Considered the most Lithuanian of the three major cities in contemporary Lithuania, Kaunas has always played a pivotal role in the country’s history. The following is a succinct overview of its most noteworthy ups and downs.
5th century BC
Archaeological excavations suggest people were already living in, or at least passing through, the area now known as Kaunas.
In 1140 the Arabic cartographer Al Idrisis marks Kaunas on a map as Quaynu, Qanys or Kabnu. A small fort is built on the site of the present Kaunas Castle.
Kaunas is first mentioned in a 1361 Crusader chronicle, described as a famous fortress in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The year is considered to be the city’s year of birth.
Kaunas acquires Magdeburg Rights in 1408. In 1441 the Hanseatic League establishes a post in Kaunas. The post remains until 1532.
With the 1569 Union of Lublin, Poland and Lithuania form a Commonwealth. Kaunas grows with the introduction of its first school and public hospital.
Continuous warfare with Russia and Sweden stifles economic development. Tsar Alexis’ armies burn Kaunas to the ground in 1655. A plague claims many of the city’s inhabitants two years later.
Swedish troops seize the city in 1701. Two large fires in 1731 and 1732 destroy many of the city’s buildings. In 1795 Kaunas is absorbed into tsarist Russia.
In 1812 Napoleon begins his fateful assault on the Russian Empire from a hill above Kaunas.
On February 16, 1918 the Taryba (Lithuanian Council) proclaims independence. On October 9, 1920 Poland breaks the controversial Suwałki Agreement and annexes the Vilnius region. As a result, Kaunas is unexpectedly promoted to the status of provisional Lithuanian capital and enters a short-lived Golden Age. The city becomes a vibrant centre for cabaret singers, writers and architects. Dozens of Functionalistinspired buildings are erected, of which many remain to this day. Independence ends with the signing of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Lithuania is subjected to Soviet and Nazi occupation in turn. The Holocaust in Lithuania begins in June 1941, with the murder of Jews in Kaunas beginning a few days before the arrival of the invading Germans. The city’s Jews are forced into the notorious Kaunas (Kovno) Ghetto and a massive forced labour and extermination campaign is begun. The city’s Ninth Fort becomes a mass extermination camp, with over 30,000 Jews from Kaunas and places as far away as France executed at the site. Lithuania is reincorporated into the Soviet Union on July 7, 1944 and Kaunas becomes an important centre for technical education, medical research, transportation and manufacturing. For most of the Soviet period, Kaunas is a Closed City. Kaunas becomes a free city along with the rest of the country when Lithuania declares independence from the Soviet Union on March 11, 1990.
2011 Lithuania commemorates the centenary of the death of the painter and composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis.
Kaunas commemorates the bicentenary of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.
Lithuania takes over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for a six month period between July 1 and December 31.
May 2014 Dalia Grybauskaitė is re-elected president of Lithuania.
Lithuania adopts the Euro.
February 16 Lithuania stages huge celebrations to mark 100 years since the restoration of its independence in 1918.