Lithuania is one of the Baltic states located in northern Europe. The country boasts its UNESCO cultural and heritage inscriptions. One of them is the Lithuanian cross-crafting arts and traditions that is recognised as the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage. The best place to experience these traditions is in the Hill of Crosses. Located 12 km away from Šiauliai, an industrial city in northern Lithuania, a small hill in the middle of the farmland holds over 100,000 wooden and metal crosses of all sizes. This hill is known as Kryžiu Kalnas or Hill of Crosses.
The early traditions of placing crosses were to honour the death of the rebellion victims against the Russian regime (Tsarist government) by their mourning relatives, which goes back to 1850 (or even earlier). During the Soviet era, the hill was burned and bulldozed four times as it was considered to be a hostile and harmful symbol to the regime. But each time, it was rebuilt. Nowadays, Hills of Crosses becomes a symbol of Lithuania nationality and religious identity. In 1993, the hill gained the world attention after Pope John Paul II visited the site. It becomes a sacred pilgrimage site and also a place for religious masses and devotions.
There are a lot of ways to reach the Hills of Crosses. Many tourists visit the site as a day trip option from Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, or even Riga, the capital of Latvia. It takes roughly 2.5 hrs to drive from both cities. The easiest option is to hire a car or go on a tour. But for the more adventurous visitors, public transportation option is also available. Visitors can take a public bus from Šiauliai bus station to Domantai bus stop and walk approximately 2 km from the bus stop to the hill. The site is open 24 hrs a day, and there is no entrance fee.
Not only crosses but you can also find religious statues (Christ and Mary) and beaded rosaries in the mount. During the windy days, the dangling rosaries chime in adding unique sounds to the eerie surroundings. Visitors can place their crosses or rosaries to pay respect and pray.
As it is located in the middle of cropland, there are not a lot of dining options around the site. There is a visitor centre nearby, but it mainly provides information about the place and sells merchandises, not food. The closest restaurants are located in Šiauliai.
Hill of Crosses offers a unique experience where nature mingles with culture. If you are visiting one of the Baltic states, do not forget to add the site into your itinerary!
Text and photo: Grace Art