You just never know what is to be found on the excursions when you stop at a port……..I look forward to being in a new country every morning and because we plan these vacations well over a year in advance I can’t always remember the specifics of the excursions we have chosen! So, it’s always a surprise! And there is something for everyone! The ship is large, but with only five hundred passengers it makes the entire experience so pleasant…… Now if we can just get past the quarantines and viruses! I am already looking forward to our next trip!
But, here we are today ……We have arrived in Klaipėda, Lithuania……What is on our excursion today? After driving about an hour through the sparse countryside, we come to a small parking area along a beautiful, tree lined, cottage-setting avenue of the resort town of Palanga. Our guide is preparing us for the long walk through the gardens of the Palangos Birutės Park. The sign shows us a little about the family that owned the estate, and the landscape architect and botanist, who designed the gardens. The sign also wishes us good repose, pleasant impressions and fun! How can we go wrong here? This is exactly my kind of fun……..a beautiful house and gardens! In addition, this estate also features the largest Amber Museum in the Baltics! Let’s start walking!
During the invasion of Russia by Napoleon in 1812, Michal Tyszkiewicz, a noble of a Polish-Lithuanian family, put together an army of men to assist Napoleon with his efforts in Russia. In return, his hopes were to re-establish the old Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Tyzkiewicz became ill and was unable to fight, but his men did well and Tyszkiewicz was rewarded handsomely with land in Lithuania. By 1824 Palanga was purchased and Józef Tyszkiewicz, the grandson, built a pier for the transport of people and bricks to develop a resort at Palanga. By 1892 Palanga was considered one of the best resort areas for recreation and sport. Feliks Tyszkiewicz commissioned the construction of the neo-classical Tiškevičiai Palace, and brought in the famous German architect Franz Scwechten in 1897, to build it. Then the French landscape architect Édouard André designed a large park all around the palace, from the years 1897 to 1907. Great concerts and parties were held here for the elite, and many contrasting views of the the times were shared. Several of the free thinkers and book smugglers were rounded up at Polanga and transported to Siberia in the end. Before World War II, the Tyszkiewicz family fled their palace and escaped to Canada.
Here is a map of the grounds and you can see it is a big place and we have quite the hike of the grounds (we are stating at that red x on the map) before we get to the palace, so let’s get a move on! It’s a beautiful day for a walk!
This is the street view of the entrance to the park.
And, here is the small gatekeeper’s cottage at the entrance. I could have just stayed here, I liked this little spot so much!
But, I am not one to pass on an invitation to a garden or the manor, so we’ll start our walk!
Lithuania is a gold mine when it comes to folk tales…….. we first approach the sculpture of Eglé, the Queen of Serpents, one of the best-known Lithuanian fairy tales with many references to Baltic mythology. This is the short version as I remember it.
After bathing in the sea with her two sisters, a young maiden named Eglé, finds a grass snake in the sleeve of her dress. Speaking in a human voice, the grass snake agrees to go away only after Eglé pledges herself to him in exchange for leaving her clothes. Eglé, shocked, upset and hesitant, but in a hurry to get rid of the snake, agrees to marry the snake. She goes home thinking, “how can I marry a snake?” After three days, thousands of grass snakes arrive at the yard of her parents house and have come to claim Eglé as their master’s bride and future queen. They are tricked by the parents three times. First, they give a goose, then a sheep and then a cow in offer, instead of the bride to the legion of snakes. As the snakes set out each time with their prize, a cuccoo, who is sitting in the birch tree, warns the snakes that they have been deceived. Enraged the grass snakes return for a final time and threatens the family with a dry year followed by deluge and famine. At last, they take Eglé to the bottom of the sea to their king. Eglé meets her bridegroom, who appears to be a very handsome man, the Grass Snake Prince. They go to a new home under the sea to a beautifully decorated palace, where Eglé will live forever. Eglé has four children, three boys; Oak, Ash, and Birch and a daughter, Aspen. Eglé forgets about her family until one day one of the kids brings it up. She decides she wants to visit her parents, but her husband forbids it. She keeps on nagging him and he finally agrees that if she can fulfill three impossible tasks: to spin a never-ending tuft of silk, wear down a pair of iron shoes and to bake a pie with no utensils, she can go home for a visit. NEVER under estimate a woman…………she goes to a sorceress, the Lady of the Sea, for advice, and completes all three tasks. So Eglé and the children get to go home for a visit, and the King instructs them how to call him from the sea for their return, but asks them not to tell the secret to anyone. After meeting the long lost family, the relatives don’t want Eglé and her kids to go back to the sea, so they decide to kill her husband. They threaten and beat the boys in an attempt to find out how to summon their father and Aspen, scared out of her wits, tells them. All twelve brothers of Eglé, summon the King, and kill him with scythes. Eglé, not knowing any of this, goes to the sea and calls her husband to bring them home and he tells her he is dead and the terrible crimes her brothers have committed. She finds her daughter, Aspen and turns her into the quaking Aspen tree and the three boys into strong trees; the Oak, Ash and Birch. And, she turns herself into a Spruce.
Now, that we know all about how the trees got in this forest, we’ll learn the rest of the story as we keep on walking to the Palace! In preparing the land for the gardens, old trees were cut down and new species were brought in. Some locals refused to cut down trees, as they thought they were sacred. Yep, I would have thought twice about that myself!
Ah, finally we can see it! The large building with an arched terrace was decorated originally with sculptures from France. In 1907, Feliks’s wife, Antonia, delivered a healthy baby boy, and named him Stanislaw. Feliks commissioned the sculpture of the “Blessing Jesus,” in thanks for a healthy son. Placed in the front palace garden, it is thought to have been designed by Danish artist, Bertel Thorvaldsen. In 1916, a palace expansion was started and Heinrich Schwechten was requested to prepare designs to expand the upper floor and veranda, but these project were never completed. During World War I, the palace was heavily damaged by German bombardment from the sea.
Countess Antonia, her son, Stanislaw, and his family, were forced to flee from their Palanga Palace during World War II and accepted re-settlement in Canada. In 1948, the religious sculpture of the “Blessing Jesus” was torn down under the instructions of the Lithuanian communist authorities. The surviving heirs to Tyszkiewiez wealth, all living in Canada, donated their properties to the city of Palanga. In 1957, palace renovations were conducted by Alfredas Brusokas and the building served as the Lithuanian Art Union. In the 1960’s the palace and surrounding gardens were planned for renovation by architect Kazys Šešelgis. In 1963, the palace officially became the Amber Museum. The “Blessing Jesus” sculpture was re-constructed, based on surviving photographs, in 1993.
Here are some photos of the bombings from World War I.
And some of the shells found on the property……….
and how it looks today………
Today, several of the palace rooms are decorated as they would have been in years past…….it has been restored lovingly………..
And now other rooms of the palace are the Amber Museum…..why is the Amber Museum here? When you take in the scenery, the history, and the fairy tales, it all comes together here. The sign tells us that this area was perfect for the trees (mainly a particular pine) that grew in the rugged mountains and the swampy plains. Sub-tropical and Mediterranean plants grew here too and as the climate warmed it was the perfect timing for the resin in the trees to leak into the ground. This complex, physical, chemical and microbiological process over millions of years, transformed the resin into amber. So with the forest of trees on these grounds and the opulent wealth of the Tyszkiewiez family and their palace, this sight would be the perfect location for the museum! The main street to Palanga is called the Amber Road…………
The Baltic areas are made up of a variation of trees and soil producing different colors of amber in different countries of the Baltic’s……..
The production of the resin from these trees also leads to the destruction of the tree eventually………
And that is why sometimes insects or twigs have been molded into the amber…….they were stuck in the resin………..
The color of the amber is determined by the conditions (type of tree, type of soil and determined layer) by which it was formed. The colors range from clear amber which is light yellow to light brown and reds. The bubbles of turpentine gas and the density of their distribution provide the whitest of amber. Various soil imperfections can offer amber in a blue or green shade also………. Wow, who knew?
There are 28,000 pieces of amber in this museum collection, of which 15,000 pieces contain insects, spiders or plants. 4,500 pieces of the amber are exhibited as items of jewelry or artwork. The museum holds the largest amber specimens in Europe and the “Sun Stone” weighing 7 lbs and 12 ounces, has been stolen twice. The amber jewelry collection represents the past four hundred years, featuring a 15th-century ring and a 16th-century cross. I’m not going to show you all the pieces, but I can say I have photos of many of them!
Back outside, we’ll stroll the gardens once again and then make our way back to the entrance…..
and one last look at the cobblestone before we head for our next stop………the village of Palanga! See you there!
PS I think I’m going to have to have SOMETHING in AMBER! The guide is wearing her favorite piece of Amber in the color butterscotch, which she says is the hottest color right now! We’ll see!