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Kaunas (kouˈnäs), 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. Among Kaunas's landmarks are a 16th-century town hall, the reconstructed remnants 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 techological university (founded 1950), a health science univeristy (founded 1951), and several museums.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(formerly Kovno), a city in the Lithuanian SSR, with a port on the Nemunas River at its confluence with the Neris (Viliya) River; the main section of the city is located on the right bank of the Nemunas. The Kaunas Reservoir has been constructed near the city. Kaunas is a major industrial center of the republic and is a junction of railroads and highways leading to Vilnius, Kaliningrad, Klaipeda, Riga, and elsewhere.

Kaunas is the second largest city of the Lithuanian SSR, with 322, 000 inhabitants in 1972 (152, 000 in 1939).

Kaunas was first mentioned in written sources in the early 11th century. During the struggle of the Lithuanian people against the Teutonic Knights (14th and early 15th centuries), Kaunas Fortress was of great strategic significance and was repeatedly destroyed and laid waste by the invaders (1362, 1385, 1391, and 1400). Beginning in the 15th century trades and commerce developed. According to the Union of Lublin (1569), Kaunas became part of the Rzecz Pospolita (the Polish-Lithuanian state); in 1795 it became part of Russia. In 1812 the city was occupied and destroyed by Napoleon’s army. In 1830–31 and in 1863–64, Kaunas was one of the centers of liberation revolts in Poland and Lithuania. After 1843 it was the capital of Kovno Province.

In the second half of the 19th century industrial enterprises developed in Kaunas (there were around 45 by 1902). By the early 20th century Kaunas had become a center of the revolutionary workers’ movement. In 1902, Kaunas workers held a May Day demonstration. A general strike and a protest meeting were held in connection with the events of Jan. 9, 1905. The Kaunas workers also participated in the All-Russian political strike in October 1905. In August 1915, during World War I, Kaunas was occupied by German troops. As a result of the general political strike of Dec. 17, 1918, a soviet of workers’ deputies was established in Kaunas on December 21. The German occupiers and the local bourgeoisie overthrew Soviet power in Lithuania, and on Jan. 10, 1919, the soviet in Kaunas was disbanded. In October 1920 the White Poles seized Vilnius, and Kaunas became the capital of bourgeois Lithuania.

Between 1920 and 1940, Kaunas was a center of the revolutionary movement. In the city there were underground printing presses, plenums of the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party were held, and the workers and soldiers repeatedly protested the counterrevolutionary bourgeois dictatorship. There the People’s Diet of Lithuania on July 21, 1940, proclaimed Soviet power in Lithuania and the establishment of the Lithuanian SSR, which on Aug. 3, 1940, became part of the USSR. From June 24, 1941, through Aug. 1, 1944, Kaunas was occupied by fascist German troops, who caused enormous damage to the city. The Ninth Fort of Kaunas Fortress (built in 1887) was turned into a death camp. After the war the 60 percent of the city’s industry that had been destroyed by the German occupiers was rebuilt and greatly surpassed the prewar production level.

In the postwar years more than 30 large industrial enterprises have been built, and new industrial sectors have been created, including chemicals, radio engineering, and machine-tool and instrument manufacturing. The Kaunas Hydroelectric Power Plant was built (1956–59; P. L. Ryzhik, architect, and N. D. Khrenov, engineer). Old enterprises were completely reconstructed and enlarged. The basic sectors are machine building, metalworking, and the light and food industries. Machine-building and metalworking enterprises produce machine tools, electric motors, radiators and boilers for central heating, enamelware, and farm machinery parts. Light industry is represented by the Kauno-audiniai Silk-weaving Mill, by the P. Ziber-tas Silk Combine, by woolen, knitwear, and garment mills, and by a rubber footwear factory. In 1965 a synthetic fiber plant was built. The largest food industry enterprises are meat, dairy, and nonalcoholic beverages combines. There are furniture and wood-products combines, as well as the J. Janonis Factory, which produces high-grade papers. Kaunas is one of the ancient centers of artistic trades (the production of knitted woolen articles and objects made of embossed leather, wood, and stone, as well as artistic ceramics).

Among the architectural masterpieces of the Old City in the northern, oldest section of Kaunas are a castle (13th–17th centuries), the Vytautas Church (founded in 1400), the Peter and Paul Cathedral (15th century; with 17th-century additions), and the Perkuno House (15th–16th centuries); all are in the Gothic style. There is also the former Massalski Palace (in the Renaissance style, early 17th century); the Camaldolese Monastery in Pazaislis (1664–1712; L. Fredo and K. and P. Putini, architects), the Church of the Jesuits (1666–1725), all in the baroque style; and the town hall (1542; rebuilt in the 18th century).

In 1847 and in 1871 general plans of the city were developed. To the east of the Old City a new part of Kaunas was built on a regular plan, with a pseudo-Byzantine cathedral where services were conducted for the garrison (now the Gallery of Stained Glass and Sculpture; built in 1890–95 by the architect K. Kh. Limarenko). Between 1920 and 1940, Kaunas developed immensely: a bank in the neoclassical style (1924–29; architect, M. Songaila), a veterinary academy (1930–31; architect, J. Ja-siukaitis), a central post office (1931–32; architect, F. Vizbaras), historical and art museums (1931–36; architect, V. Dubeneckis), the M. K. Chiurlionis Gallery (1969; architect, F. Vitas), and a savings bank (now the Municipal Executive Committee Building; built in 1936—39 by A. Lukošaitis and other architects).

In the Soviet period Kaunas has been developed according to general plans (1952, by the architect K. Bučas; 1970, by the architect P. Janulis). The J. Janonis Square has been reconstructed (1970), with a monument to V. I. Lenin (bronze, 1970; N. Petrulis, sculptor). Also constructed were residential areas (on the Street of the 25th Anniversary of Soviet Lithuania, Bar-šauskas Street, and elsewhere), a railroad station (1949–53; P. A. Ashastin, architect), the Promproekt Building (1963–65; A. Sprindys and V. Stauskas, architects); the Tulpė Cafe (1960–61; A. Mikėnas and V. Diėius, architects), the Tartu Cafe (1962; V. Vaivada and A. Zeidotas, architects), and the Trys Mergėrs Cafe (1967; A. and T. Jakučiunas, architects). There are also the monuments to F. E. Dzerzhinskii (bronze and concrete, 1947; sculptor, S. D. Merkurov) and to S. Neris (bronze and granite, 1955; sculptor, B. Bučas). The city has four institutions of higher learning (polytechnical, medical, and physical education institutes and a veterinary academy), 12 specialized secondary schools, museums, and musical, dramatic, and puppet theaters.


Gulbinskienė, A., V. Černeckis, and P. Kežinaitis. Kaunas. Vilnius, 1962.
Litva. Moscow, 1967. (In the series Sovetskii Soiuz.)
Bičiūnas, V. Kaunas, 1030–1930. Kaunas-Marijampolė, 1930.
Abramauskas, S., V. Černeckis, and A. Gulbinskienė. Kaunas. [Vilnius]1968.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a city in central Lithuania at the confluence of the Neman and Viliya Rivers: ceded by Poland to Russia in 1795; became the provisional capital of Lithuania (1920--40); incorporated into the Soviet Union 1944--91; university (1922). Pop.: 364 000 (2005 est.)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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