At the end of the 18th c., when Kaunas became the border post of Russia, the Tsar decided to transform the city into a fortress, but the idea materialized only in 1871. Germany finally became united, and there was a need to strengthen the empire’s western borders. In 1880, Tsar Alexander II ratified the Kaunas fortress plan, covering a 15 sq. km area. The work started in 1882-1889, but construction continued until 1915.
Stages of construction
Construction was carried out in several stages. First, a defense circle consisting of 7 forts and nine batteries, and central fortifications was built. Construction of administrative buildings in the city center, reconstruction, and refinement of fortifications were executed later. In 1903, construction of the 9th Fort was planned, followed by the second defense circle (65 square kilometers) in 1913-1917, the construction of which was interrupted by World War I.
The fortress consisted of forts, batteries, and a central defense system. The second group of buildings included storehouses for war ammunition, gunpowder, weapons, spare parts, and bomb shelters. There were also food and grain storehouses. Barracks for soldiers were built in Sanciai, Panemune, and Freda.
Administrative premises were built in the center, including a house for military engineers and the telegraph station. Utility buildings were added: stables, garages, storehouses, and others.
Lately, the fortifications have been attracting increasing numbers of tourists from Lithuania and abroad because only a few defense systems have survived unchanged in Europe till now.
It consisted of a defense trench around the city with a triple metal fence at the bottom, a rampant behind it (the trench and the rampant had a curved shape, suitable for shooting from the flanks), and casemate storehouses. They were located in Aleksotas, Zaliakalnis, and Vilijampole areas. In Aleksotas, they ran from the funicular, across the airport, the botanical gardens, and up to the banks of the river Nemunas. In Zaliakalnis – from the 7th Fort, along Taikos Avenue and the present Campus of the Kaunas University of Technology, up to the banks of the Nemunas and Vilijampole area with three fortification points, later the 8th Fort.
Defense of Forts
The city was strongly fortified and ready for a long-term defense, but poor-quality ammunition and old-fashioned Russian army cannons were ineffective. After ten days of battles, Tsarist soldiers started retreating from the city. The German Army occupied Kaunas in 11 days.
The fortifications were not severely damaged, and now they are accessible to visitors.
History of Forts after 1919
The 9th Fort
Between the two World Wars, starting in 1924, the 9th Fort served as a hard labor jail. In 1941, it was a KGB prison where people were kept before deportation to Siberia. The visiting room, the prison courtyard, wards with uplifted bunks, and three solitary cells remind of the period. In 1941-1944, nazis killed up to 50,000 (30,000 Jews, 10,000 foreigners from West Europe, and various parts of Russia) in the 9th Fort.
In 1959, a museum was opened here, and in 1984 the memorial was completed. It consists of the administration building, a new museum, the Old Fort with its wards and tunnels, and the monument to the 9th Fort victims close to the fields of death. The monument is 30 m tall.