From the multi-color lights of the O’Hara Terminal 1 to the warm glows of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, we are using our dwindling August summer days to explore what “neon” means for the built environment. While we typically think of neon in terms of lighting, today I’m looking at the bright colors of the town of Trakai, Lithuania.
In Trakai, everything shines in the summer. The most obvious is the 14th century red Trakai Island Castle. The brick structure is surrounded by the bright blue sky and water and is highlighted by the lime-green grass. The lemon-yellow rowboats sit in the water awaiting tourists and colorful souvenirs fill the stalls along the waterfront.
However, it’s the little houses throughout the streets of Trakai that are the most colorful. The vibrant houses across island are painted with a variety of colors such as mustard yellow, kelly green, and royal blue. These small, wooden structures were mostly built from the late 19th to early 20th centuries and are situated on narrow lots. They typically have a front-gable, are one-and-a-half stories tall, and have a side entrance.
Trakai is a polyethnic town that grew in the Middle Ages around the defensive forts. The most popular ethnic groups were the Karaite and the Catholic communities, each inhabiting different areas of the town with slightly different building styles.
Today Trakai sees streams of tourists coming to visit the reconstructed Island Castle and the ruins of the Peninsula Castle, but many Karaites still inhabit the colorful village houses and their influence is prevalent throughout the town. If you ever get a chance to visit, make sure to stop and appreciate the wooden houses and grab a kibini or two, which is a typical Karaite dish.
Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania,“Trakai Historical National Park,” World Heritage Tentative List, 2003: http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/1821/