Alytus is the sixth biggest town in Lithuania. The town adorned by picturesque, forest covered hills is surrounded by 16 km long bend of the River Nemunas. The origination of the city (pop. 69.9 thousand), also called the capital city of the Dzukija ethnographic region, dates back to the 14th century when Alytus was just a fortress standing on a hill on the confluence of the Nemunas and the Alytupis. In 1581, Alytus was granted the rights of a town.
In late 19th century, during the period of Czarist occupation Alytus was turned into a fortress; a motor road and a railway were built in it then. The so-called artillery barracks built in a forest close to Garrison Church and Kareiviniu Park with Saratov barracks have survived from that period.
The obelisk built at the location of a mass burial ground of war prisoners and civilians who died and were killed in Alytus forest reminds us of the horrors of World War II. Roughly 60,000 Jews were killed and buried in the Vidzgiris forest during Nazi occupation; the highest hill of the memorial features a monument to pain–a broken David Star. One should visit the nurtured Old Garden of the City, the freedom monument (The Angel of Freedom), the memorial to the partisans of the Dainava district who died for Lithuanian independence. In 1944, Normandy-Nemunas, the legendary French aviation squadron that fought against Nazism, was settled in Alytus.
Alytus County is home to the Dzukija National, and the Meteliai and the Nemunas Loops Regional Parks attracting visitors by beautiful nature and landscape as well the Zuvintas Reserve inhabited by a large variety of birds. Ancient crafts have survived in many ethnographic villages of the Dzukija National Park. One can enjoy lively sceneries of the environs opening up from the hill-forts of Merkine, Liskiava and Punia.
The residents of Dzukija are inseparable from merry communication and melodious songs. Their raudos (laments), like Lithuanian sutartines (ancient Lithuanian polyphonic folk songs), are a unique form of singing. On 15 August every year, the Pivasiunai Church of the 17th century, which contains a miraculous painting of “Our Lady”, invites people to the Assumption feast (Zolines).
Alytus - town within a park
Alytus mound is the only preserved witness of the foundation of the town, monument of history and culture. It is said that a wooden castle was standing here in the 14th century that was burnt down later by the Teutonic Order. An impressive panorama of the town opens from the mound, while its foot is decorated by an exposition of sculptures “Ancestors of Alytus Mound”.
Not far away from the central Town Hall Square, an ornament of the old town – city garden shows green. Formation of a park of geometrical plan was started in 1930, in a natural pine forest. The park has a fountain with a small pool, a beautiful rose garden attracts eyes of the visitors. The town garden merges with a Resortpark situated in the natural pine forest,they are separated only by an Angel of Freedom – a monument dedicated for people who sacrificed their lives for independence of Lithuania. The first Alytus high school (present School of Fine Crafts) is adjacent to the park. Eyes and soul may rejoice in Dailides Lake formed in the old riverbed of the River Nemunas and fountains playing in it in summer time, a beach with wooden foot-bridges, boat pier are installed by the lake.
A Youth Park distinguished by its peculiar composition of metal – plastic sculptures stretches by the springy rivulets. Children’s playgrounds, sports grounds are installed here, marked bicycle tracks offer safe riding even for children. Vidzgiris botanical preserve is famous not only for its extraordinary diversity of plants but historical sites as well. Those who are interested in nature, history and like wandering can enjoy a walk on an ecological path (1 – 3.5 km) leading to Radziunu mound – archaeological monument dating back to the 13th century. Among the oldest buildings of the town that survived to nowadays, three Catholic churches should be mentioned: St Louis Church – the oldest church in Alytus that was rebuilt in 1818, St Guardian Angels’ Church built in 1830, and St Casimir’s Church (former and present house of worship of the Lithuanian Army).