Kaunas, Pol. Kowno, Rus. Kovno, city (1993 pop. 429,000), in Lithuania, on the Neman River. It is a river port and an industrial center with industries producing machinery, chemicals, plastics, and textiles. Over 85% of the population is Lithuanian. Probably founded as a fortress at the end of the 10th cent., Kaunas was a medieval trading center and a Lithuanian stronghold against the Teutonic Knights. It passed to a united Lithuanian-Polish state in 1569 and to Russia in the third partition of Poland (1795). Although strongly fortified by the Russians, it was captured (1915) by the Germans in World War I. From 1918 to 1940, Kaunas was the provisional capital of Lithuania—Vilnius (which Lithuania claimed as its rightful capital) being held by Poland until 1939. Kaunas was occupied by German forces from 1941 to 1944. During the German occupation the Jews of Kaunas (about 30% of the prewar population) were virtually exterminated. Before evacuating at the approach of Soviet troops the Germans destroyed much of the city. Nearby are a 16th-century town hall, the ruins of a castle (14th-15th cent.), the Vytautus church (15th cent.), and a noted 17th-century monastery. The city has a university (founded 1922), a polytechnical institute (founded 1950), a medical institute (founded 1951), and several museums.

Kaunas is the second largest city in Lithuania and a former temporary capital. It is served by the freeways Via Baltica (E67) and Vilnius-Klaipėda (A1). Kaunas is located at the confluence of the two largest Lithuanian rivers, the Nemunas and the Neris, and near the Kaunas Reservoir, the largest body of water entirely in Lithuania.


The city's name is of Lithuanian origins and most likely derives from a personal name.

Before Lithuania regained independence, the city was generally known in English as Kovno, the traditional Slavicized form of its name; the Polish name is Kowno. The traditional Russian name is Ковно, although Каунас has been used since 1940. The Yiddish name is Kovne (קאָװנע), while its names in German include Kaunas and Kauen.

Coat of arms

In June 30, 1993 the historical coat of arms of Kaunas city was established by a special presidential decree. The coat of arms features a white aurochs with a golden cross between his horns, set against a deep red background. The aurochs is the original heraldic symbol of the city since 1400. The current emblem was the result of much study and discussion on the part of the Lithuanian Heraldry Commission, and realized by the artist Raimondas Miknevičius. An aurochs has replaced a wisent, depicted in the Soviet era emblem, used since 1969.


Grand Duchy of Lithuania

On the site of the current Kaunas old town at the confluence of two large rivers, a settlement had been established by the tenth century AD. It is believed that the town was founded in 1030, but it is first mentioned in written sources in 1361. In the thirteenth century, a stone wall was built as protection from constant raids by the Teutonic Knights. In 1362, the town was captured by the Teutonic Knights, who destroyed the Kaunas Castle. The castle was rebuilt at the beginning of the 15th century.

In 1408 the town was granted Magdeburg Rights by Vytautas the Great and became a center of Kaunas Powiat in Trakai Voivodeship in 1413. Kaunas then began to gain prominence, since it was at an intersection of trade routes and a river port. In 1441 Kaunas joined the Hanseatic League, and Hansa merchant offices were opened. By the 16th century, Kaunas had a public school, a hospital, and a drugstore, and was one of the best-formed towns in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

In 1665, the Russian army attacked the city several times, and in 1701 the city was occupied by the Swedish army. The Black Death struck the area in 1657 and 1708, and fires destroyed parts of the city in 1731 and 1732.

Russian Empire

After the final partition of the Polish-Lithuanian state in 1795, the city was occupied by the Russian Empire and became a part of Vilna Governorate. During the French invasion of Russia in 1812, the Grand Army of Napoleon passed through Kaunas twice, devastating the city both times.

After the Partitions, Kaunas was one of the centres of the November Uprising (1830-1831) and the January Uprising (1863-1864). To suppress the local population, the Russian authorities subsequently placed a huge military garrison in the town. The Russian military fortifications from that time still survive throughout the town.

Kovno Governorate with a center in Kovno (Kaunas) was formed in 1843. In 1862 a railway connecting the Russian Empire and Germany was constructed, making Kaunas a significant railway hub with one of the first railway tunnels in the Empire, completed in 1861. In 1898 the first power plant started operating.

Inter-war Lithuania

After Vilnius was occupied by the Russian Bolsheviks in 1919, the government of the Republic of Lithuania established its main base here. Later, when Vilnius was seized by Poland, Kaunas became the interim capital of the Lithuanian government, a position it held until 1939, when Poland was partitioned between Nazi Germany and the USSR. Stalin returned Vilnius to Lithuania, and the process of moving the capital was initiated. Before it was complete, however, the whole country was occupied by the Soviet Union.

Between the World Wars industry prospered in Kaunas; it was at the time the largest city in Lithuania. Under direction of the mayor Jonas Vileišis (1921-1931) Kaunas grew rapidly and was extensively modernised. A water and wastewater system, costing over 15 million Lithuanian litas, was put in place; the city expanded from 18 square kilometers to 40; more than 2,500 buildings were built, including three modern bridges over the Neris and Nemunas rivers. All the city streets were paved, horse-drawn transportation was replaced with modern bus lines, new suburbs were planned and built (Žaliakalnis neighborhood in particular), new parks and squares were established. The foundations for a social security system were laid, three new schools were built, and new public libraries, including the Vincas Kudirka library, were established. Vileišis maintained many contacts in other European cities, and as a result Kaunas was an active participant in European urban life.

During the inter-war period Kaunas had a Jewish population of 35,000-40,000, about one-fourth of the city's total population . Jews were concentrated in the city's commercial, artisan, and professional sectors. Kaunas was also a center of Jewish learning. The yeshiva in Slobodka (Vilijampolė) was one of Europe's most prestigious institutions of higher Jewish learning. Kaunas had a rich and varied Jewish culture. The city had almost 100 Jewish organizations, 40 synagogues, many Yiddish schools, 4 Hebrew high schools, a Jewish hospital, and scores of Jewish-owned businesses. It was also an important Zionist center.

Soviet occupation

In 1940 Kaunas was annexed by the Soviet Union as part of the Lithuanian SSR. 14 June 1941 marked the beginning of mass arrests, executions and deportations of citizens to Siberia and other parts of Russia. After the outbreak of German invasion into USSR on 23 June an uprising began in Kaunas and short-lived period of independence was proclaimed in Kaunas on June 23, 1941.

The Tragedy of Kaunas' Jews

Jewish life in Kaunas was first disrupted when the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania in June 1940. The occupation was accompanied by arrests, confiscations, and the elimination of all free institutions. Jewish community organizations disappeared almost overnight. Soviet authorities confiscated the property of many Jews while hundreds were exiled to Siberia. Meanwhile, the Lithuanian Activist Front, founded by Lithuanian nationalist émigrés in Berlin, disseminated anti-semitic literature in Lithuania. Among other themes, the literature blamed Jews for the Soviet occupation.

Following Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Soviet forces fled Kaunas. Immediately before and following the German occupation of the city on June 25, the anti-Communist German organized insurgents began to attack Jews, blaming them for Soviet repressions, especially along Jurbarko and Kriščiukaičio streets. They murdered hundreds of Jews and took dozens more Jews to the Lietūkis garage, in the city center, and killed them there.

The Nazis eventually established the Kaunas Ghetto, which by the end of the war would be nearly completely liquidated.

Modern times

After World War II Kaunas became the main industrial city of Lithuania – it produced about a quarter of Lithuania's industrial output.

After the proclamation of Lithuanian independence in 1991, Soviet attempts to suppress the rebellion focused on the Sitkūnai Radio Station, which were a critical part of the remaining free media. They were defended by the citizenry of Kaunas.


Historical population

Year Inhabitants
1796 8,500
1813 3,000
1825 5,000
1840 8,500
1860 23,300
1897 71,000
1923 92,000
1940 154,000
1959 214,000
1966 275,000
1989 418,087
2001 378,943
2004 366,652
2005 361,274

Ethnic composition

With almost 93 percent of its citizens being ethnic Lithuanians, Kaunas is one of the most Lithuanian cities in the country. Kaunas has a higher proportion of ethnic Lithuanians than Vilnius, and more ethnic Lithuanians than Riga has ethnic Latvians or Tallinn has ethnic Estonians.

Ethnic composition in 2001, out of a total of 378,943:

  1. Lithuanians 352,051
  2. Russians 16,622
  3. Ukrainians 1,906
  4. Poles 1,600
  5. Other 6,764

Municipality council

Kaunas city municipality council is the governing body of the Kaunas city municipality. It is responsible for municipality laws. The council is composed of 41 member elected for four-year terms.

The council is the member of The Association of Local Authorities in Lithuania.


  • 1990–1991 – Vidmantas Adomonis
  • 1991–1992 – Vilimas Čiurinskas
  • 1992–1995 – Arimantas Račkauskas
  • 1995 – Rimantas Tumosa
  • 1995–1997 – Vladas Katkevičius
  • 1997 – Alfonsas Andriuškevičius
  • 1997–2000 – Henrikas Tamulis
  • 2000 – Vytautas Šustauskas
  • 2000 – Gediminas Budnikas
  • 2001–2002 – Erikas Tamašauskas
  • 2002–2003 – Giedrius Donatas Ašmys
  • 2003–2007 – Arvydas Garbaravičius
  • since 2007 – Andrius Kupčinskas


Administrative divisions

Kaunas is divided into 11 elderates



Points of interest

Central Kaunas is defined by two pedestrian streets: the 2-km-long Laisvės alėja (Liberty Avenue), a central street of the city, lined by linden trees, and its continuation, Vilnius Street, leading to the oldest part of Kaunas. Some of the most prominent features in Kaunas include:


Kaunas is often called a city of museums, because of the abundance and variety of them. The museums in Kaunas include:

  • the War Museum of Vytautas the Great;
  • the M. K. Čiurlionis State Art Museum, commemorating the work of the early 20th century avant-garde artist who sought to combine painting and music into a single artistic medium;
  • a gallery of works collected by Mykolas Žilinskas at the Kaunas Art Gallery;
  • the Žmuidzinavičius Museum (best known as the Devils' Museum), which houses a collection of more than two thousand sculptures and carvings of devils from all over the world, most of them of folk provenance. Of particular interest are the Hitler and Stalin devils, together doing the dance of death over a playground littered with human bones;
  • Aviation Museum;
  • Ceramics Museum in the Town Hall of Kaunas;
  • Communications History Museum;
  • Kaunas Picture Gallery, with a little exhibition about George Maciunas, founding member of the Fluxus-movement, born in Kaunas;
  • Lithuanian Sports Museum;
  • Medicine and Pharmacy Museum;
  • Historical Presidential Palace, displaying exhibits from the interwar period
  • Museum For The Blind;
  • Museum of Exiles and Political Prisoners;
  • Museum of Folk Music and Instruments;
  • Tadas Ivanauskas Zoological Museum.


Public art

A great deal of sculptuary is on display in the public areas of Kaunas.


Kaunas has 16 trolleybus routes, 49 bus routes (Map), a wide shared taxi carrier network - see Kaunas Public Transport -, and it is also one of the major river ports in the Baltic States. The city is located in the centre of Lithuania, making it highly significant from a logistical point of view. Kaunas International Airport (KUN) is capable of handling 300,000 passengers and 100,000 tonnes of cargo per year. There is also the smaller S. Darius and S. Girėnas Airport south of town.


Since Kaunas is located on confluence of two rivers in the city are 34 bridges.


Kaunas is home to the Žalgiris basketball club, one of Europe's strongest, which plays home matches in Kaunas Sports Hall. The city is also the birthplace or childhood home of many of the country's top basketball stars, among them Arvydas Sabonis, Šarūnas Marčiulionis, Žydrūnas Ilgauskas, Linas Kleiza and Šarūnas Jasikevičius. The main stadium of the city is S.Dariaus ir S.Girėno Sporto Centras (total capacity 9,000), which is also the Lithuanian soccer club FBK Kaunas's and Lithuanian national football team home stadium.


Kaunas is often called a city of students; there are about 50,000 students enrolled in its universities.

Annual events

Notable residents


Footnotes and references


This article incorporates text from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and has been released under the GFDL.

External links

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