Welcome to Lithuania, the final stop on my epic tour from Northern Europe through Eastern Europe. Lithuania is a beautiful country, and the one we definitely managed to see the most of too. Today’s post features a place I’d rank alongside Tokyo and Machu Picchu in my list of ‘Places I’d most wanted to visit’.
That is the Hill of Crosses! Located around 12km north of Šiauliai in Northern Lithuania, the Hill is rather difficult to get to, you can do it yourself, but I’d recommend booking a tour as we did! We did our’s through Red Fox Tours for €50 each. (This is in no way a collaborative or sponsored post, we just had a great experience with them so I would really recommend using their service)
The Hill of Crosses is an absolutely beautiful spot unlike anything else on the planet, though it has a bloodied history. If you’ve come here on a tour they’ll likely tell you all about it, if you’ve made the rather difficult trek yourself, you’ll have plenty of time to read up.
We actually travelled from Riga to the Hill of Crosses, as it’s easier than to travel from Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital. That’s the generally recommended route.
The origins of the Hill are largely unknown, however it is believed that the site was once a fort, and in uprisings by Lithuanians against the Russian Empire in 1831 and 1863, many lives were lost. With the inability of knowing where their loved ones had been buried, many placed crosses at the site of a former fort that bore significance in the conflict.
When Lithuania declared independence once more in 1918, the Hill became a place to pray for peace and loved ones lost in the fight for Lithuanian independence.
Between 1944 and 1990 Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union, and once more it became a place of resistance. The Soviet Union didn’t like this at all, they’d send officers in to tear it all down, but it would just begin to pop back up during the cover of night.
In the end, the Soviet Union could not defeat this place of peaceful resistance. By 1990, it is believed there were over 55,000 crosses placed, though there is no true way to know this.
The Hill of Crosses gained recognition all over the world in 1993 when Pope John Paul II offered mass at the Hill. He declared Lithuania the country of crosses and the Hill a sacred place, not long after a Franciscan monastery was built nearby.
Now it is estimated there are far over 100,000. There have been a couple of fires, including one in 2017 which destroyed a large chunk, but by the time of our visit, you could barely make out what had been burned down, as it had already been replaced.
The Hill of Crosses is truly one of the most breathtaking places that I have had the pleasure of visiting. We explored the Hill for about an hour, reading the messages on crosses from around the world, finding statues hidden between them and climbing up makeshift paths to stumble upon areas hidden from sight.
I hope some of the above pictures can convey just how huge the Hill is. You feel a little bit swamped and lost within the crosses. Despite there being a fair few people exploring at any given time, you feel completely alone. Though, it wasn’t actually very busy at all.
And that’s the Hill of Crosses. You can travel here yourself, but it’s an absolute ballache, there’s a lot of potential for it to go wrong and it requires knowledge of Lithuanian countryside and a whole lot of walking. It’s definitely worth splashing a bit extra on a tour, because you get to visit some other places whilst in Northern Lithuania.
We ended our visit by heading into Šiauliai city, the fourth largest in Lithuania.
Above is the tallest sun clock in the country, the Golden Boy! He’s covered in real gold, although he wasn’t for most of his history. He serves as a reminder of the Sun War that took place in this area hundreds of years ago, if you have a tour guide, they’ll tell you all about it.
Below you see the iron fox, Šiauliai’s answer to the Vilnius legend of the iron wolf. There really isn’t much of a story behind it, as it isn’t based on legend like the Vilnius wolf. I kinda like that they just created a humongous iron fox and put it in such a scenic part of the city.
Next (and final) stop: Vilnius, Lithuania.
Read more on my trip from Finland to Lithuania: