Druskininkai Star Alley


In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it was members of the nobility and artists from St Petersburg, Warsaw, Grodno, and Vilnius who spent their summers near Druskininkai’s waters. Here Eliza Orzeszkowa was taking in inspiration for her stories, and Stanisław Moniuszko for his romantic works. Whilst living in Druskininkai, a young M K Čiurlionis had painted Žvaigždžių sonata (‘Sonata of the Stars’). Druskininkai was much liked by celebrities of the time such as the literary writers J Kraszewski, W Syrokomla, and T Tripplin, the musicians S Moniuszko, A Kontski, and J Bonoldi, and the historians T Narbutt and E Tyszkiewicz…

Below you will find a list of the most famous of Druskininkai’s various guests and residents.

Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875-1911)

Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis was a Lithuanian composer, painter, choir conductor, and cultural figure.

Born in old Varėna on 22 September 1875, he was the first child of the family of organist Konstantinas Čiurlionis and his wife, Adelė Radmanaitė-Čiurlionienė. A couple of years later the family moved to Druskininkai. Here, Čiurlionis had grown up, and later he returned to his parents’ home where he lived until the end of his life. Here he also created a good many paintings, wrote music, and in his letters mentioned Druskininkai with a great deal of affection.

The first music teacher to work with Kastukas was his own father. Later he studied at the duke’s M Ogiński Orchestral Music School which was located in Plungė, and graduated from the conservatories in Warsaw (1894-1899) and Leipzig (1901-1902). He also studied at the Warsaw School of Art (1904-1905).

From 1907 he lived in Vilnius, was active in the social movement of the reviving Lithuania, and worked extensively in the fields of music and art. He organised the first exhibitions of Lithuanian art, directed the choir, and harmonised Lithuanian folk songs. In 1908 and 1909 he visited St Petersburg and gained wider recognition. On 1 January 1909 he married Sofia Kimantaitė. On 10 April 1911 he died of pneumonia in Pustelnik, near Warsaw. He was buried in Rasos Cemetery (Vilnius).

Most of the work by Čiurlionis is stored in Kaunas, at the M K Čiurlionis National Art Museum. Since 1963, the M K Čiurlionis Memorial Museum has also been open in Druskininkai, located in the former home of his parents.

Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973)

Jacques Lipchitz is a famous French sculptor who was constantly stating throughout his life that he would not have created the great trees of life without his Lithuanian roots.

Lipchitz’s grandfather was a major industrialist in the Grodno province and his father was a construction contractor in Druskininkai. To this very day his first construction, the impressive Central brick hotel – now known as the Best Baltic Central – is still standing in St Jacob’s Street.

Jacques (Chaim Jacob) was born in Druskininkai in 1891, studied in Bialystok and Vilnius and, at the age of eighteen, went to study sculpture in Paris, at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and Académie Julian. There his friendship with Pablo Picasso began. He became acquainted with the Cubist movement and soon joined it.

While creating in France, the USA, Italy, and Israel, Lipchitz did not forget his Lithuanian roots. He was proud of his homeland and its achievements, referring to Lithuanians as a nation of sculptors. Lithuanian wayside shrines and crosses, and Lithuanian architecture and folk art all had a great influence on his work. In 1972, two years before his death, he wrote ‘Our dear, unforgettable Druskininkai!’

After a longer break it is planned to reopen the Jacques Lipchitz Memorial Museum which is located within the wooden villa on St Jacob’s Street which displayed copies of his most famous sculptures, letters, and photos.

Charles Bronson (1921-2003)

What do Druskininkai and Hollywood have in common? Both are connected by one man – Charles Dennis Buchinsky, known as Charles Bronson, who is listed in Hollywood’s Top 100 Best Actors of All Time.

Charles was born in Pennsylvania (USA), into the family of his Lithuanian mother, Marija, and his Druskininkai emigrant father, the Tartar Valteris Buchinsky. It was so difficult for this family which had a total of fifteen children that, by the age of ten, Charles had to go to work in the coal mines, replacing his already-deceased father. In 1945, while serving in military aviation, the young man was assigned to a group of bombers that were stationed on the island of Guam in the Pacific Ocean, where he took part in a total of 25 combat missions.

Hardened from early childhood and physically strong, for his entire life Charles was a man of action, not a man of words. Having started cinematic acting in 1951, he developed his own style as a cold-blooded bandit and avenger. At the same time, his screen name of Charles Bronson came into existence.

Charles Bronson starred in over seventy American, Italian, French, and Spanish films, perhaps the most famous of which was the Death Wish series. By the end of the twentieth century he was a household name. In France he was referred to as a ‘holy monster’, and in Italy he was called a brute. In 1971 Charles Bronson was awarded a Golden Globe for being the world’s most popular actor, and he also became one of two Lithuanians to have imprints left on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

Jan Czeczot (1796-1847)

Folklorist, poet, musician, philomath, patriot. Lithuanians, Poles, and Belarussians consider him to be a representative of their Romantic era.

Born in what is now Belarus, after studying at Vilnius University Jan Czeczot devoted his entire life to ancient Lithuanian folklore. He collected folk songs, proverbs, and sayings and used them in his musical poetry. Together with Adomas Mickevičius and Tomasz Zan he participated in the secret philomathic association, spreading ideas of independence from the Russian empire, for which he was deported to Orenburg. Only sixteen years later was he allowed to return to Lithuania.

The last years of Jan Czeczot’s life are related to Druskininkai. Very sick after his deportation, he went to a health resort in Druskininkai and died there in 1847.

Since 1858 Druskininkai has had its own monument to Jan Czeczot which is located in Ratnyčia Cemetery. The monument has been entered into the Register of Cultural Heritage and is well maintained. It is constantly visited by people from Belarus and Poland.

Eliza Orzeszkowa (1841-1910)

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, when Druskininkai became a trendy summer resort, members of the nobility and artists from all over the empire began to holiday here. The list of famous guests in the town includes women’s rights activist, that supporter of the restoration of the ‘Republic of Both Nations’ and candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, the writer Eliza Orzeszkowa.

‘Crowds of travellers from the outermost countries were eagerly dragging their way through the more sandy areas, trying to get as far as that area that was famous for complimentary power.’* This is how Orzeszkowa described Druskininkai in her story, Last Love. Among those travellers was the author herself, who was heading to Druskininkai from her native Grodno in order to strengthen her health and find creative inspiration.

Initially Eliza Orzeszkowa was honoured by having the alley alongside the River Nemunas named after her in the health centre parks. Now the street carrying her name crosses Nemunas Street in Druskininkai’s Old Town, near Meilės sala (‘Love Island’).

Cited under: http://www.druskininkumuziejus.lt. Translation from Polish: S Dabušis

Eugenia Lewicka (1896-1931)

Eugenia Lewicka, a young physiotherapist who was appointed to work in Druskininkai from 1924, had a great deal of influence on the development and popularisation of treatment services in Druskininkai. In applying the Swedish system that had been established by Lings alongside the of the Danish physicist, Professor Linhardt, she established in Druskininkai the innovative Solarium health park in which natural factors were used for therapy such as sunlight, air temperature, and water. Park visitors hardened their bodies, exercised in the open air, swam in the pools, played volleyball, basketball, and tennis, and competed in running and jumping events.

Lewicka was one of the first in Eastern Europe to popularise the ideas of an active lifestyle and sunbathing, thereby attracting to Druskininkai thousands of holidaymakers from all over the region. After the Second World War a well-known Lithuanian specialist in physical education, Karolis Dineika, continued her ideas and expanded the park.

Ignatius Fonberg (1801-1891)

A chemist and a professor at Vilnius University, Ignatius Fonberg is an important personality in the history of Druskininkai. In 1830, appointed by the Russian czar to investigate local mineral springs in Druskininkai, he proved that five of the springs that had been discovered were suitable for treatment purposes and, thanks to their composition, were found to be similar to the already-famous (at that time) waters of Baden Baden and Karlovy Vary.

Thanks to Fonberg’s research, a project for the construction of a resort in Druskininkai was prepared, and this was approved by Nicholas I himself. The project was granted the sum of 25,000 silver roubles taken from the Russian empire’s state bank. Druskininkai’s development as a resort gained a good deal of momentum from these happy circumstances.

Karolis Dineika (1898-1980)

Following the conclusion of the Second World War, Druskininkai witnessed a Lithuanian sports pioneer by the name of Karolis Dineika introduce ideas about a healthy and active lifestyle. Appointed to Druskininkai in 1952, he managed to breathe new life into Eugenia Lewicka’s park: Dineika had developed and supplemented it with new wellness techniques and had also equipped it with a pavilion of cascades and aeroionotherapy, a foot acupressure pool, and a walking and cycle path by the name of Saulė. Thanks to him, once again Druskininkai’s health park became one of the most popular places in the resort.

In our time, the old methods of treatment by motion can be explored in the refurbished wellness park that was named after Karolis Dineika. Here the culture of healing and physical activity is combined with water treatments in cascading baths, aerohydroionotherapy, and sauna.

Józef Piłsudski (1867-1935)

Józef Piłsudski was a Polish marshal, an activist of independence, and a politician, the initiator of the restoration of the ‘Republic of Both Nations’, and an honorary citizen of Druskininkai in the inter-war period.

This future marshal was born in the Švenčionys district (Lithuania), and spent his childhood and youth in Vilnius. From 1924, following Druskininkai’s recovery after the Second World War, he began to visit the resort regularly during the season and made full use of the various therapies that were being provided by the resort. There is a photograph of the marshal bathing in the cascade at Ratnyčėlė. Whilst visiting Druskininkai, Piłsudski was staying in a wooden villa on the grounds of what is now the Violeta hotel, and in a building that has not survived which was located at Jasna Street 8 (now Dineika Street). Piłsudski’s visits to Druskininkai also attracted the Polish elite and helped the resort to regain its popularity.

Jonas Pileckis (1821-1878)

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the talented physician Jonas Pileckis took care of the development of Druskininkai. He was actually granted the function of a resort manager and he contributed significantly to the establishment of Druskininkai on the international stage. Much of the recognition for this act should in fact go to his wife, Helen.

Around 1840, whilst still studying at the Vilnius Academy of Medicine, Pileckis married a high-born beauty by the name of Helen Soltan. The Soltans were a large family of Lithuanian-Polish nobles. Helen’s father, Stanisław, was the marshal of the Lithuanian manor, ie. one of the highest officials in the grand duchy of Lithuania (GDL). In 1794 he was one of the organisers of the Kościuszko rebellion in the GDL. In 1812 Napoleon Bonaparte included him in the GDL’s interim government. However, following the catastrophic French defeat in the 1812 campaign, Pileckis was forced to emigrate to Saxony. When Stanisław Soltan died, Helen was still only fifteen years of age, growing up on the estate of Countess Pacaitė-Potockienė near Grodno.

After becoming the wife of Jonas Pileckis, as a true lady of the nobility Helen attracted famous people to the resort. Meanwhile, Pileckis’ own activities were directed towards the development of Druskininkai’s infrastructure: on his initiative and with his financial support a park was established and a mineral water gallery, bathing places, entertainment, and a meetings mansion by the name of Kurhaus were all built. In coordination with the administration duties and his vocation as a scientist, he published a monograph entitled ‘A brief description of the chemical properties and healing effect of Druskininkai’s mineral water’.

Jonas Pileckis’ work for Druskininkai continued for 36 years. His gravestone and grave with its metal fence can be found in the Old Cemetery.

The Kiersnowski family (from the middle of the nineteenth century to the second decade of the twentieth)

Every visitor to the resort will remember the white mansion that is located on the strand alongside Lake Druskonis, which has long since became a symbol of Druskininkai. Currently the building is used as Druskininkai’s town museum. However, not everyone knows that it was first and foremost a luxury out-of-town villa, built under the orders of grand duchy’s noble Kiersnowski family. It is said that in this villa the young M K Čiurlionis taught the young ladies of the Kiersnowski family to play the grand piano.

Near the entrance to Druskininkai’s Old Cemetery you will find a large crypt belonging to the Kiersnowski family.

Pranas Sūrutis

In the eighteenth century Druskininkai was still a small Lithuanian village. However, the locals already knew how to adapt the abundant brine banks to make full use of them. The most famous of these locals was the folk doctor, Pranas Sūrutis, who became better known after having treated his patient with mineral waters for three consecutive seasons. The patient was a well-known Lithuanian historian by the name of Teodor Narbutt who, following his successful treatment, highly praised Druskininkai in his articles. It is safe to say that this is how the first advertising for Druskininkai was written.

While visiting Druskininkai, why not try the Sūrutis treatment that is provided in the town’s health centre. This is a bath of the highest levels of mineralisation, filled with heated water from the deepest bore in Druskininkai, which is as deep as 300 metres.

Vytautas Kazimieras Jonynas (1907-1997)

For a long time Vytautas Kazimieras Jonynas, Lithuanian graphic artist, painter, sculptor, stained glass artist, and one of the most prominent Lithuanian artists of the twentieth century, lived and worked in Druskininkai and brought to the town most of his work that he had created abroad. You will find most of them in the V K Jonynas house gallery that is located near Lake Druskonis and the M K Čiurlionis Memorial Museum. The gallery regularly hosts exhibitions and meetings.

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