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Settlements and farmsteads

Most of the rural inhabitants live in their own detached houses. There are a lot of prefabricated houses, turned out by the Alytus construction plant, which look very much alike. Recently, however., farm houses have become more varied, a considerable number of them being built according to individual and rather original projects.

As a rule, in rural settlements dwelling houses face the street or the road. There is usually a front garden planted with decorative shrubs and flowers. Sometimes we can also see a drive leading to a garage under the house, but this is only in houses built quite recently. At the back there is usually a fenced farmyard with an outbuilding where the farmer may keep a cow, several pigs, some poultry and the fodder. More often than not there is a chain dog, the traditional guard of one-family houses.

While traveling along the roads of Lithuania one can often see lonely oaks or groups of untended fruit trees growing in the middle of a vast field. They are the remnants of the former farmsteads abandoned by their owners many of whom have forcibly been moved to the settlements against their own free will. Here and there one can still spot a lonely house the owners of which, for better or worse, have been allowed to stay in their old place of residence.

Today typical specimens of ethnic farmsteads can be seen in the open-air Country Life Museum at Rumsiskes, founded in 1966 off the Vilnius-Kaunas highway. There are also several old villages and farmsteads which have been conserved and protected by the state. There we can see the traditional Lithuanian scenery which has been cherished and cared for by several generations and without which we could not understand the spiritual and material culture of the Lithuanians.

Old Lithuanian villages and townships grew up naturally. There was a lot of greenery in them and they harmonized, well with the surroundings. The Zemaitian peasants were the first to move from villages to farmsteads. In Suvalkija this happened in the 19th century, in Aukstaitija peasants moved to farmsteads at the turn of the 20th century. In Vilnija, which was occupied by Poland from 1920 to 1939, the old villages stretching along a single high street have survived to the present day.

Farm buildings used to be built of wood. They were simple, sturdy and practicable. As late as the first quarter of the 20th century (the second quarter in Aukstaitija and Dzukija) farm buildings used to be thatched with straw. On small holdings the number of farm buildings was one, two or three, while on large holdings there were sometimes as many as 8 or 10. They invariably included the farmhouse, cowshed and pigsty, barn and granary; sometimes there was also a summer kitchen, bath house, smoke house and potato bunker. Every farmstead had a well, a kitchen garden and an orchard.

Lithuanians liked to encircle their farmsteads with trees, mostly with maples and linden trees. Oaks, as the most beautiful trees, were planted at the front, birch trees near the barns, rowan trees at the fringes of the farmstead.

Zemaitija. Sites for farmsteads used to be selected with great care so that they should harmonize well with the surroundings, get enough sunshine and be protected against the winds. In Zemaitija farmers used to have more buildings on their farms than in the other ethnic regions of Lithuania. They usually fenced them with diagonal palings, wattle-fences or sometimes walls of piled stones.

Zemaitian farm buildings were rather large, sturdy, of medium height with thatched, hipped or broach roofs, broad eaves coming down very low.

The plan of the farmhouse was rather complicated. There used to be from 5 to 15 rooms. In a separate room in the center of the house there was the chimney with an open fire, which was also used for smoking and storing meat and drying wood. Sometimes there was also a stove for baking bread. The chimney divided the house into two parts. On both parts of the chimney there were two entrance passages, one lea- ding to the best end of the house, the other to the living quarters. each end of the house was divided lengthwise by a wall. Beside this, there used to be pantries and boxrooms. On the outside the house was boarded vertically without any decorative elements. All the other farm buildings were also rather large, with a lot of partitioning. Even granaries used to have as many as 6 partitioned quarters.

As a rule there was a pillar-type cross erected by or inside every farmyard.

SuvaIkian farmstead are usually located in a flat field. Because of the great number of trees planted around them, they look like small groves from afar, Suvalkian farm buildings are narrow, long and usually have a saddle roof. The farmhouse is divided into three parts. Each of them contains from 4 to 8 rooms. At the back there is an entrance leading to the kitchen. The house is divided into the best end and the living quarters. At the front there is a porch with a saddle roof. Richer houses have shutters. On the outside houses are boarded horizontally, with carved decorations fringing the roof. By the side of the drive lea- ding to the farmstead an iron or concrete cross used to be erected but since it was located some distance away from the buildings, it was not considered to be a constituent part of the architectural ensemble of the farmstead, In wooded localities a small chapel used to be fixed on the trunk of a tree growing at the turn of the drive leading into the farmstead.

The Aukstaitian Plain is dotted with farmsteads, but the hilly eastern parts of Aukstaitija have retained their old villages stretching along the high street. In some places Aukstaitian farmsteads are built on one side of the road, in other places they saddle the road with the farmhouses built with their ends to the street, and outbuildings grouped around the farmyard behind the other end of the farmhouse. The buildings are long, saddle-roofed (although there are some older ones which are broach - or hipped-roofed). The barns have wide entrances at the ends to let in a cart with hay.

Farmhouses usually have a porch. The windows at the end of the house facing the street are fringed with carvings. Two inner walls divide the house into three parts - the living quarters, the entrance passage and the best end of the house. Each part may be further divided into smaller rooms by lengthwise walls. The wealth of the Aukstaitian farmer was indicated by the size and not by the number of his farm buildings, as was the case in Zemaitija.

Every village and farmstead had a cross erected by the roadside.

The architecture of Dzukian farmhouses and outbuildings was very much alike. In villages, houses clustered together, with streets running from the center in all directions.

Most houses in Dzukija were built according to the same plan as the Aukstaitian houses, and contained from 3 to 6 rooms. But it should be pointed out that the number of small houses was greater here: they contained only the entrance passage and the living quarters, that is, they did not have "the best end". Barns were usually rather wide, whereas dwelling houses and cowsheds were much narrower. Outer decorations on buildings were rather scarce. In the sandy soil of the groves people used to dig holes where they stored their potatoes in winter. At the end of the villages there is very often a cemetery.

The architecture of farm buildings in the Curonian spit and the Nemunas delta was quite different from what we could see in the eastern ethnic regions of Lithuania. Farmhouses here looked very much alike to those in Zemaitija: on the outside they were boarded horizontally or vertically and painted brown. Before the 20th century the majority of them had hipped roofs. Saddle roofs came in the 20th century. They were mostly tiled or thatched with reeds and decorated with gable posts carved in the form of horse heads. There were usually two entrances, one of them through a porch at the front. Houses had two ends separated by a passage: one for the family, the other for visitors. Each end was divided into 2,3 or 4 rooms.

Granaries played a very important role in folk culture. Usually a granary was a small building, made of logs with small windows or no windows at all. The smallest granaries were those built in Dzukija. Granaries were either divided into two parts, or there were two granaries on the farmstead. Granaries were usually decorated with carvings. In Aukstaitija they had open porches, with columns nicely carved. Granaries were used for storing grain, keeping clothes and bedding, also as sleeping quarters for the daughters of the family or the hired girls in summer and sometimes even in winter (in summer men usually slept on hay in barns).

Granaries were also used by newlyweds in their honey-moon. They are very often mentioned in folk songs and legends.

Bath houses occur in the eastern and south-eastern parts of Lithuania. They are less frequent in Zemaitija and practically not known in Suvalkija. They are usually built at the end of the village, near streams and lakes.

A flower garden was a traditional constituent part of every Lithuanian farmstead. In villages it was planted at the front of the house facing the road. In farmsteads it was usually located under the windows of the best end of the house. They were usually fenced with low carved palings or a wicker fence. The traditional flowers were rues, peonies, lilies, mint, pansies, marigolds, nasturtiums. There was also a clump of lilac or yellow acacia. The rue, which was an emblem of maiden chasity (like myrtle in other countries) was the most important flower in the garden. Lithuanians grew it in their gardens even in emigration.

The Lithuanians have always loved and cared for birds. They used to fix a cart wheel at the top of tall tree for storks to make their nest there. If a couple of storks chose the farmyard of a farmer for their home, it was a sign that a good man lived on the farm and it was safe for a traveler to stay the night there. Swallows were also welcome to make their nests under the eaves of barns and cowsheds, for they were believed to protect against lightning.

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Copyright , 1996 Lithuanian Folk Culture Centre.