TELSIAI (TOWN) Telsiai. Photo by M. Silinskas

  • Telsiai is the capital of Zemaitija (Samogitia) - the historical, ethnical north-western part of Lithuania. The city is the administrative, catholic centre of Telsiai region and Telsiai County. Telsiai had been founded on seven hills on the banks of Lake Mastis. Its name derives from the small River Telse that flows into the lake.
  • Archaeological findings from peat bogs around the lake suggest that people have been living here for at least 6 000 years. 
  • The Samogitians sometimes say jokingly that a building is “as tall as in Telsiai”. This is not because there are many multistory buildings in this city. By saying this they take pride in their capital. Telsiai is a district center as well as the diocesan center of this region.
  • The town lies on seven hills next to Lake Mastis. Its name derives from the small River Telse that flows into the lake. Archaeological findings from peat bogs around the lake suggest that people have been living here for at least 6,000 years. Telsiai was marked in 13th-century maps. The first reference to it in Livonian Order chronicles dates from 1450.

  • Telsiai started to grow in the 17th century. At that time a noblemen’s seimelis (little Seimas) met regularly and the town benefited from trade privileges. When Bernardin monks settled here, a baroque and classical church and an abbey were built. Maybe this was an effort to ask for God’s mercy and protection from misfortunes like those that had devastated the town at the beginning of the 18th century. At that time one third of the population died as the result of a massacre by the Swedish army and of plague epidemics.

  • In 1791 Telsiai received a town charter. The town grew to become a center for many religious communities. In the 19th century there was a famous school for rabbis where representatives from all over the world came to study. The Russian Orthodox church, built in the middle of the 19th century, is still there.

  • A bishop’s palace was built and a seminary opened which was closed after the Soviet occupation. It was reopened during the times of the revival movement in 1989.

  • Up till now the city has retained its status as a center for Catholicism: the bishop’s palace, Catholic schools and societies are situated here.

  • Telsiai school has a long history. The first school opened in 1612. Later the city had many gymnasiums. Now there are ten schools and a school of applied arts where young people from all over the country study textiles, knitting, design, woodwork and metalwork.

  • For over 50 years Telsiai has had the Alka Museum, which houses many items of Samogitia’s distinctive cultural heritage. The collection was built up by enthusiasts, societies and organizations. It includes folk art given by the makers themselves or by their children or grandchildren, materials depicting the cultural life of the region’s estates, its history and nature.

  • There is also Samogitia’s open-air museum, with authentic buildings from the 19th and early 20th century, and a wooden windmill. Visitors can visit an old smithy in which a fire burns, and watch a theater company performing in a barn. Folk art festivals and international folklore festivals are held there.

  • The inhabitants of Telsiai have long been famous for their love of dancing, singing and drama. Besides dance and song groups for all ages, the city has a popular folk theater that has played to full houses for the last 40 years, not only in Samogitia but also in other cities of Lithuania.

  • Today the capital of Samogitia covers an area of 1,500 hectares and has more than 35,000 inhabitants. Food processing companies and construction companies are based in the city.

  • Last year in Telsiai a business center financed by the Swedish government was opened. Its aim is to help people set up new businesses. Here everybody who wants to can learn about his or her chances for success and about possibilities for establishing relations between the farmer, the producer, the processing factory, the provider of services and the buyer.


Samogitian Cultural Association Editorial Board, 2000
Samogitian Museum ALKA, 2000

Last update 2012.12.05