Hill of Crosses
Hill of Crosses is one of these places in Lithuania that is unique around not only in Europe, but whole World. It is one of centers of religion, pilgrim place. It is possible, that first crosses or mount appeared after 1831 Uprising against Tsarist Russia. It was not possible officially to burry bodies of rebels, so crosses as symbols were put here.
Later, more and more crosses appeared at years of Independence from 1918 till about 1939. After such a period Lithuania was occupied by Soviets. As it was atheistic trend, they tried to remove crosses from mount – there were at least three such attempts.
In 1993 Pope John Paul II visited this destination, in 2000 nearby standing Franciscan monastery was opened.
For me it is special feeling place, showing that people still believe. Crosses stands here for different reasons – commemorating events, for dead people, for luck of different organizations and communities, so on.
Soviet style architecture
One thing which always fascinated me on my trips to the Ex-Sovietunion countries is the Soviet-style architecture.
Of course the Baltic countries which are nowadays members of the European Union want to get rid of these odd remains of the past as soon as possible.
Nevertheless in summer 2006 we could still find some Soviet style buildings, even in the pedestrianised city centre of Siauliai.
One interesting example is the Soviet-era tower block hotel "Siauliai" at Draugystes 25 which is nowadays a modern 3 star hotel. During Soviet times it was used to house government and KGB officials.
- Budget Travel
Hill of Crosses
The Hill of Crosses isn't really an "Off the beaten Path" tip; in fact it is the main reason why most travellers come to Siauliai. But as it is located 12 km outside of the city in a sort of no man's land and as it is not that easy to get there I decided to add this tip to "Off the beaten Path".
Legends state that the first crosses were planted at this place in the Middle Ages, but the first written sources are from 1850. At this time the crosses were likely erected to commemorate the victims of the 1831 rebellion against Tsarist Russia. Later in the mid 20th century Lithuanians put up crosses in memory of family and friends who had died in the Siberian gulags.
In 1961 when Lithuania was under Communist rule, the Soviets bulldozed the hill and the site was guarded by the KGB. After the fall of the Sovietunion the number of crosses has multiplied. Even Pope John Paul II visited the Hill of Crosses in 1993. Nowadays almost 100.000 various crosses from nearly all countries are planted at the Hill of Crosses.
Please have a look at my "Transportation tips" for information about how to get to the Hill of Crosses.
- Budget Travel
The place of Battle of Saule (Sun)
This was one of most important and succesfull battles of Baltic tribes against German crusaders. In September of 1236 Germans (Knights’ Order of Brothers of Sword) with some of their local allies (or better say: already conquered tribes) – 3000 men together were coming back to Riga after raid in Lithuania and were attacked by Lithuanian and Samogitian tribes’ forces. The battle took place in the swamp and therefore heavily armed Knights were not able to fight on horses. The Order was totally defeated. The Master and 48 Knights of Order (and hundreds of ordinary soldiers, I believe) were killed. Those Germans who got out of the battlefield alive later on their way to Riga were ambushed by Semigalians (the Baltic tribe who lived in South of nowadays Latvia – in region of Jelgava, Dobele and Bauska). After such heavy defeat Order of Brothers of Sword finished its existence and remains of it were incorporated in new Order – Livonian Order who was a branch of Teutonic Order. Actually there are some minor disputes among historians on wether this is real place of the battle, but majority tend to belive it was here where Baltic tribes made one of their greatest victories in this war lasting for few centuries. Actually there are only 2 ways of visiting the site: by your own car or by hitch hiking (and last 2-3 km by walking). If you are going from Riga then some 20 km before Siauliai and approximately 1 km after crossing river Musa there will be a sign to the left: Saules musio laukas. Then after one more 1 km you have to turn to left again and again after 1 km there you will come to your destination. It is marked by a stone and information on wooden plate near the dirt road.
Hill of Crosses - history
The first written record dates back to 1850 but it may have gone back to the Middle Ages in fact. It is thought that the 1850 is about the crosses planted in memory of the victims of 1831 rebellion against the Russians. After the 1863 rebellion the number of crosses increased and in the early 1900 there were already about 150. After the late 1930s the crosses multiplied rapidly. In 1961 the Soviet decided that these crosses show too much religion and they came with the bulldozer, but still people resumed planting crosses, so another estimated 1200 crosses came under the bulldozer in 1975. The cross planting was a way for the Lithuanians to show their independence and defiance towards the Soviet occupation.
Hill of Crosses - impressions
Although it's called Hill of Crosses it should actually be "Hills" as there are several. I have visited three times now and every time it is different as people bring lots and lots of crosses many of them from Poland and even overseas. If you didn't bring one, then you can buy one at the many souvenir stalls.
Hill of Crosses - how to get there
If you drive yourself then you need to catch the road to Riga and just keep going (never turn left) until you see the sign on the photo.
If you go by public transport, the chances are slim that you can find a minibus that takes you directly to the Hill of Crosses site but after about 10 km you will have to get of at the turn off (sign in the photo) and then walk another 2 km along the road.
I've done it both ways but if you travel by bus get yourself a timetable from the information of the bus station and start walking back to the bus stop in time. Bring yourself a drink as it can be hot.
Currently there are some souvenir stalls on the site and a couple of smelly wooden drop toilets (you wash your hands in the nearby rivulet and bring your toilet paper). In 2006 they laid the foundation for a proper visitor's center, so there should be an improvement in the future.
A unusual cross/star of David from a German woman.
Of all the Crosses on this massive hill this caught my eyes, I was drawn to it. Irma read the fine print...
The German woman to erected this Star/Cross, stated that "may God Almighty in heaven and earth forgive the German people for what they've done to the Jews of Europe"...
The Nazi together with local collaborators murdered over 90% of Lithuanian Jews such a large part fo Jewish population was not exterminated in any other occupied country. Paneriai in Vilnius, forts in Kaunas, expecially the many other places all around Lithuania became gravesite and graveyards for tens of 1,000's of Jews, all in all there are 200 sights of mass killing in Lithuania. One tenth of Lithuania's population was eliminated, the entire national community, who enriched Lithuania with huge cultured riches.
To get to the Hill of Crosses...
-164 km tothe east of Klaipeda; northeast of Siauliai off the A-12 Jelgava road.
-To get there by car from Klaipeda - drive north to Palanga then take the highway all towards Plunge and Siauliai.
Hill of Crosses - pope's platform
Some years ago the pope visited this site. A special platform was built for him from where he held a service. It is still there today, possibly awaiting the visit of the new pope?
Hill of Crosses - church
If you feel the need of more information or of yourself praying, then you may want to visit the church. It is located behind the hills and can easily be seen.