Biržai is a city situated in the North of Lithuania, in the county of Panevėžys, 66 kilometres north of Panevėžys. It lies about 200 kilometres north of Vilnius and about 100 kilometres south of Riga, the capital of Latvia. In the district of Biržai, the northernmost point of Lithuania is located (at latitude 56º27‘ N).
There exists various theories theories as to how Biržai got its name. According to one, its name may be derived from Lithuanian word beržas (birch): in ancient times, this territory was covered with forest dominated by birches. Others believe that the city has its name from Lithuanian word biržė (line, boundary), as it lies near the Lithuanian-Latvian border.
One of the oldest cities of Lithuania, Biržai has an over a five-centuries-long history of being granted the status of city. The city lies at the confluence of two rivers, Apaščia and Agluona, and on the shores of two lakes, Širvėna and Kilučiai. The city’s history is closely associated with the Dukes of Biržai, members of the Radvila (Radziwiłł) family, who resided at their castle fortified with bastions and ramparts. In the middle of 19th century, the Count Tiškevičius (Tyszkiewicz) family also left a deep imprint on the city’s history. The city boasts magnificent churches: St. John’s the Baptist Church and Evangelical Reformed Church. Biržai is a place where people avoid uttering a common swearing expression: ‘Kad tu prasmegtum!’ (Literally: Be swallowed by the Earth) even to a foe because it may come true. Circulating ground water may dissolve gypsum, sandstone or dolomite bedrock, gradually forming spaces and caverns known as sinkholes. The total number of karst formations in the district is estimated to be more than 9 000. It is a place where local people cherish their traditional knowledge of using mineral resources for healing purposes and of brewing beer.
The city and district of Biržai is home to several nationally-known businesses such as AB Siūlas (textiles manufacturing), UAB Biržų Duona (bread and confectionery), UAB Biržų Alus (brewery), Čygo-Kalkio TŪB Rinkuškiai (brewery), UAB Tyla (timber products), UAB Agaras (meats and meat products).
Total area of the district of Biržai: 1,476 sq. km. Population of the district of Biržai (at the beginning of 2012): 27,678 residents, of whom 13,317 and 14,361 lived in urban areas and rural settlements, respectively.
Coat of arms
In 1589, the King Zigmantas Vaza (Sigismund III Vasa) granted to Biržai the city rights under Magdeburg Law and a privilege to use a coat of arms. On a field or, a flying flag argent on a brown staff is depicted. On the flag, a black eagle, with legs and beak or, and claws argent, is displayed. The coat of arms is enclosed by a laurel wreath. The coat of arms carries symbols that indicate the eminence in the field of battle and the high title of imperial prince of the Dukes of Biržai and Dubingiai line, and the authority of the Radvila family over the city. The coat of arms of Biržai is unique because of the antique laurel wreath. In Grand Duchy of Lithuania, only members of the Radvila family were granted the title Reichsfurst (Duke) of the Holy Roman Empire and were entitled to display the laurel wreath on their coat of arms.