Lithuania tourism spots

As you visit the sites included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, you will see something that you have never seen in any other country: a unique Vilnius Historical Centre – the Old Town, which is one of the largest and most beautiful old towns in Central and Eastern Europe; Kernavė, the first capital of Lithuania, which has until today preserved traces of the most important stages of history of the humankind; and the Lithuanian paradise – the Curonian Spit. You will also have a chance to look at the unique branch of Lithuanian folk art, cross-crafting, learn about Song Festivals, and listen to Lithuanian polyphonic songs, called “sutartinės” in Lithuanian.

 

VILNIUS OLD TOWN - THE HISTORICAL CENTER

Political centre of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania between the 13th century and the end of the 18th century, Vilnius has had a profound influence on the cultural and architectural development of much of Eastern Europe. Despite invasions and partial destruction, it has preserved an impressive complex of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classical buildings as well as its medieval layout and natural setting – this was the primary justification for inscribing Vilnius Historical Centre on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994.

Vilnius, the name of the capital of Lithuania, was first mentioned in 1323 in a letter of Gediminas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania. In the letter, Gediminas invited European merchants and craftsmen to come and settle in Vilnius and promised them every support. Since then, Vilnius has been famous for its tolerance towards different nations and religions. Names of streets in the old town (German, Jewish, Tartar, and Russian streets) and shrines of nine religions testify to the multinational composition of the population.

 

 The pride of Vilnius Old Town – St. Ann’s Church

Photo by Andrius Ufartas, BFL

Vilnius Old Town is one of the largest (approximately 360 ha, over 1,500 buildings) and most beautiful old towns in Central and Eastern Europe. Vilnius as a whole is among Top 20 Most Beautiful Cities of the World and, as such, must be visited.
The main landmarks – the Gediminas Castle on the top of a hill and the Cathedral, rebuilt several times, on the foot of the hill. The olden rulers of the country lie buried in the vaults of the Cathedral. A monument to Gediminas, the reputed founder of Vilnius, was erected in the Cathedral Square.

More to that, flooding with manmade and natural parks and groves, squares and lawns, the capital of Lithuania is considered to be one of the greenest capitals in the world. The hills surrounding the historical centre of the town may serve as a perfect site for enjoying its spectacular panorama.

 

KERNAVĖ

Kernavė, the first capital of Lithuania, is a special place still featuring a unique though extinct cultural tradition and civilization as well as important stages in the history of humankind. This justifies the inscription of this complex of five fort-hills used for defence on the UNESCO World Heritage Masterpiece List.

Only here you will experience a strong sense of the prehistory of the Balts and the beginning of the Lithuanian State, with unique traces of different cultures dating back to the period between the10th millennium BC and the early Middle Ages.

The 13th century was the golden age for Kernavė, which was the capital of Lithuania at that time. During the crusader assault in 1390, this Lithuanian Troy was totally burned down. It is amazing that the cultural layers from the 14th century survived undamaged until today. They reveal priceless information which reaches us thanks to systematic archaeological research in the territory of Lithuania’s first capital. Kernavė Museum of Archaeology and History stores a wealth of unique findings.

 

 Days of Live Archaeology, held annually in Kernavė 
Photo by V. Valužis / lithuaniantravel.com

 

THE CURONIAN SPIT

This is a place that a visitor can’t help admiring and will want to come back again and again. Outstretching through the territories of two states, the Republic of Lithuania and the Russian Federation (the Kaliningrad Region), this 98 km-long peninsula is an outstanding creation of nature and man. It was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000.

In the 15th century, the whole area of the Curonian Spit was covered with forest. Deforestation resulted in uncontrollable sandstorms. The sand travelled across the peninsula towards the Curonian Lagoon, burying several fishermen’s villages scattered on the coast of the Lagoon. The inhabitants of the Spit had to demonstrate great resourcefulness and patience to curb the elemental force.

 Unique and authentic architecture in Nida, the Curonian Spit.
Photo by V. Valužis / lithuaniantravel.com

In 1825, Georgas Dovydas Kuvertas, the then postmaster, was the first to begin planting trees on the dunes in the Curonian Spit. It took several forest generations to bridle the moving sand. It is the only place in the world where dune stabilisation and planting work was carried out on such a large scale. This piece of heaven in Lithuania with its fragile dunes and the unique landscape is very vigilantly protected until now.For the most spectacular scenery, come to Nida, where the forested dunes washed by the Baltic Sea on one side and the Curonian Lagoon on the other run into the wilderness of moving sand. Visitors get enchanted by the indescribable beauty of the Gray (Dead) Dunes looming up between Nida and Juodkrantė.

The architecture of all of the four settlements of Neringa (Nida, Preila, Pervalka, and Juodkrantė) is absolutely fascinating. One can’t help admiring the blue-window-paned ethnographic homesteads of fishermen, the contemporary cottages that have taken over the traditional ethnographic style, and the old villas decorated with wooden tracery in Juodkrantė.

And try not to miss out on tasting fish smoked according to ages-old recipes of Curonian fishermen. It's a real gourmet food.

 

CROSS-CRAFTING

Cross-crafting, a unique branch of Lithuanian folk art, was inscribed on the UNESCO List of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2001. Crosses were, and still are, built as memorials to the dead or as signs of spiritual protection or put up at certain places to plead for grace or to express gratitude.

Traditional Lithuanian crosses combine elements of architecture, sculpture, blacksmithing, and sometimes even primitive painting. The crosses often picture vegetative ornaments, the motives of the sun or the bird, or the tree of life – symbols that date back to the archaic times.

Even when cross-building was prohibited or restricted by the occupants, the Russian Empire (the second half of the 20th century) and the Soviet Union (in the 1940s through to the 1970s), crosses were nevertheless being tenaciously erected all over Lithuania. Due to that reason, as early as in the end of the 19th century those monuments of various shapes became a form of expression of the national identity and gained the status of a national symbol in addition to their significance in terms of religion and customs.

 Unique and authentic architecture in Nida, the Curonian Spit.
Photo by V. Valužis / lithuaniantravel.com

Crosses were particularly popular in Žemaitija, Aukštaitija, and Dzūkija, where many of them can still be seen on roadsides and at homesteads. Some of them are slim and slender with decorating carvings that remind of wooden laces; others have a thick trunk with numerous entwined figures and look more like a sculpture than a cross.

Lithuania Minor or the settlements on the coast of the Curonian Lagoon feature different types of crosses. Specific old wooden crosses of the Curonians, the grave-boards, display vivid natural motives, such as birds and plants. The crosses at the Evangelic cemeteries of that period are rich in metal ornaments. The Museum of Blacksmith Art in Klaipėda exhibits exciting items featuring traditional metal-work motives.

In the past as well as nowadays, cross-crafting has been a tradition of folk art that has never been communicated otherwise than in a verbal form or through live examples. Nor has it ever been taught anywhere. The carving of crosses and figures of saints has always been exclusively amateur folk art, often a subordinate activity of self-taught artisans.

 

SONG FESTIVALS

At the end of the 18th century, all of the three Baltic States suffered similar historical developments: they were all annexed by the Russian Empire. In the 19th century, ethnic culture, and folk songs in particular, became a significant expression of the national identity and prompted the idea of breaking away from Russia and creating independent states. Therefore, the path followed by the Baltic States towards restoration of independence in 1990 is often called a “singing revolution”.

The tradition of song festivals came to the Baltic States from Western Europe via Scandinavia, reaching Estonia and Latvia first, and Lithuania next. Song festivals found a highly favourable medium in those countries, as folk song and other folk culture traditions were actively fostered there. These traditions and national self-awareness of people helped this unique and highly valuable cultural phenomenon that has no equal in the world to become rooted in the Baltic States.

 Song festivals attract thousands of spectators

Photo by V. Valužis / lithuaniatravel.com

Lithuanians gathered in the first national Song Day in 1924. In the interwar period, song festivals were held every second year on the national level and annually on regional and local levels. The tradition to hold song festivals continued even in the soviet times, but the repertoire had to contain political songs glorifying political parties, governments and their good deeds. However, Lithuanians counterbalanced this by adding folk and patriotic songs to the repertoires.

As soon as the repertoire of an upcoming song festival is approved, preparations in the regions start, i.e. local song festivals are held. Only the best folk groups are invited to the national song festival in the capital.

Two types of song festivals take place in Lithuania: song festivals for adults, including youth folk groups with the adult repertoire, and song festivals for schoolchildren. Schoolchildren’s song festivals are somewhat reduced but very youthful replica of the song festival proper. Lithuanian emigrants as well as their posterity who cherish Lithuanian culture have also been holding song festivals for many years in many countries, such as USA, Canada, and Australia.

Song festivals are commonly held every four years but are sometimes celebrated on an ad hoc basis to mark dates of special importance to the state. They bring together over 30,000 performers, with the number of choirs alone standing at 400.

After Lithuania regained independence, the geography of song festivals expanded: Lithuanians from 10 to 15 countries come to take part. Hence is the new name of the festival – the World Lithuanian Song Festival.

In 2003, the traditions and symbols of song festivals of the Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – were recognised a masterpiece worth being inscribed on the UNESCO List of Intangible Heritage.

 

SUTARTINĖS, LITHUANIAN POLYPHONIC SONGS

These polyphonic songs were inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in November 2010.

Sutartinės (from the word sutarti – to be in concordance, in agreement) is unique traditional Lithuanian folk music that has retained its ancient form of polyphony, a combination of music, text and motion.

They are commonly sung by women, while men perform instrumental versions on the skudučiai (pan-pipes), daudytės (a kind of horn), kanklės (psaltery) and other instruments. Their characteristic feature is simultaneous performance of different melodies and texts.

The European theory of music considers sutartinės a paradox: the harmony is achieved by a consonance of discordant intervals, the seconds.

 

Sutartinės found their place among the brightest symbols of the Lithuanian cultural identity already in the beginning of the 20th century. They provide inspiration to many modern composers. Abroad, sutartinės have become a kind of Lithuania’s trademark. 

 

STRUVE GEODETIC ARC

Struve Geodetic Arc is a nineteenth century attempt to find the size and shape of the Earth. Astronomer, Professor at the University of Tartu, Friedrich Georg Wilhelm von Struve, developed a methodology for measuring the meridian arc. The said arc extends over the territory of ten countries from the mouth of the Danube at the Black Sea to the Fugleneso in Norway. 3 from 34 points of the geodesic arc can be found in the Lithuanian territory: Paliepukai (Nemėžis.) Meškonys (Nemenčinės eldership) and Gireišiai (Rokiškis district).

In 2005, the Struve Geodetic Arc points were included on the World Heritage List, as the arc enabled, for the first time, the accurate measurement of long meridian, thus arriving at the exact size and shape of the world. The measuring activities involved scientists from all over the world, as well as rulers of unequal power, thus encouraging them to work together to advance science. Struve Geodetic Arc is known as a significant model of technological ensemble, and the outcome of continuous human exploration and the desire to get to know the world around us, which is in close relation with Isaac Newton's theory that the Earth is not an entirely regular sphere.

3 points of the geodetic arc can be found in the Lithuanian territory.

Photo by www.kpd.lt