Man patinka Lietuva

I like Lithuania – a visitor's point of view


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Cathedral Bell Tower renovation in Vilnius

CNV00030Next to the cathedral on the edge of the main square (Katedros aikštė) is the impressive 52 m high bell tower (Varpinė). Although the square was only created in the 19c when the cathedral was being refurbished, replacing old houses, some dating back to the middle ages, the bell tower was one of the original  towers forming the city walls and part of the lower castle.

There is also a story that in the base of the tower was a small pagan temple dedicated to Perkūnas which was demolished to form the base of the bell tower. Whatever the truth the lower parts of the tower are mediaeval  with the oldest underground section, built on the river bed, dating back to the 13c. Upper parts of the tower were added in the 18c and again in the 19 c. You can see the original city layout in one of the rooms in the Castle.

CNV00008_2-2P1010139When I first visited Vilnius in 2005 the bell tower was desperately in need of a lick of paint and was being renovated along with the front of the cathedral.

On subsequent visits the tower always looked impressive – in all weathers.

Now more work is being carried out. I was told by locals that they were planning to open it to the public.

DSC00945Some workmen were clearing out rubble from the inside whilst others were roped up and climbing on the roof.DSC01050

If it is to be opened to the public it will be a popular place to visit, especially if you like taking photographs!

And it would be interesting to see the 17c clock, which keeps perfect time, at close quarters – although it would be noisy when the bells are pealing.


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Perkūnas – a reminder of pagan Lithuania

P1010238Lithuania was the last European country to convert to christianity in 1386.

Before that one of the great pagan gods was Perkūnas, the god of lightning and thunder and storms.

He possessed many weapons including an axe or sledgehammer, stones, a sword, lightning bolts, a bow and arrows, a club, and an iron or fiery knife.

Perkūnas pursues his opponents in the sky on a chariot, made from stone and fire.  Sometimes the chariot is made from red iron. It is harnessed by a pair (sometimes more) of red and white (or black and white) horses (sometimes goats).  An important function of Perkūnas is to fight the devil (velnias).

He is also associated with the Baltic oak tree and you can see most of  these images depicted on the box of matches.

The name survives in Lithuanian as perkūnas (“thunder”) and perkūnija (“thunder-storm”).

In Kaunas Old Town there is a famous “Fiery Gothic” style house built of 16 different kinds of bricks on the banks of the river, not far from the Vytautas the Great Bridge at the old border with Prussia, called the House of Perkūnas (or the Thunder House).

It was built by Hanseatic merchants as an office from 1440 to 1532. It was then sold to the Jesuits who later built a chapel there. The house fell into ruins and was rebuilt in the 19c as a school house and theatre.

The house got its name at the end of the 19c when a figure of Perkūnas was found in the walls. It is a registered cultural heritage site in Lithuania.