Not every lover of history can immediately identify the link between dukes Gedemin, Olgerd, Jagailo, khans Tokhtamysh and Devlet Hajji Giray, the English Earl of Northumberland and the head of the 1794 rebellion — Tadeusz Kościuszko. In fact, all are united by Medieval Lida Castle, whose walls witnessed outstanding deeds. The 14th–15th century pearl was built on the order of Duke Gedemin (who ruled over the Grand Duchy of Lithuania). In 1323, he ordered the stone castle be built to withstand crusader attacks (a common problem of the time).
The site is unique and well chosen, being located on an artificial sand and gravel island where the small River Kamenka meets the Lidea. A European defensive castle was taken as its model, adapted to local traditions and conditions. Eventually, four trapeze lined walls were erected on the island, the largest facing north — where attacks were most common. To ensure maximum security, a deep moat was dug in front, while towers were built in two corners and two walls had gates. The small gates (‘fortka’) were used daily, while the large ones were used only for solemn entrances. According to historical documents, the lower floor of the castle hosted a jail, with a court and archive located above it. Living quarters were located on the upper floors and several wells were found in the yard.
The grand building survived for several centuries, despite being attacked many times. However, in 1702, a Swedish army used explosives on its towers and the castle gradually fell into neglect. The last time it was used for its intended purpose was during the 1794 rebellion, led by Tadeusz Kościuszko; later, it was empty for a long time.
In the 20th century, there were attempts to restore the caste — with certain success. At present, this true pearl of history in the centre of Lida is used as a museum and a venue for concerts and festivals. The wedding of Duke Jagailo is re-enacted by Lida Historical Art Museum staff. According to chronicles, he married several times, with two wedding ceremonies taking place in Lida Castle. Tourists love watching the performance. The Castle is set to offer even more delights once its reconstruction is complete.
“The castle’s restoration is envisaged by the state programme for the reconstruction of historical monuments and architecture,” explains the Deputy Chairman of Lida District Executive Committee, Anton Glavnitsky. “The architectural project is being realised at the Minskproekt Institute. We hope the renewed castle will host a museum of Medieval traditions and art, a knights’ club, a cafй and exhibitions. A true museum complex is likely to appear here.”
Natalia Branets, the chief architect and scientific head of the project, adds, “We’ve approached the project using all available scientific and historical data. Sadly, we have few concrete documents. However, we have decided to restore the castle in 15th century style. Archaeological findings indicate that backyard buildings were located here and, accordingly, we shall construct a chastelain’s house, a blacksmith’s shop, barracks, stables, galleries and two ancient wells. We also plan to reconstruct the existing tower and build another.”
Famous Belarusian artist Napoleon Orda’s sketches are a help to architects. However, these do not always coincide with archaeological findings. The artist was known as an inventor, often depicting nonexistent objects. Engravings of ancient Grodno also help — enabling specialists to feel and recreate the style of the age.