Man patinka Lietuva

I like Lithuania – a visitor's point of view


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A trip to Druskininkai spa town

Down towards the borders with Poland and Belarus (both of which it has been part of at different times in its history) is the small town of Druskininkai with a population of 23,000. It has been a spa town since 1837 when czar Nicholas I of Russia gave it that status.

The first written mention of Druskininkai however dates back to 1636. The name of the town suggests that the local population collected precious minerals. In the late 18th century it was believed that minerals found in the waters of Druskininkai area produced health benefits and their usage in the medical treatment of asthma and other ailments began.

In the early 19th century Ignacy Fonberger, a professor at the University of Vilnius, analyzed the chemical composition of Druskininkai’s waters and showed that they contain large amounts of Calcium, Sodium, Potassium, Iodine, Bromine, Iron and Magnesium. He also promoted the town as a holiday resort for the population of Vilnius.

Visiting the town as part of my cultural education course at VDU I was forced to drink the water – and whatever medicinal properties it might have it’s not for the faint-hearted!

I was struck by the sculptures I saw everywhere, some quite unusual.

We walked along the Nemeunas river bank to a cafe where we enjoyed afternoon tea accompanied by hundreds of wasps crawling everywhere.

My natural reaction was to shoo them away but the locals said to leave them and nobody got stung. It cured me of any fear of wasps!

Then we headed back on our 140km journey back to Kaunas.


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Baltic Way Memorial Wall in Vilnius

P1000720Walk along Konstitucijos pr. from the city centre heading towards the Panorama shopping centre. As you come to the end of the road which you have to cross to get to the shops you see this wonderful memorial wall.

P1000501It has human shapes cut out of it and represents the Baltic Way, the unbroken line of 2 million people from Vilnius to Tallinn who protested about soviet occupation on August 23 1989.

DSCF1361Although the colours represent the Lithuanian flag, and each brick has the name of the person who contributed 25-50 Litas for it carved on it, if you look carefully you will also find bricks representing the flags of Latvia and Estonia.

P1000218It was officially unveiled on 24 August 2010

Additional material

Digging out my old video camera to take on holiday I found this piece of video I recorded in the castle where they display material about the wall and to which I referred in one of my blogs about the castle.

It looks like an amateur film but it could be a newsreel at the time.

Quality is not great as I’m copying an old film but I hope it’s of interest and you can see the original in the castle.


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The Church of Saints Peter and Paul

On one of our business trips a student told us she lived near the most beautiful church in Vilnius, that of saints Peter and Paul in Antakalnis. We’d passed it on several occasions on our visits to the British Embassy just across the road but never been inside.

So my colleague and I made the effort to see it for ourselves.

There were some helpful ladies who explained some of the many pieces of interest in the church e.g. the war drums that were brought back from Turkey.

They also told us that the founder of the church had been buried upright in the doorway until it collapsed when he was relegated to being buried under the entrance that people walked over. Whether or not that is true I don’t know but it’s not mentioned in the rather flimsy guide leaflet we found.

There was a church here in the 15c, according to legend erected on the site of a pagan temple (it seems many churches were). A house for priests was built next to it but closed down by the Russians in 1864.

The current building was erected after the Russian invasion which devastated Vilnius in the mid-17th century. Less than a dozen years later the Hetman of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania MykolasKazimieras Pacas embarked on its construction to express his gratitude to God for a miraculous escape during the war.

His picture is present in the church alongside St Mary Magdalene de Paci, an alleged relative, and the Archangel Michael the patron of all christian knights.

The church is decorated by Italian sculptures and has six chapels and there is a 17th century font. In the chapel of the Military Saints is a scene showing St Casimir miraculously inspiring the Lithuanian army to overcome the Muscovites.

There is a chapel, of the Holy Queens, devoted to women who helped the poor and the chapel of St Ursula which commemorates the girls massacred by barbarian soldiers and a monument to the women of Vilnius who suffered during the last occupation.

There was a Fraternity of the Five Wounds of Christ which was established in the 17th century and consisted of fishermen’s communities living in Antakalnis and across the river Neris at the time.  That probably explains the boat hanging from the roof.

There are too many images and statues to describe here. Many were brought from Rome.

We spent an interesting few hours there even persuading the church ladies to pose, albeit reluctantly, for their photographs.


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Sculptures everywhere in Lithuania

Maybe my eye is drawn to them or perhaps Lithuanians love statues, but there are plenty to see – even ones in Vilnius that talk to you! (I haven’t included the shop signs I posted about earlier).

First are a couple of my favourites in very contrasting styles: The Easter Island like statues of the Three Kings (there is no engraving on the statues to indicate a name or who sculpted them) near the cathedral on the walk down to the river and the Green Bridge and the animated orator as you turn right at the top end of  Pilies g. near the back entrance to the university and the bell tower on Šv Jono g.

 

The others are mostly from Vilnius with some from Kaunas and Druskininkai.

 

 


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General Jonas Žemaitis

This statue stands outside the ministry of defence in Vilnius (there is also one in Kaunas) and the national military academy has been re-named after him. But what do we actually know about this man also known as Vytautas, Luke, Matthew, the Silent, who was elected a Brigadier General and posthumously as a President? 

Like much of Lithuania’s recent history under multiple occupations it seems there are gaps and differing views about this complex “hero”. It’s known he served in the soviet army then surrendered to the Nazis before joining the partisans.

Read more about him here on the Defending History blog (which argues he has been raised to prominence by the” cult of the partisans”. See post on partisans)

or here.

Make up your own mind.