Alytus is the sixth biggest town in Lithuania. The town adorned by picturesque forest-covered hills is surrounded by 16 km long bend of the River Nemunas. The origination of the city (pop. 69.9 thousand) dates back to the 14th century when Alytus was just a fortress standing on a hill on the confluence of the Nemunas and the Alytupis. In 1581 Alytus was granted the rights of a town. It is also called the capital city of the Dzūkija ethnographic region.
In the late 19th century during the period of Czarist occupation Alytus was turned into a fortress. By that time a motorway and a railway were built there. The so-called artillery barracks built in a forest close to Garrison Church and Kareivinių Park with Saratov barracks have survived from that period until these days.
The obelisk built at the location of a mass burial ground of war prisoners and civilians who died and were killed in Alytus forest reminds us of the horrors of World War II. Roughly 60,000 Jews were killed and buried in the Vidzgiris forest during Nazi occupation; the highest hill of the memorial features a monument to pain–a broken David Star. One should visit the nurtured Old Garden of the City, the freedom monument (The Angel of Freedom) and the memorial to the partisans of the Dainava district who died for Lithuanian independence. In 1944 the legendary French aviation squadron that fought against Nazism named "Normandy-Nemunas" was settled in Alytus.
The Regional Parks of Dzūkija, Meteliai and Nemunas’ loops attracts the visitors by a beautiful nature as well as Žuvintas Reserve inhabited by a large variety of birds. Ancient crafts have survived in many ethnographic villages of the Dzukija National Park. One can enjoy lively sceneries of the environs opening up from the hill-forts of Merkine, Liskiava and Punia.
The residents of Dzukija are inseparable from merry communication and melodious songs. Their raudos (laments) like Lithuanian sutartines (ancient Lithuanian polyphonic folk songs) are a unique form of singing. Annually on the 15th of August the Pivašiūnai Church of the 17th century which contains a miraculous painting of “Our Lady” invites people to the Assumption feast (Žolinės).
Alytus - town within a park
Alytus mound is the only preserved witness of the foundation of the town. Its monument of history and culture. It is said that a wooden castle that was burnt down later by the Teutonic Order was standing here in the 14th century. An impressive panorama of the town opens from the mound, while its foot is decorated by an exposition of sculptures “Ancestors of Alytus Mound”.
Not far away from the central Town Hall Square an ornament of the old town – city garden - shows green. Formation of a geometrical park plan was started in 1930 in a natural pine forest. The park has a fountain with a small pool; a beautiful rose garden attracts eyes of the visitors. The town garden merges with a Resort park situated in the natural pine forest; they are separated only by an Angel of Freedom – a monument dedicated for people who sacrificed their lives for independence of Lithuania. The first high school of Alytus (present School of Fine Crafts) is adjacent to the park. Eyes and soul may rejoice in Dailidės Lake formed in the old riverbed of the River Nemunas and fountains playing in it in summer time; a beach with wooden foot-bridges and a boat pier installed by the lake.
A Youth Park is distinguished by its peculiar composition of metal – plastic sculptures - which stretches by the springy rivulets. Children’s playgrounds, sports grounds are installed here and marked bicycle tracks offer a safe riding even for children. Vidzgiris botanical preserve is famous not only for its extraordinary diversity of plants but historical sites as well. Those who are interested in nature, history and like wandering can enjoy a walk on an ecological path (1 – 3.5 km) leading to Radžiūnų mound – archaeological monument dating back to the 13th century.
Among the oldest buildings of the town that survived to nowadays, three Catholic churches should be mentioned: St Louis Church – the oldest church in Alytus that was rebuilt in 1818, St Guardian Angels’ Church built in 1830, and St Casimir’s Church (former and present house of worship of the Lithuanian Army)