Mikytai – Rural tourism homestead “Senasis Rambynas” – Pagėgiai Municipal Martynas Jankus Museum with an open-air garden of Lithuania Minor pictures – Bitėnai white stork colony – Bitėnai-Užbičiai cemetery – Centre of Visitors – Rambynas sacred hill.
1. Driving down the main street of Šilgaliai*, you will reach road 141 (Šilutė – Jurbarkas). At the cross-roads, turn to the right*, in the direction of Pagėgiai.
*Šilgaliai settlement was made famous by the Trakehners, the oldest breed of sport horses in Europe. During the period of the Kingdom of Prussia in 19th century, the Trakehners were bred in the stables of Šilgaliai estate. The lush floodplain meadows of the Nemunas River became an excellent premise for the flourishing of the Trakehners in Pagėgiai region after the World War II. Nemuno žirgynas (Nemunas Stud), a branch of UAB Lietuvos žirgynas, operating in Šilgaliai estate, continues and fosters the rearing traditions of Trakehner horses today.
Approaching the road 141 (Šilutė – Jurbarkas), on the right, you will be able to admire a red-brick Rukai Evangelical Lutheran church built at the junction of the Eisra and Kamona streams 137 years ago. It is a regular rectangular-shaped church with a 30 m high tower on the eastern side. Under the real estate loan for use contract signed between two religions, the church is used by both Evangelical Lutherans and Catholics. The terms and conditions of the contract provide that the Catholics may use the church for 30 years.
As you drive ~150 m along the road 141 (Šilutė – Jurbarkas) in the direction of Pagėgiai, further away on the left side of the road there stands Stela of “Santara” that cannot be seen from this movement point. After the Kingdom of Prussia became an autonomous part of the German Empire, the Lithuanians, who lived in the Lithuania Minor, no longer had the possibility to study and pray in their own language. After gaining an insight, Lithuanians started to organize themselves into societies in order to resist and maintain the Lithuanian identity. Soon almost every village had its own society. The societies united in 1912 and established Lithuanian Youth Union of Societies called “Santara”. Vydūnas was the first leader of the union. Stela of “Santara” was built in Rukai in 1937 to commemorate 25th Anniversary of Rukai Lithuanian Youth Society “Ąžuolas”. The inscript in the Stela “Santara”: Lithuanian we are born. 1912–1937, Rukai, 06.06.1937”. Stela was demolished during the post-war period and lay abandoned for a long time, but it was reconstructed in 1989.
2. Drive straight ahead for ~8 km along the road 141, until you reach Pagėgiai town*.
*Pagėgiai changed its face during the historical centuries – once a small settlement in northern Scalovia, today it is the centre of the municipality. Pagėgiai and the surrounding areas can boast of unique architecture characteristic of Klaipėda region, as well as of welcoming and hospitable people.
3. As you drive in Pagėgiai, drive straight ahead passing the following objects on the left side of the road: petrol-station “Milda”, headquarters of SBGS Pagėgiai Brigade*, a garden of apple trees, adjacent to the territory of Pagėgiai nursery-kindergarten. As you approach the last object in this section of the road, i.e. hotel-restaurant “Pagėgė”, you will be at the crossroads, where you have to turn to the left to Žemaičių street.
*6 SBGS brigades are in charge of the security of the border of the Republic of Lithuania and control of the persons and vehicles passing across the state border. One of them is SBGS Pagėgiai Brigade established in 1994, guarding 178 km long state border line with Russian Federation; out of this distance, 109 km run by the Nemunas River. Pagėgiai Brigade controls 7 cordons, namely, Kudirkos Naumiestis, Šilgaliai, Rociškiai, Viešvilė, Bardinai, Plaškiai and Vileikiai. Bardinai and Viešvilė cordons operate a universal border surveillance system (UNISAS). The officers of Pagėgiai Brigade improve their qualifications constantly, improve practical skills; in their activities they use modern border surveillance and control devices and means, as well as modern machinery, i.e. speedboats, SUVs. They also have infrastructure that meets the highest standards, and they continually improve border inspection methods according to the requirements of the European Union and Schengen. There is a museum with an exposition of photos, etc. in the headquarters of SBGS Pagėgiai Brigade. The exposition gives you an opportunity to learn about the history of Pagėgiai Municipality Šereitlaukis village that is situated not far from the Lithuania-Russia border.
4. As you drive in Žemaičių Street, on the right you will see a modest Evangelical Lutheran church standing in the shade of the trees. During the Soviet period, it was used for storage of grain. Later on, it was used as a cinema “Komjaunuolis” (Eng. Young Communist/Komsomol). After Lithuania gained its Independence, through the efforts of the local people and foreign evangelicals, the church was reborn to a new life. There is a non-standard three-storey house on the right side of the road. Once it was a seat of the court. The next building is a modernized building of exceptional architecture, housing Pagėgiai Nursing Home. Before that it was a maternity hospital.
5. As you drive ~200 m down Žemaičių Street, turn to the right to the cobblestone Vytauto Street and go straight ahead.
*On the right you will see Pagėgiai Algimantas Mackus Gymnasium ~100 m away from the street. The gymnasium is located in a massive building built in 1935. As you approach the end of the street, on the right you will be able to admire a sculpture by Steponas Juška dedicated to Klaipėda region. The sculpture symbolizes the merger between Lithuania Minor and Lithuania proper. In parallel, on the left side of the street there is a native house (No. 6) of the emigrant poet Algimantas Viktoras Mackus (1932 – 1964), where he spent the first seven years of his life. When he lived in Chicago, the poet worked in a radio station together with Valdas Adamkus, President, of the Republic of Lithuania. Algimantas Viktoras Mackus is still alive in the hearts of the inhabitants of Pagėgiai, and a memorial tablet perpetuates the memory of him.
6. As you drive from Vytauto Street, turn to the left to the main Vilniaus Street. After driving ~50 m, turn to the right to Birutės Street* – pedestrian alley.
*The houses standing in this street are a legacy of exceptional modernist architecture. At the end of the street you can see a railway station built at the end of the 19th century. There is an oak growing in front of the railway station. It is believed that it was planted by Martynas Jankus, who was called a patriarch of Lithuania Minor, and a pilot Feliksas Vaitkus. After repeating the flight of Darius and Girėnas, this pilot landed in Ireland and travelled back to Lithuania by train from Königsberg. Feliksas Vaikus was given a solemn welcome in Pagėgiai.
7. Drive along the other side of Birutės Street. Not reaching the main road 141, at a small crossroads, on the right of which there is a three-storey red brick building of classical modernist architecture (No. 5), turn to the right to Vydūno Street*. Drive ~200 m straight ahead along this street, then drive keeping to the left side ~50 m, until you reach the main road 141.
*In Vydūno Street you will see wooden buildings of traditional folk architecture and Pagėgiai Holy Cross Catholic church. ~20 m to the place, where the street turns to the left, on the left there is a multi-storey building. The wall of this house (No. 13) is decorated with a memorial tablet dedicated to the poet and novelist Bronė Savickienė. However, the most beautiful view in this street is Pagėgiai Kristijonas Donelaitis Gymnasium palace that reminds of a fortress. This building was built in 1930-1932 according to a project of architect Adomas Brakas and architect K. Maksvitaitis. Today it is Pagėgiai Children Foster Home.
8. As you reach the main road 141 (Klaipėda-Jurbarkas), turn to the right and drive straight ahead ~ 4 km towards Mikytai*, until you reach the crossroads.
*As you drive in this direction, on the right, where Mikytai forest begins, you will pass by one of the oldest settlements of the North Scalovia – Būbliškės. The ruins and barn of Būbliškės estate, a mound, a unique park with a pond and alleys, where ~41 species of trees and shrubs grow remained to this day. The objects cannot be seen from the road.
9. As you reach the crossroads at the junction of the road 141 (Klaipėda-Šilutė-Jurbarkas-Kaunas) and road A12 (Šiauliai-Tauragė-Kaliningrad (Königsberg)), turn to the left in the direction of Tauragė.
*On the right side of the road you will pass by a memorial “In memory of the inhabitants of East Prussia, who died of starvation or were killed in 1944-1947” that was built by German society “Edelweiss – Children of Wolf”. “Children of Wolf” are children from East Prussia, who broke away from their parents when running away from the Red Army in the confusion of the World War II, and who later on, in those dramatic circumstances, found refuge in Lithuania or got killed. The remains of “the children of wolf” rest scattered in Mikytai forest.
10. As you drive ~50 m from the crossroads and turn to the right in the direction of Jurbarkas, you will leave from Mikytai* settlement. Drive straight ahead ~4 km in the direction of Lumpėnai. If you are touring in spring, you will be able to admire a unique natural phenomenon – flooded endless meadows of the Nemunas delta.
*Mikytai is the big crossroads of Pagėgiai region, where “Via Hanseatica” and “Nemunas Road” intersect. In the history of Klaipėda region, it is the crossroads that connected Lithuania proper and Klaipėda region by narrow-gauge railway track Tilžė-Pagėgiai-Smalininkai. The purpose of the railway track was to transport cargo freely from Lithuania proper and Klaipėda region during the Nemunas River flood period in spring and in winter, when river navigation would stop. Passenger transportation accounted for a considerable share of turnover. The narrow-gauge railway operated until the end of the World War II.
11. As you drive ~4 km from Mikytai, on the right you will see a road sign “Rambyno kalnas” (Rambynas Hill). Go in the direction of the sign.
*On the left side by the forest you will see a rural tourism homestead “Senasis Rambynas” (The Old Rambynas). The homestead is located in a quiet and beautiful place, former Bardinai school building. The building is authentic: it is a typical German school of that time in Klaipėda region. Drive straight ahead towards Bardinai. On the right side of the road you will pass by reconnaissance towers of SBGS Pagėgiai brigade Bardinai cordon. It is one of the most modern cordons in Lithuania.
12. Drive straight ahead ~4 km, until you reach Bitėnai.
13. As you drive in Bitėnai, drive straight ahead until you see a sign showing the way to Martynas Jankus Museum. Turn to the left and drive 100 m along the narrow road. On the right side you will definitely notice a modest blue little wooden house with white decorations. There is an old apple tree growing by the house. It is a house, where M. Jankus once lived. Opposite the house, you will see a massive white building*. It is Pagėgiai Municipal Martynas Jankus Museum that housed a printing house during the rebirth/renaissance period. This is your third stop.
*Martynas Jankus (1858 – 1946) was a publisher of Lithuania Minor and a social activist, a signatory of the Declaration of Tilsit, a symbol of the national movement of Lithuania Minor. Lithuanian printed word published in Martynas Jankus printing house in Bitėnai during the period of the national rebirth reached the most remote places in Lithuania. He was a man who cherished Lithuanian culture, native language and an ethnic identity. His home in Bitėnai was visited by book smugglers, as well as the leading cultural and political figures of the time. The reconstruction works of the printing house destroyed after the war were started in 1988. Pagėgiai Municipal Martynas Jankus Museum was established in the reconstructed building of the printing house. The exposition of the museum consists of personal belongings of the patriarch himself, photos, Lithuanian books of the time, calendars and newspapers. The flat plate printing machine is still functioning. The most interesting exhibit is a copy of the Eternal Book of Rambynas Hill. The original is stored in the Rare Books Department in the National Martynas Mažvydas Library. The wishes of Martynas Jankus and Vydūnas to the Lithuanian people were printed in this book.
An open air museum/garden of the pictures of Lithuania Minor was established by the museum in 2003. The works of famous Lithuanian painters – Sigutė Ach, Laisvydė Balčiūtė, Andrius Gražys, Kęstutis Grigaliūnas, Linas Liandzbergis, Danas Andriulionis, etc. – are exhibited here. The museum is becoming a spiritual-cultural centre of the region. Various events, en plein air, conferences of artists on the issues of culture, writing, printing of Pagėgiai region are held here. The patriarch’s birthday is celebrated every year, and it became a traditional “Meeting at Martynas Jankus’ Place”. The traditional “Meeting at Martynas Jankus’ Place” held on 10 August 2013 was dedicated to 155th anniversary of Martynas Jankus and 130th anniversary of the newspaper Aušra. The 85th anniversary of the original of The Eternal Book of Rambynas Hill was commemorated during the meeting. A presentation of the works of traditional en plain air of professional painters “History, Culture and Heritage of Lithuania Minor” was held.
14. From the museum, you have to return back* along the same narrow road.
*On your way back, on the left you will see a red brick building, former Bitėnai school. Birutė and Kazimieras Žemguliai, the enlightened people of the region, live in the school. These elderly people collected the exposition about Martynas Jankus and his life for 18 years. After Pagėgiai Municipal Martynas Jankus Museum was established, Birutė and Kazimieras Žemguliai transferred the exposition to the museum.
15. As you reach the road, look to the left and you will see an impressive and rare natural phenomenon in the pine grove by the Nemunas River – Bitėnai white stork colony.
16. Then turn to the right. As you drive straight ahead ~200 m, on the left side of the road you will see a fenced meadow (red and white cows graze here in summer). Here, turn to the left to a narrow road running to the forest by the Nemunas River. When driving along the road, pay attention to a homestead with a nice green well lever on the right.
17. Drive along the road ~1 km, until you come to Bitėnai (Užbičiai) cemetery*.
*Bitėnai (Užbičiai) cemetery is called the pantheon of Lithuania Minor. The cemetery is decorated with metal gates designed by the architects Martynas and Maria Purvinai. The words “I am the ray of infinite light” by Vydūnas are embossed at the top of the gate. The cemetery is a place of eternal rest for Vydūnas, Martynas Jankus, Valteris – Kristupas Banaitis, Jonas Vanagaitis, Elena Grigolaitytė – Kondratavičienė, Aleksandras Žvinakis and other honoured people of Lithuania. An event dedicated to the 20th anniversary of reburial of Martynas Jankus in Bitėnai cemetery was held on 30 May 2013.
18. Drive straight ahead ~300 m to the Centre of Visitors* of Rambynas Regional Park.
*The most important regional historical and natural valuables are exhibited in the centre. Guide services are available here.
19. As you drive ~500 m in the same direction from the Centre of Visitors of Rambynas Regional Park, you will reach a parking lot installed not far from Rambynas sacred hill*. You will have to walk ~50 m to Rambynas sacred hill.
*Rambynas Hill has attracted the eyes of the travellers over the centuries. It is believed that it was one of the most important sacred places of the Scalovian tribe. Today, only the remaining foot of the hill is called Rambynas Hill. A large part of the hill, washed away by the Nemunas River, collapsed. Rambynas Hill was made famous by the so-called patriarch of Lithuania Minor Martynas Jankus, Vydūnas and other cultural figures of Lithuania Minor. Saint John’s Eve festivals were started to be held here during the national rebirth period. A modern altar bearing a deep historical meaning was built when commemorating the 115th anniversary of St. John’s Eve festival on Rambynas Hill. An altar designed by a national award winner sculptor Regimantas Midvikis symbolizes a trinity of the Baltic gods – Patrimpas, Perkūnas and Patulas. Pagėgiai Municipal Cultural Centre organizes a traditional St. John’s Eve festival on Rambynas Hill on 23 June every year “A plait of traditions in a manner of Vydūnas”. In 2013 it was dedicated to commemorate the 145th anniversary of Vydūnas and the 155th anniversary of Martynas Jankus. During the festival, people could admire the concerts given by the choirs, folk ensembles and amateur theatre show from Klaipėda region. It was a meeting of the regional communities. Visitors could also see St. John’s Eve’s rites according to the traditions of Lithuania Minor.
Tour by car or bike “Nemunas Ring”
The route of the tour Rambynas Hill – Centre of Visitors – M. Jankus Museum – Šereiklaukis Hill – Witches’ Fir - Vilkyškiai
As you drive along the road 141 (Šilutė – Jurbarkas), you will reach Mikytai crossroads, where you have to turn in the direction of Jurbarkas. After driving ~ 3- 4 km, you will see a sign showing the direction towards Rambynas Hill.
You will see:
- Rambynas sacred hill (an altar to the trinity of the Baltic gods – Patulas, Perkūnas, Patrimpas, a legend about the origin of Rambynas Hill),
- “The Centre of Visitors” (it is worth visiting, as they show movies about this part of Lithuania Minor in German and English, have new and interesting expositions about local nature, history and culture). The centre also has an exposition of copies of archaeological finds found during the laying/reconstruction of the road to Šereiklaukis hill. The price is just as you have agreed (10 LTL per group).
- Bitėnai cemetery – the pantheon of Lithuania Minor. Vydūnas (Vilius Storosta) and Martynas Jankus, the social figures and activists of Lithuania Minor, are buried/reburied here.
- Pagėgiai Municipal Martynas Jankus Museum (for a fee: 2 LTL per person). An open air garden of pictures of Lithuania Minor in the yard of M. Jankus Museum is free of charge (En plein air event of professional painters takes place in August).
- The meadows of the Nemunas River at Ragainė curve (the towers of Tilsit and Ragainė may be seen on the other side of the river).
- Šereiklaukis Hill (a witness of the battles between Scalovians and the crusaders) is a monument of the Baltic tribe that once lived here. A beautiful view opens up from the top of the hill.
- Witches’ Fir is a natural monument: 17-trunk tree, 32.5 m high.
- Vilkyškiai is a monument of urbanism. The town preserved the street layout typical of the 16th century and architecture characteristic of Klaipėda region.