Lithuania is the southernmost of the three ex Soviet Republics on the Baltic. Lithuania has a long history behind itself as a proud kingdom and once stretched to the Black See, some 2000 kilometers further to the south.
Since then the country has shrunk a lot. But what’s left is certainly worth exploring. A good starting point is Vilnius, the Jerusalem of Europe as it was called at the turn of the century. Other places of interest include the cities of Kaunas and Klaipeda.
Lithuania is situated on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea and covers 65.300 sq. km. The length of coastline is 99 km. The capital of Lithuania is Vilnius. It is situated 300 km East of the Baltic seashore at the confluence of the Neris and Vilnele rivers surrounded by beautiful forested hills.The Total area of Vilnius is 394 sq. km. The highest point of Vilnius is about 230,7 m situated in the eastern part of town, nearby Rokantiskiu settlement. The geographical centre of continental Europe lays in Lithuania,approx. 24 km north of Vilnius.It was calculated by the National Geographical Institute of France in 1989.
Vilnius was first mentioned as the capital of Lithuania in 1323, in the letters of the Grand Duke Gediminas to the Roman Pope.An old legend tells us that Grand Duke Gediminas got tired after hunting fell asleep and had a dream. The Iron Wolf was standing on the hilland howling loudly. In the morning Gediminas asked the senior pagan priest what the dream meant. The priest said: “You will build a city at the place where the wolf was howling and the fame of the city will spread as the howling of the wolf. So this was the beginning of Vilnius.But archaeologists say that people were living here as early as the 5th century. Gediminas, the first famous Vilnius ruler, invited craftsmen and educated people from all over Europe to come and enjoy the city and to stay here. Vilnius became one of the largest trade, industrial and cultural centres of Europe in the 16th century.
In 1579, Vilnius witnessed the foundation of its university which became the first higher school of thought in the Grand Principality of Lithuania and the whole region. Vilnius developed into a centre of European culture and opened itself to the nations of the East and West. Eventually, it became home for Polish, Russian, Jewish, German and Karaime communities. The houses, squares and churches of Vilnius sustain the spirit of a once-powerful state and its rulers. Though invaded, destroyed and burnt down many times, the town would always recover. The historical centre of Vilnius, its 360-hectare old city, is among the largest in Eastern Europe. In 1994, the old city was included on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Cities.
Klaipeda is the third city of Lithuania and the most important port. Until 1919 the city was part of Germany and known as Memel. The old town still has quite a few monuments from those days and is rather popualr with German tourists.
The heart of the old town is the Theatre Square named after the Neoclassical theatre. In front of the theatre is the fountain of Anna.
Southeast of the Sqaure you find the History Museum of Lithuania Minor with local finds and costumes,
In the new town, just north of the old town the most impressive sights are the Post Office which dates from the end of the 19-th century and the Clock Museum with some magnificent 18-th century clocks.
A short ferry ride takes you accross the Kurland Lagoon to Nida and the neringa peninsula, where you find an excellent Maritime Museum housed in an old German fort.
Best city in Lithuania
Kaunas is 80 km west of Vilius. It is the second city of the country and according to most Lithanians the most Lithanian city of all.
The most attractive part of the city is the old Centre, the area around the Town Hall. The old centre is located between two rivers, the Neris and the Nemunas. on the Town Hall square there are quite a few old merchant houses dating from the 16-th century, but the Town Hall itself is the most impressive structure.
Northeast of here the Cathedral dates from the times of Vytautas the Great, but most of what you see now is from the 18-th century. Northwest of the Townhall square are the remains of the Kaunas Castle. There are a few walls left and part of a tower but with a bit of imagination you can see the Tuetonic Knights storming the walls.
The new town is east from the old town. The Laisves aleja, or Freedom Avenue is a big pedestrianized shopping street that runs right through it. At the end of Freedom Avenue you find the Church of St.Michael the Archangel whcih looms over Nepriklasomybes Aikste (independance square). Also on the sqaure is the Mykolas Zilinkas Art Museum which has one of the best collections in the Baltic States.
A rather curious museum is the Devil’s Museum officially known as the A. Zmuidzinavicius Art Museum. It houses a big collection of devil figures, including a represantation of Hitler and Stalin dancing aroudn a heap of lithanian skulls.
Before WWII Kaunas had a large Jewish population. Just out of town are Vijampole the old Jewish getto -als known as Slobodka- and the Ninth Fort Museum where the jews were kept by the Nazis while awaiting execution.
Also there is faculty of Medicine and other higher educational institutions were students from around the globe come to study.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons.