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Rambynas - the last remaining sacred place of Balts. It is a hill on the right bank of the Neman River in western Lithuania (Tauragė County, Pagėgiai Municipality). Across the river is Russian exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast. The hill belongs to the territory of Rambynas Regional Park, Lithuania. The nearby cities include Pagėgiai and Tauragė in Lithuanian Republic and Neman (Ragainė) and Sovetsk (Tilžė) in Kaliningrad Oblast.
The hill is thought to have been the place of an ancient Skalvian fort, destroyed by the Teutonic Knights in 1276. Later it was used for the religious ceremonies of pagan Lithuanians. An old pagan altar stood atop the hill until the early 19th century, when the top of the hill was washed out by the Neman. In the 20th century the area was popularized by Vydūnas, who organized concerts of Lithuanian choirs. A number of legends concerning the Rambynas Hill exist. The place is still popular for Lithuanian festivals. Saint Jonas' Festival (Rasos) is celebrated on this hill annually.
A large part of this hill is already washed out by the Neman River. Major conservation works were finished in 2003 to preserve it from further erosion. Now Rambynas is about 46 metres above sea level.
Rambynas - A Lithuanian shrine which will always be the arch of the Lithuanian nation. You won’t be beaten by any storms if your own people won’t renounce you. Rambynas will always be a holy place, as long as there is at least one Lithuanian in the world.
The holy mountain is wrapped in many legends and stories. According to them, the mountain has been blessed and protected by the god of Thunder “Perkūnas”and the Goddess “Laima“. In the middle Ages, Crusaders attacked the land thrusting their faith onto the local people and attempting to destroy the old beliefs of the Lithuanian people in every possible way. Although the Lithuanians adopted the Christian faith, secretly continuing to worship the ancient gods of their forefathers, they made offerings at the great altar stone of Thunder, drank and washed themselves with the holy water on the mountain to remain healthy. They state that "Happiness will never leave this region until the stone will stand and the mountain after him. And if any strangers hand dares to touch this stone, the mountain will vanish into the depths of the Nemunas river." Along with the Crusaders, strangers who did not know of the land, the gods and their shrines arrived. An attempt was made to destroy the holy stone. The Oracle's prophecy was fulfilled: A disaster will strike all of the land if the people dare to move the stone. Once the shrine lost its guardians, parts of Rambynas repeatedly fell into the Nemunas river and people suffered wars and plagues for many years.
The large sacrificial stone is mentioned in many historical sources. It is known that the stone’s top was flat, and the stone’s circumference - 15 cubits. (Approx. 9.82 meters - Note: Cubit measurement historically differs from one age to another).
Legend says that a German named Schwartz from the Bardinai village was searching for a millstone for his mills and split the sacred altar stone. Since that time, the incantation has come true – the mountain has started to go downhill to the Nemunas river. In 1811 the stone was blown up into small pieces, so to this day it has not survived. It is known that one of the fragments before the Second World War was stored in the museum of Königsberg.
In 1867 Otto Glagau, an inquisitive journalist from Berlin, traveled through East Prussia and the Curonian Spit. After he visited Rambynas he heard many stories about its history and the pagan rites performed there. He wrote: "Even now Rambynas is a holy mountain: old and young climb to it with deep respect and avoid the mountain with fear at the darkness of night."
Also, Laima’s are still alive in the hearts of Lietuvininkai - Laima does not dress a baby's cot sheets when a baby is born, she does not call in Rambynas in the face of unexpected danger, but people still believe her to be the goddess of fortune and destiny. In the event of an unexpected disaster, Lietuvininkai, all of which are strict fatalists, even today say: "It is due to Laima", or in trying to gain something more important, say: "I will succeed with Laima!".
14 thousand years ago, after the last glaciers receded in the western part of Lithuania, the first humans began to settle the land, they were nomadic reindeer hunters. The convenient geographical location – i.e. the proximity of the Nemunas and Jūra rivers - has led tribes of Balts to an intense movement and mix of cultures in the area.
In the 1st-6th centuries A.D. an ethnic group called Skalvians formed in the area, they stood out to neighbouring tribes due to their unique culture and customs. It is believed that Rambynas was the spiritual centre for all Skalvians . Archaeological findings show unique richness from neighbouring tribes. This is obviously due to life near the Nemunas river, which was the main trading route.
By the 13th century Teutonic aggression toward the local tribes became commonplace. The Skalvians maintained close relations with Lithuania. Later, due to unequal power, this Baltic tribe was forced to surrender to the Teutonic Order and eventually merged with the Prussian and Lithuania tribes which lived nearby. It is believed that Ramigės Castle stood on Rambynas hill and by 1276, was destroyed by the Crusaders .
In 1928, to celebrate ten years of Lithuanian Independence, Marynas Jankus and Juozas Adomaitis (activists of Lithuania Minor) decided to rebuild an altar on Rambynas. In 1939 Lithuania Minor was invaded by the Germans and the altar was demolished again. Today, the altar stone stands on mountain which was partially re-built during the Soviet era and in addition, the tip of altar was found in the Nemunas River not so long ago.
During the Middle Ages Rambynas was much higher, on it stood Skalvians Castle Ramigė (Ramija). In 1275 the castle was occupied by Dietrich’s Crusaders from the Sambian fort. The castle was destroyed, some of its defenders captured, others - killed. Today, what we call Rambynas is only a small foot-deep crater left from a one large castle mound. A large part of Rambynas was washed away and in 1835 part of the mount collapsed to the Nemunas River. The height of the former mount is not exactly known, but one of the 1867 descriptions indicate that Rambynas has been only 150 feet tall. So we can assume that after the first fall of the mountain in 1835 his height was 47 metres. Another large side collapse occurred in July 1878 and also in the summer of 1926. Today, the height of Rambynas from the level of Nemunas River is 40 metres.
Rambynas Regional Park was established in 1992 and the mount was added to the list of protected heritage sites as a mythological object with an area of 4,520 hectares. In 2002 works began on the eroded northwestern slope of the mountain. In the same year, mountain environmental and archaeological research was carried out. Visitor facilities, slope protection, an oak staircase fitted with gaskets and viewing sites were completed in 2003. Now the mountain attracts visitors from far and wide to experience the ancient traditions of the local people.
Various festivals have been celebrated on Rambynas such as “Rasos” (Old Lithuanian summer solstice), now identified with St. John’s Festival (Joninės). It is believed that the summer solstice has been celebrated since ancient times. According to Prana Dundulienė, this festival was formed in early tribal times. “Rasos” festival, in written media, is first mentioned in 1372. Old Lithuanian customs proved to be tenacious and persisted until the nineteenth century. During 1895 St. John's festival on Rambynas hill was mentioned by the “Birutė” Society, which was one of the oldest Lithuanian cultural organizations in Lithuania Minor. The society published books in the Lithuanian language, established a bookstore and a museum of antiques. They also delivered lectures to the nation about its past and set up reunions to be celebrated in Lithuania.
German writer Johanesas Bobrovskis in 1966, described old time celebrations on Rambynas in his novel “Lietuviški fortepijonai”. Due to the initiative of Marynas Jankus the book "Eternal book of Rambynas” started to record entries of all of the honoured guests to arrive to St. John’s (Joninės) festivities, including the 1929 League of Nations delegation led by Japanese J. Sugimura.
Every year on the 23rd of June, people come to Rambynas in order to celebrate ancient traditions.
- Jankevičiūtė, Giedrė (2006). Lietuva (in Lithuanian). R. Paknio leidykla. p. 354. ISBN 9986-830-97-4.
- Rambynas Regional Park
- (Lithuanian) Some pictures
- (Polish) Rombinus in the Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland, volume IX (Poźajście — Ruksze) 1888