Biržai Castle

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Biržai Castle History

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 To protect his Biržai dominion and the northern border of Lithuania, Duke Kristupas Radvila (1547-1603) built a modern fortress. Work started on it in 1575 by building a dam at the confluence of the Apašcia and Agluona rivers. In 1586-1589, they raised the embankments, built a representational palace, an Evangelist Reformist church, an arsenal, grain stores and warehouses, barracks and other buildings. The fortress and the town were a single defence complex. The fortress was finished in 1589.

 The Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Zigmantas Vaza and later his descendents would not refute their claims to the Swedish throne, which meant war for Lithuania and Poland. The war with Sweden lasted many decades (1600-1635 and 1655-1660) and in 1625 the Swedes turned Biržai Castle into ruins.

 Kristupas Radvila II initiated a considerable reconstruction of the fortress in Biržai, with work starting in 1637. This wasn’t just a restoration; the fortifications were changed from Italian to Dutch, which meant that the earth bastions and ramparts surrounding the fortress became its main features. Reconstruction also involved the territory of the castle and residential palace.

 In 1640, Biržai was inherited by the future grand hetman of Lithuania, son of Kristupas II, Jonušas Radvila (1612-1655), who continued the reconstruction of the castle.

 In autumn 1655, the Biržai fortress changed hands again and became Swedish. In 1659, Jonušas Radvila’s cousin, Duke Boguslavas Radvila (1620-1669) made brought the castle back into the hands of the Radvila family. Despite living in Karaliauciai (Konigsberg), he took care to renew the castle’s reconstruction, which had been hindered by the wars. In 1662, a general plan of the fortress was drawn up. However, the reconstruction was stopped in 1669 by the duke’s death. Boguslavas Radvila was the last male offspring of the Biržai-Dubingiai branch of the Radvila family. According to his will, the fortress went to Boguslavas’ daughter Liudvika Karolina (1667-1695). She renewed the reconstruction process in 1671 and work continued until 1682. This fortress was considerably larger than the first one. The palace, fortifications and 21 buildings made it a huge defensive complex.

 On 26 February 1701, during the Great Northern War (1700-1721), Russian Tsar Peter I and King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Augustas II signed a treaty against the Swedes in Biržai. In August that same year, the Swedes occupied Biržai and kept it until 1703.

 On 14 September 1704, the army of Swedish General A. L. Lewenhaupt took over the fortress once again. The Swedes blew up the palace and the fortress buildings before retreating.


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