Utena District is an area of heights, hills, thick woods and picturesque lakes situated in the North-western part of the Aukštaičių Highlands of Baltijos group of hills, in the basin of the river Šventoji. Ethnographically it belongs to East Aukštaitija, administratively – to the Utena County. It is surrounded by six administrative areas, i.e. the districts of Rokiškis, Ignalina, Molėtai, Anykščiai, Zarasai and Švenčionys. The area of the Utena District is 1229 sq.km. It is smaller than the average area of the country’s districts (by 2.1%) and covers 1.9% of Lithuania’s territory.
History. Utena is one of the oldest places in Lithuania. Its beginning is associated with the Narkūnų mound that is mentioned on numerous occasions in Sword-bearers' chronicles. Archaeologists believe that a settlement existed here as early as in the II millennium BC King Mindaugas' letter of the year 1261 is the first written source where of a wooden castle on the banks of the Utenėlė rivulet was mentioned. The legend has it that the castle was erected by the legendary duke Utenis.
During the conquests of Lithuania by the Sword-bearers in 1373-1375 Utena and the surrounding areas were severely devastated, the Utena castle was destroyed in 1433. A settlement on what today is the confluence of rivulets started only as late as in the 14th century. In 1416 it already had a church, a manor was established, trade fairs started taking place, merchants moved in and inns were built. During its 700 years of history since the first mention (in 1261) Utena suffered all kinds of disasters. In 1655 the Russian army invaded and badly destroyed the town; the Swedes devastated Utena during the Northern War (1700-1721) and in 1812 it suffered a lot from Napoleon's troops. In 1831 it saw a big battle between the Tsar's troops and the rebels. People of Utena also participated in the rebellion of the year 1863.
Even during the hard times Utena used to rise from ashes, it grew and developed. The Warsaw - St. Petersburg highroad that was built in 1835 was very important for the town. A big post station was erected and the narrow-gauge railway was constructed. The town developed in a spontaneous manner, houses were jammed together, therefore 3/4 of the town burned down during the fire of 1879.
Before the World War I Utena was merely a rural district centre. After the recovery of Independence Utena became a county centre, in 1924 it was granted the rights of a secondary town and had its own burgomaster. Streets were being built, beds of rivulets were being put in order, bridges and houses were being erected. The industry, however, remained of a local nature: there was a dairy, a printing house, three mills, a sawmill and a small power station. Unfortunately, the development works were interrupted by the World War II.
Before the beginning of the World War II the population of the town had not yet reached 7 000, but in 1941 more than 4 000 were executed by German occupants. It took Utena 20 years to reach the pre-war level. As the industry of Lithuania was being developed, it was decided to turn Utena into a regional centre. The growth of industry in Utena began by erecting the plant of laboratory electric furnaces (completed in 1960), followed by opening of a number of other enterprises specialised in the production of knitwear, beer, meat, milk, etc. Such growth of industry also stimulated the construction of new residential districts such as Vyturių, Dauniškio, Aukštakalnio, Krašuonos, also the Ąžuolijos community of private homes. Industrial growth also stimulated the growth of the town: what used to be a town with a small population has presently turned into an urban area with nearly 37 thousand inhabitants.
Partisan activity, place of mass execution. During 1945-1948 a number of Lithuania's partisans were buried in the closed cemetery of the Katlėrių village. A stone monument to commemorate the partisans buried in the cemetery was erected in 1991 (created by the local artist Vytautas Giedraitis). The rebels of the 1863 rebellion who were tortured to death by gendarmes are also buried in the cemetery. Dičiūnų cemetery is the place of burial of the partisans who died in 1945. After the start of the National Revival a monument and a commemorative board carrying the names of the defenders of the homeland's freedom who perished on May 28th, 1945 in the village of Gudėniškių was erected to commemorate M. Bivainis, B. Budrionis. J. and P. Čižai, J. Sakalys, L. Sinkūnas, A. Trinkūnas, S. Vaišnoras, V. Deveikis, J. Gaidamavičius, B. Raudonis, V. Sirgedas, A. Vaitkevičius, A. Valiulis, K. Vyžinis and K. Žala.
A prominent partisan Antanas Kraujelis who was born in 1928, fought in the H. Ruškulio-Liūto' (Lion's) detachment of Žėručio district and was a member of the regional headquarters was hiding in the estate of Albinas Pinkevičius, a resident of the Papiškių village of the Utena district, since 1960. Until 1965 he lived with his wife and son in a hiding place under the stove that was installed at the time of building the house. He died on March 17th, 1965 when the occupation army surrounded the estate. On May 19th, 1998 President of the Republic of Lithuania issued a decree and post mortem awarded Antanas- Kraujelis- Siaubūnas (the Monster) with the Vytis Cross Order of the 3rd degree.
The flag of Lithuania's Independence has been preserved in the village of Biliakiemio. Anti-Soviet resistance newspapers and proclamations were being printed there during 1944-45. In 1945 and 1947 Stasys Žibėnas, Vytautas Petravičius, Algirdas and Jurgis Katinas as well as other residents and partisans perished.
Nature. The relief of the Utena District that took shape in the late ice age is characterised by low hills and valleys. They decorate the landscape of the area but interfere a lot with the work of farmers. The highest hills are near Tauragnai: the hill of Taurapilio is 246 m. above sea level and Lithuania’s deepest lake Tauragnas (60.5 m. deep) is situated at its foot. 186 lakes of different size and form are scattered in the valleys in between the hills. Alaušas, one of the country’s biggest lakes, lies to the north of Utena, its area amounts to 1073 hectares. The legendary Indrajų lake is only three kilometres away, its size is 300 hectares. The Utenas and Vidinkstas lakes are big and picturesque, whereas Utenykštis and Aisetas are among those that have the biggest amount of fish. Numerous lakes and swamps are connected by small meandering rivulets that overflow heavily in spring and go almost dry in summer. Only the rivers of Alauša, Tauragna, Vyžuona and Šventoji that loops approximately 30 kms in the Northern part of the District have a more constant depth.
The District is in the area of medium zone mixed forests. Woods cover almost 36 thousand hectares, or 29.3 per cent of the total area of the District. Pinewoods of Rašės and Skaistašilio grow in the vicinity of Utena, Vyžuonų pinewood is situated near the village of Vyžuonų and the forests of Minčios lie behind Tauragnai. Part of the Ažvinčių woods is situated on the territory of the District and the Labanoras virgin forest looms on the other side of Sadutiškis. The variety of kinds of trees is huge. Fir-trees, birch-trees, asps, linden and other trees grow in the woods alongside with pines. Oak groves have been preserved near the Pakalnių village and in the Ąžuolijos woods in the vicinity of Utena.
Flooded meadows are fertile, although few: they are found only along the banks of Šventosios and Vyžuonos rivers.
The woods abound in roe-deer, wild boars, grey hares and foxes. There are many beavers in the rivers and lakes; some otters and musk-rats are also found. Pikes, perches, breams and roaches are the fish that fishermen catch most often. Eels can also be caught in the majority of the lakes.
The Utena District is one of the country’s areas where temperature fluctuations are very distinct. This is the first place in the country where the snow cover forms, the soil freezes in and the average daily temperature falls below zero. In comparison with other districts, winters are colder here.