“The ascendancy over men’s minds of the ruins of the stupendous past, the past of history, legend and myth, at once factual and fantastic, stretching back and back into ages that can but be surmised, is half-mystical in basis. The intoxication, at once so heady and so devout, is not the romantic melancholy engendered by broken towers and mouldered stones; it is the soaring of the imagination into the high empyrean where huge episodes are tangled with myths and dreams; it is the stunning impact of world history on its amazed heirs.” – Rose Macaulay, The Pleasure of Ruins
When we approached the green, wooded property, the first thing I saw was a large, white building. While bigger and much more decorative than most of the Lithuanian houses I’ve seen, it was just the stables of the estate. As I walked past it, I felt a pit in my stomach as I saw a large crack running through its side—as if it would split open any second like a cracked egg.
Past the stables, the large mansion of the estate was in no better condition. Its white paint was chipped away, bricks stolen from its walls, windows boarded up, and a patchwork foundation-evidence of years of attempt to save the foundation from water damage.
The interior was in ruins and eerily quiet. Almost everything had been stolen from the metal inside the stoves to the decorative plaster work, leaving only ghostly outlines of its beautiful past on the ceiling. While we walked through, we tried to image the way the house used to be; grand, ornate, with rich green walls, rooms filled well-dressed people, children playing, parties… “Here is where the orchestra used to play,” my friend pointed out a large niche in a room in the back of the house with floor-to-ceiling arched windows. In fact, the owners had parties in this room so that guests could enjoy their favorite part of the house: the view.
“Belvedere” means “beautiful view” in Italian. Situated in a romantic setting on a cliff overlooking the Nemunas River, Belvedere was a perfect name for this manor house. Built for the Burbos family in the 19th century by a French architect, the asymmetrical mansion was built in the Italianate style.
At a nearby manor house, an old woman weaving a colorful blanket explained Belvedere’s history. She told us that Burbos was a part of the 1863 January Uprising and was to be killed. He therefore abandoned the estate with his family and one of his daughters hid her books under the floor so they would not get burned (I wonder if they are still there?). Through the years, the estate was pasted down to the family heirs and was vandalized in WWII. During Soviet times, the estate became a dairy school then an agricultural school. Unfortunately, turning mansions into schools or storage was the fate of most of the great manor houses as well as churches in Lithuania, which led to the loss of many historic interiors. The estate was bought by JSC Management Clinic in 2005 and has remained abandoned ever since.
With the Belvedere’s poor condition and continual thief of its remaining elements, it is sad to think of what its future will be. While I wish this estate will be restored to its former glory, the lack of funds and amount of restoration work needed leaves little assurance. If it cannot be saved, I hope that it will not be demolished. Built during the period of the Romantics, it seems only fitting to let this mansion slowly crumble into ruins in the woods, an ideal setting for Romantic artists and writers alike.
Historical Picture of Belvedere (Source: Musu Laikas)
Architect: French, unknown
Date: Early-to-mid 19th century
Location: Jurbarkas district, Lithuania
Pazereckienes, Judith, “Belvedere – former Panemuniai gem,” Musu Laikas: Jurbarkas city and district newspaper, October 18, 2013.