The coat of arms of Zarasai is probably the most beautiful among the symbols of Lithuanian towns and cities. The spirit of this land is perfectly embodied in the magnificent and graceful curve of the roe/fish under the Full Moon/Sun, while the flame-bladed sword in black background emanates mysterious magic. Perhaps it was this coat of arms, or the Selonian runes and the entire uniqueness of this land that have brought our Festival to the island of Lake Zarasas.
In the old times, the land has been inhabited by the Selonian tribe, and the name of the town is of Selonian origin as well. The tribe left a rich heritage of unique place-names and multiple mounds of former castles. The name of the tribe was mentioned in the chronicles only in XI century. In the course of history Selonians were assimilated and conquered by the other tribes, but no one can erase the heritage, embedded in the names of lakes, hills and villages.
Mysterious island monastery
Theories say that the hill, where the town is situated at present days, used to be deserted except for a scarce pine and oak grove and a small village consisting of a few cottages on the western foot of the hill. However, a male stone monastery and a church have been built in the nearby Great island of Lake Zarasas. Although there are no precise historical data on this issue, the probably-never-be monastery indicates the significance of this location.
From the history of Zarasai
The name of Zarasai was first mentioned in 1613 in the map of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It was marked as a settlement of considerable size, though further growth was hindered by a fair share of plague, fire and war. In 1795, the land of Zarasai was seized by the Russian Empire. Falling under the Russian sphere of influence, the decision to run the Warsaw-St. Petersburg highway through the town saw it transform from one horse town to boomtown. Tsar Nikolai The I, who visited town in 1836, was amazed by the beauty of the town and wanted to call it after the name of his successor – Aleksandrovsk, but, as the town with such a name, already existed, it was named Novoaleksandrovsk, and became the centre of the district. Under the Russian influence, the town became a resort and was flooded by Russians and Jews.
Radiant town plan
In 1836, the plan of Zarasai town was designed with four radial streets stretching from the main square. Standard plans could not be applied because the area was framed by 7 lakes, which led to the permission to make an exceptional planning solution in order to prevent fire damage. This urbanistic monument makes Zarasai unique among all Lithuanian towns designed in the 19th century.
In early 20th century the town was called Ežerėnai, but the ethnical name was restored by the efforts of linguists. Zarasai came back to life during the interwar period and started repairing the damages of the occupation and war. Zarasai soon became a summer resort town, but the World War II and the subsequent Soviet occupation once again clouded the land with severe losses. In 1950, Zarasai was attributed the status of the district centre.
In 2007, the town celebrated its 500 year anniversary. At the moment it has about 8000 residents. The Festival’s guests will feel the calm and relaxing atmosphere of the town, but, on the other hand, will be able to use all the facilities they need: markets, bars, post service, internet, museum, tourist information centre, medical care, housing, ATM and others. And it’s just a short walk from the Festival location.