Born to Polish parents in Zavosse/Zaosie/ Завоссе village in today’s Belarus, Adam Mickiewicz (1798 – 1855) is considered one of the greatest poets in Poland; Lithuania, too. Kaunas is very proud the noble man spent a few years of his life in our city. Here are some kaunastic facts about the period.
Portrait of Mickiewicz byWalenty Wańkowicz, 1827–1828
As Wikipedia kindly reminds us, the poet is known for the poetic drama Dziady (Forefathers' Eve) and the epic poem Pan Tadeusz. His other influential works include Konrad Wallenrod and Grażyna. All these served as inspiration for uprisings against the three imperial powers that had partitioned the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth out of existence.
In 1819, after graduating from the Vilnius University, the young poet moved to Kaunas, or Kowno, then part of the Russian Empire, and started teaching there. For some time, he lived in a house at the Town Hall Square (today, the building is the Jesuit Gymnasium and then his room was a former monastery cell). There’s an urban legend saying the young poet fell in love with Karolina Kowalska, a doctor’s wife that lived next door, and quite often visited her. The Kowalski house is where one of the two oldest restaurants in Kaunas is located today – check out our blog post about the Hunters Inn here.
On the façade of Rotušės a. 9, there’s a memorial plaque quoting the sweet words of Mickiewicz: 'Litwo! Ojczyzno moja! Ty jestes jak zdrowie...' ('Lithuania, my homeland, you’re dearer than health!'). There’s also a Mickiewicz memorial room in the gymnasium we’ve mentioned above. When in Kaunas, the poet wrote Ode to Youth, Filaretes' Song and a handful of other famous creations.
The poet later moved to a house in a street that was renamed to A. Mickevičiaus (that's the Lithuanian spelling of his name) in 1915. Quite a few interesting objects await in the street today, including the interwar architecture gem Officer’s Club and Vingiu Dubingiu, one of the best craft beer spots in Kaunas. The façade of the wooden house in which the pub is located is sporting the portrait of Mickiewicz so it’s an absolute must to pay him a visit and have a historic pint. They've got Polish beer, too!
A must-visit for every poetic soul.
There are more traces of Mickiewicz inside Vingiu Dubingiu
The original location of the poet’s house (demolished in 1940, according to AUTC.lt, as it was blocking the street) is a few hundred feet towards Kęstučio street, across Laisvės alėja.
Photo from the archives of Ramazotis/Wikimapia
A valley was also dedicated to Mickiewicz when he was getting ready to leave Kaunas in 1823. The valley near today’s Kaunas Zoo is where his farewell party took place; naming it after the poet was suggested by Karolina Kowalska. You can still see the inscription on the stone that was made by his fellow poets.
The stone of Mickiewicz / Photo found at Mapio.net
Mickiewicz valley / Photo by Renatorius
Mickiewicz had planned to travel abroad but was arrested and transferred to a jail in Vilnius in the end of 1823 (he also lived in Vilnius in 1821-22 when completing his master studies). He spent six months in jail because of his anti-tzarist ideas. Later, he moved to Odessa. After he was advised to leave the Russian empire, the poet lived and worked in Rome and Paris. He died in 1855 in Constantinople, then Ottoman Empire. His remains are buried in the Wawel cathedral in Krakow, Poland.
Besides his creative legacy, Lithuanians and Poles are also thankful to Mickiewicz for something we couldn’t imagine our lives without today. First and foremost, it’s šaltibarščiai, or chłodnik litewski, the famous cold pink soup (here’s our blog post about it) that was first mentioned by Mickiewicz in his poem Pan Tadeusz. He’s also the author of two very popular names – Gražina (Lithuanian version) or Grażyna (Polish version) and Živilė (Lithuanian-only).
P.S. The Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas is home to the Adam Mickiewicz club of Polish language and culture. You can contact the organization on Facebook.