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Merkinė Catholic Church
Merkinė Catholic Church
Coat of arms of Merkinė
Coat of arms
Merkinė is located in Lithuania
Location of Merkinė
Coordinates: 54°09′50″N 24°11′10″E / 54.16389°N 24.18611°E / 54.16389; 24.18611Coordinates: 54°09′50″N 24°11′10″E / 54.16389°N 24.18611°E / 54.16389; 24.18611
Country Lithuania
Ethnographic regionDzūkija
CountyAlytus County COA.png Alytus County
MunicipalityVarėna district municipality
EldershipMerkinė eldership
Capital ofMerkinė eldership
First mentioned1359
Received city rights1569
 • Total1,228
Time zoneUTC+2 (EET)
 • Summer (DST)UTC+3 (EEST)

Merkinė is a town in the Dzūkija National Park in Lithuania, located at the confluence of the Merkys, Stangė and Nemunas rivers. Merkinė is one of the oldest settlements in Lithuania. First settlers inhabited the confluence of Merkys and Nemunas in 9th-10th century BC, at the end of Paleolithic. On top of Merkinė hill-fort stood one of the most important Lithuanian castles, built in 13th century, which guarded against invasions of Teutonic Order. Merkinė was a part of strategic triangle - Kaunas - Vilnius - Merkinė, protected with the chains of hillforts and castles. The center of Merkinė town is a state-protected urbanistic monument. Merkinė is an important point of Lithuania's domestic tourism.


The name of the town originates from the river, Merkys, which originates from merkti, an appellative word in the Lithuanian language meaning to soak.[1]

The names of the town as it is called or was formerly called in other languages spoken by non-Lithuanian ethnic groups which have lived or live in or around the town include: Polish: Merecz; Russian: Меречь, Merech'; Yiddish: מערעטש‎, Meretch.


Merkinė mound

Merkinė castle first mentioned in written sources in 1359, in Novgorod annuals. Wooden Merkinė castle became important part of Nemunas defence line castles against Teutonic Order. Castle of Merkinė was burned many times, but was rebuilt again. In 1377, 1394, 1403 Teutonic Order attacked Merkinė castle, raiding and plundering local settlements.

Grand Duke of Lithuania and later King of Poland, Jogaila, ensured city rights for Vilnius in 1387, this document was written in Merkinė castle. First church was built in 1387-1392 in Merkinė castle by Vytautas the Great and Jogaila. After the Battle of Grunwald the town started to grow rapidly. Until receiving Magdeburg rights, several taxation agencies of goods operated here. They were notably the source of rapid growth and increased trade.

In 1569 December 7, city was granted the Magdeburg rights from the monarch of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Towards the end of 16th century a town hall was built in the centre of the market square and in first half of 17th century a Dominican church and monastery were constructed. Merkinė flourished in 16th-17th centuries – based on the crossroads of important water and land roads, and receiving royal privileges, the town center has become brickwork. The town had three churches, two monasteries and a river port. In historic documents warehouses are mentioned by the river Nemunas, also Merkinė citizens' possessed Lithuanian type of river trade ships – vytinės.

The town was known to be one of the favorite holiday places for the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, Władysław IV Vasa, who also died here in 1648.

Jewish history[edit]

Bend of Nemunas River in Merkinė

The earliest mention of Jews in Merkinė is dated 1539, when a dispute was adjudicated (July 8) between a Jew named Konyuk and a Christian in regard to a debt of the former. In 1551 the Jews of Merkinė were named among those of fourteen other towns to be exempted from the special tax levied upon all inhabitants, with the exception of villagers and Jews, at the Lithuanian diet (Seimas) held in that year on November 27 at Vilnius.

In 1897 Jews made up 73% of the population of the town, and the community numbered 1,900.[2] From the 19th century through the period of Lithuanian independence, the Jewish community was very established and had numerous community organizations and institutions.[2] Following World War I, there was a very active Zionist movement and multiple Zionist organizations had offices in the town.[2]

Merkinė produced in the 19th century some noted Hebrew scholars, as Mordecai Melzer, Isaac Magolis (d. New York 1887), and his son Max Margolis, of the University of California.[3]

On September 10, 1941, 854 Jews from Merkinė, as well as from Liepalingis, Liškiava, and Seirijai were allegedly shot in a grove near the Jewish cemetery[4] by German Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators. A mass grave of Jews killed during the Nazi occupation is in the forest behind the town.


  1. ^ Zinkevičius, Zigmas (2007). Senosios Lietuvos valstybės vardynas. Vilnius: Science and Encyclopaedia Publishing Institute. p. 48. ISBN 5-420-01606-0.
  2. ^ a b c "The Jewish Community of Merkine". The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot.
  3. ^  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerman Rosenthal and A. S. Waldstein (1901–1906). "Merech". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
  4. ^ "Holocaust Atlas of Lithuania". Retrieved 2019-08-22.

External links[edit]