Kaunas kou´näs [key], Pol. Kowno, Rus. Kovno, city (1993 pop. 429,000), in Lithuania, on the Neman River. It is a river port and an industrial center with industries producing machinery, chemicals, plastics, and textiles. Over 85% of the population is Lithuanian. Probably founded as a fortress at the end of the 10th cent., Kaunas was a medieval trading center and a Lithuanian stronghold against the Teutonic Knights. It passed to a united Lithuanian–Polish state in 1569 and to Russia in the third partition of Poland (1795). Although strongly fortified by the Russians, it was captured (1915) by the Germans in World War I. From 1918 to 1940, Kaunas was the provisional capital of Lithuania— Vilnius (which Lithuania claimed as its rightful capital) being held by Poland until 1939. Kaunas was occupied by German forces from 1941 to 1944. During the German occupation the Jews of Kaunas (about 30% of the prewar population) were virtually exterminated. Before evacuating at the approach of Soviet troops the Germans destroyed much of the city. Among Kaunas's landmarks are a 16th-century town hall, the reconstructed remnants of a castle (14th–15th cent.), the Vytautus church (15th cent.), and a noted 17th-century monastery. The city has a university (founded 1922), a polytechnical institute (founded 1950), a medical institute (founded 1951), and several museums.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: CIS and Baltic Political Geography