Utena (pop. 33.1 thousand), the present capital of the Aukštaitija ethnographic region, was first mentioned in written sources in 1261. In 1599 the town was granted a trade privilege. Destroyed during the Nordic War, Utena started reviving in the 19th century when the Kaunas-Daugavpils highway and later a branch of the Panevėžys-Švenčionys narrow gauge railway were built.
Utena started developing at a rapid pace after Lithuania became an independent state in 1918. In several years, 400 houses were constructed and around 30 km of streets were built. A market place housed 34 shops and 3 mills were in operation.
The oldest building of Utena that survived till the present is the Post-office Station in the Classicist style (1835). The Russian tsar Nicholas I with his son Alexander, the Russian painter Ilya Repin and the famous French writer Honore de Balzac visited the station and exchanged their horses here. Presently, the building of the Post-office houses Art School and Picture Gallery. Utena boasts the nice Ascension Church of the 19th century in Neo-Baroque style, whose interior is decorated with valuable works of the Italian school painters and local masters. Utena region had plenty of folk artists who would sculpture the crucifix. The Utena Local Lore Museum stores a rich collection of wood carvers’ works, which has been collected since 1929. The oldest sculptures made by cross makers date back to the 17th-19th centuries.