History of Alytus
Alytus, considered the capital of Dzukija, this city straddling the Nemunas river is the largest urban center in the south of Lithuania. It's the sixth largest city in the country. Its origins have strong ties with the large fortress hill on the right bank of the Nemunas where it joins the Alytupis river, source of the city's name. The hill offers a panorama of the city districts, festival site Dainu slenis (Valley of Songs) and adjacent remains of a railway bridge on the other side of the Nemunas, and a recreation area deep in the pine forests beyond them. A fitness path follows a 19th century rail causeway and connects two ends of the city.
Short History of Alytus
The name Alytus appears first in written sources in the 14th century. At that time the fortress on the hill was an important link in the defense system along the Nemunas River. The settlement began to expand in a northwesterly direction, away from the fortress, once it lost its status and deteriorated after the 1422 Molln Peace Treaty. Alytus acquired city rights from King Stephen Batory of Lithuania and Poland in 1581. The Third Partition of Lithuania-Poland in 1795 divided the city as well.
The area on the right bank of the Nemunas went to Russia, on the left to Prussia. The latter was later also allocated to the domains of the tsar by the 1815 Congress of Vienna after the defeat of Napoleon. Alytus became a military town at the end of the 19th century. Approximately 4,000 soldiers were in new army barracks and defense fortifications encircled the city. It also acquired the Vilnius-Suwalki railway line, a train station, and two bridges across the Nemunas.
The tsar's military constructions were later used by the Lithuanian army, which first formed in Alytus. The city's role in the struggle for Independence was marked by the death of Antanas Juozapavicius in the February 13, 1919 battle against the Bolsheviks. The first Lithuanian officer to give up his life in the Independence struggle, Juozapavicius was killed on the Nemunas bridge on his 25th birthday. A new reinforced bridge (1937) bears his name in his honor and the railings have decorations with a bas-relief depicting the battle. The embellishments, removed during the Soviet period, were recreated at the end of the 20th century.
Alytus after the 19th century
Alytus became a district and county center during the inter-war years. In 1928 it acquired a park with an Angel of Freedom monument which was struck by lightning and restored by the author in 1934, razed to the ground by the Soviets in 1952, and rebuilt in 1991. Alytus had no prominent industrial sector in the inter war period, and gained resort status in 1932.
A memorial with a sculpture depicting a broken Star of David (1993) marks the mass killing site of 60,000 Jews who were exterminated in the nearby Vidzgiris Forest on the onset of the Second World War. The center of Alytus was destroyed during the first days of the war, and the post office, railway station and Antanas Juozapavicius Bridge were bombed in 1944.
Alytus in Soviet time and beyond
Dainava district partisans, led by anti-Soviet resistance fighter Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, were very active in the Alytus district in the post-war period. His bust is at the local secondary school (Birutes Street 2) which bears his name in his honor. A memorial (1996) to the Dainava unit in the cemetery on Daugu Street symbolizes 490 partisans eternally at rest. During the Soviet period huge apartment blocks and factories producing textiles, refrigerators, etc, replaced the old way of life.
A Youth Park with several metal works of art appeared on the edge of the city between the new Dainava and Putinai residential districts in the 1980's, and a distinctive sculpture entitled "The Ring" surfaced on Naujoji Street in 1985. Alytus was known as the home of the children's poet Anzelmas Matutis, writers Antanas Jonynas and Jurgis Kuncinas.