Kernavė is a small town located on the right bank of the Neris River, 35 km from Vilnius, and in the past it was one of the first centers of the Lithuanian state (13th century). The legendary Pajauta Valley and its five mounds guard the remains of the last European pagan capital. Kernavė is an area of unique archaeological and historical value. In 2004 the State Cultural Reserve of Kernavė was declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Kernavė is the Lithuanian Troy. On the picturesque bank of Neris River five hill-forts surround Pajauta Valley. People have settled and been buried here since time immemorial. Over an area of 194 hectares the surviving cultural properties, numerous archaeological finds and the landscape formed in the course of history testify to the cultures which have existed in the area for 11,000 years, since the Late Palaeolithic period (9th millennium BC) to this day. At times thriving, stagnant at others, life in the area never ground to a halt. In historic sources, Kernavė was first mentioned in 1279 in the Herman Wartberge’s Livonian Chronicle, which described the unsuccessful march of the Order of the Sword to Kernavė, the land of Grand Duke Traidenis. The Middle Ages (13th–14th cent.) were an exceptional time for Kernavė, one of the most important political and economic centres in Lithuania, a time of flourishing and, unfortunately, of failures. It left an invaluable heritage: a fortification system of five hill-forts, burial ground with amazing grave goods, the traces of burnt ducal castles and the remains of a town of craftsmen and merchants, which has disappeared.
The cultural heritage of the last pagan country in Europe lies hidden under a layer of deposits. Archaeological excavations, which started in the area almost 30 years ago, deepened our knowledge about the country’s prehistory, and about one of the most significant processes in the history of Lithuania and Europe, the transformation of a pagan community into a Christian one.
At present only about 2 per cent of the area of the reserve has been excavated. As a result, 16 archaeological and three historical monuments have been entered in the state register of immovable cultural values. The Archaeological and Historical Museum of Kernavė now houses over 30,000 exhibits, some of which are on display in the museum.
The most significant results of the scientific research, however, are that Kernavė has come to be known as a site of great importance for the investigation of the Balts history.