Biržai

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Biržai
Town
Skyline of Biržai
Coat of arms of Biržai
Coat of arms
Biržai is located in Lithuania
Biržai
Biržai
Location of Biržai
Coordinates: 56°12′N 24°45′E / 56.200°N 24.750°E / 56.200; 24.750Coordinates: 56°12′N 24°45′E / 56.200°N 24.750°E / 56.200; 24.750
Country  Lithuania
Ethnographic region Aukštaitija
County Panevezys County flag.png Panevėžys County
Municipality Biržai district municipality
Eldership Biržai city eldership
Capital of Biržai district municipality
Biržai city eldership
Širvėna eldership
First mentioned 1450
Granted city rights 1589
Population (2001)
 • Total 15,262
Time zone EET (UTC+2)
 • Summer (DST) EEST (UTC+3)
Website http://www.birzai.lt/

Biržai (About this sound pronunciation , known also by several alternative names) is a city in northern Lithuania. Biržai is famous for its reconstructed Biržai Castle manor, and the whole region is renowned for its many traditional-recipe beer breweries.

Names[edit]

The name of the town is of Lithuanian origin and is spelled in different forms in other languages: Birsen (German), Birże (Polish), Birzhai (Russian), and בירז/Birz or Birzh (Yiddish).[1]

History[edit]

Privilege granted to Biržai by Władysław IV Vasa

The town's first written mention dates to 1450. The construction of Biržai Castle began in 1586, and the town was granted Magdeburg Rights in 1589.[2] In 1575, as preparation for the castle's construction, a dam was built on the Agluona and Apaščia Rivers at their confluence, and the artificial Lake Širvėna, covering about 40 km2 (15 sq mi), was created. It is the oldest surviving artificial lake in Lithuania. The town's history is closely associated with the Radziwiłł family (Lithuanian: Radvila). Jerzy Radziwiłł was the first noble to settle in the town. Later, after his daughter, Barbara Radziwiłł married the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Sigismund II Augustus in 1547, the power and influence of the family grew immensely. The Radvila family established a Protestant church and school, and the city became a cultural center of the Protestant Reformation in Lithuania.

The local community of Lithuanian Jews, which settled in the Duchy of Biržai at the end of the 16th century, was influential, establishing an interest-free loan society, two major flour mills, and an international linen export business.[1] The Islamic Lipka Tatars performed military, police, and postal duties for the Radziwill family.[3]

Engraving of Biržai Castle in 17th century

During the Wars with Sweden, Biržai Castle was an important point of defence. In 1625, Gustavus Adolphus, king of Sweden, attacked the castle with 8000 soldiers and it was forced to surrender. The castle was left in ruins and was rebuilt, only to be burnt in 1655. In 1662-1669, it was rebuilt again in Renaissance style. In 1701, August II the Strong and Peter I of Russia signed a pact in the castle to unite their forces against Sweden. However, in 1704 the castle was completely destroyed and was left in ruins until its restoration in the 1990s.

Tyszkiewicz Palace in Astravas suburb

The town's population suffered greatly due to wars and religious conflicts between the Protestants and Catholics. In the late 18th century, Biržai lost its city rights. The Radziwiłłs lost their wealth and influence, and Biržai was sold to the Tyszkiewicz family to cover debts in 1811. In 1849-1862, the Tyszkiewicz family built a neoclassic Astravas Manor palace across the lake from the site of the original castle.

In 1869, the town had about 2600 residents. Thirty years later, the population grew to 4400 people.

During World War II, the entire Jewish population of Biržai was annihilated. 15 Jews were shot to death by German soldiers at the Biržai Jewish cemetery in July 1941.[4] On 8 August 1941, Gestapo and Lithuanian collaborators murdered the entire Jewish population of the town, some 2,400 people, by shooting them to death at a mass grave in a forest grove 3 kilometers outside the town.[5] The town was almost completely burned down during the war.

In 1968, the population reached 10000. Currently, there are about 15,000 people living in Biržai.

Geography[edit]

Sinkhole formed in December, 2004

The northern part of the city, along with Lake Širvėna, lies within Biržai Regional Park. About 9,000 sinkholes have been identified in the park,[6] formed abruptly after gypsum in the soil has been dissolved by underground water. Some of these holes are dry, while others have become small ponds or lakes filled with water from the many underground rivers and streams. New holes appear annually. According to local legend, the 20-meter-deep sinkhole known as Karves ola (Cow's Hole) was discovered by a farmer after his cow disappeared. A tunnel at its bottom leads to an underground cave and lake.[7]

Famous people[edit]

Biržai panorama

External links[edit]

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b "BIRZAI: Kovno". International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  2. ^ (Lithuanian)"Istorija". City of Biržai. Retrieved 2009-07-22. 
  3. ^ "SUMMARY - ŽIEMGALA INVESTIGATIONS". Žiemgala Journal. Retrieved 2009-06-30. 
  4. ^ "Mass Murder of the Jews at Biržai Jewish Cemetery". Holocaust Atlas of Lithuania. Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum. Retrieved 27 May 2014. 
  5. ^ "Mass Murder of the Jews from Biržai at the Pakamponys Forest". Holocaust Atlas of Lithuania. Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum. Retrieved 27 May 2014. 
  6. ^ "PROJECT ENVIRONMENT". European Commission. Retrieved 2009-06-16. 
  7. ^ "A visit to holey ground". Baltic Times. Retrieved 2009-06-19.