It is fitting that I, a scholar of Lithuanian history, visited Poland because Lithuania’s history has been intertwined with Poland’s history for centuries. I came across two commemorations of that shared history while in Krakow.
The first was a monument in the planty, the city park that encircles the center of town. I took a quick look at the plaque as we walked past. Even though I don’t speak Polish, I immediately understood what it said. The monument was built in 1886 to commemorate the 500 year anniversary of the establishment of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1386. The statues on the top represent Queen Jadwyga of Poland and Grand Duke Jogaila of Lithuania, whose marriage cemented the union.
This year is the 600 year anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald (Polish), aka the Battle of Tannenburg (German), aka the Battle of Žalgiris (Lithuanian) — all of which mean, more or less, “green forest.” In 1410, the combined forces of Poland and Lithuania defeated the Teutonic Knights. It was a major win for the Poles and Lithuanians and a major defeat for the Teutonic Knights. The banners above Florianska Street in Old Town included one commemorating Vytautas, the Grand Duke who led the Lithuanian forces.
Of course, I am a 20th century historian so all of this medieval history is way out of my area of expertise. One day, I might just venture back farther in time and learn more about Lithuania’s ancient medieval empire.