Day 24 - Vilnius (LI)

Yes, another invisible line and yet another completely different culture and language! This city, like its other Baltic neighbours, is full of stunningly beautiful historic buildings and yet again, I think I have taken far too many photos! I love learning about history and culture and these three countries in particular have just been so incredibly interesting.

Lithuania, officially the Republic of Lithuania, is a country in the Baltic region of Europe on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. Lithuania shares land borders with Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east and south, Poland to the south, and Russia to the southwest.

Lithuania is famous for its beautiful scenery, flatlands, abundant forests, lakes and marshes as well as 262 km of sandy beaches.

Fun facts:

  • Vilnius has a population of 569,700 people and the Republic of Lithuania has a population of 2.8 million people.
  • Like Latvian, Lithuanian is a Baltic language and one of the oldest languages in the world.
  • Russian is spoken by 63.0 percent of Lithuanians, English by 30.4 percent, Polish by 8.5 percent, and German by 8.3 percent.
  • Rye bread is eaten at every meal and it is a very flexible crop that grows easily in this cooler climate.

  • Potatoes come in all forms from potato pudding to potato dumplings and sausages and fish are also an important part of Lithuanian cuisine. There are many kinds of delicious soup and pickled vegetables which are extremely healthy because they are filled with good bacteria – probiotics - which improve digestion.
  • Lithuania's national dish is Cepelinai which literally means zeppelins! They are potato dumplings made from grate and rice potatoes and stuffed with pork, dry curd cheese or mushroms and served with sour cream sauce.

  • Lithuania has been among the fastest growing economies in the European Union and in 2020, there were 230 FinTech start-ups operating in Lithuania, employing over 4,000 people. The country has the highest number of licensed FinTech companies in the EU. 

  • Basketball is the most popular sport in this country and several Lithuanians have gone on to NBA fame, the greatest star being Arvydas Sabonis.
  • Lithuania is home to the Curonian Spit,  a 98-kilometre long, thin, curved sand-dune spit that separates the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea. Its southern portion lies within Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia, and its northern within southwestern Klaipėda County, Lithuania. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site shared by Lithuania and Russia.
  • Lithuanians celebrate two independence days: there is one on February 16 (when Lithuania declared itelf a sovereign democratic state in 1918) and another, the Day of the Restoration of Independence on March 11 (when the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1990).
  • Lithuania was the first Soviet republic to declare independence from the USSR.
  • The historically predominant religion is Roman Catholicism.
  • Lithuania was the last country in Europe to be converted to Christianity and before this, the country's religion was 'Romuva'.
  • Lithuania is home to the oldest oak tree in Europe, and this oak tree is called Stelmuze Oak, according to reports, it is over 1500 years old, and it is 23 meters high.
  • Geographically, Lithuania is the centre of Europe.

  • Lithuania is a sharing economy leader, which means you don’t have to own a car to be mobile in Vilnius – you can use CityBee cars or Spark electric vehicles. CityBee estimates that one of their shared cars can replace up to 12 privately-owned cars.

History - part 1

Lithuanians, protected by a dense primeval forest and extensive marshland, successfully resisted invasion by the German crusading knights, unlike Estonia and Latvia, and the country managed to form an independent state which became the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

By the end of the 14th century, Lithuania was one of the largest countries in Europe and included present-day Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia. However, due to the increased threat of a German invasion, an alliance was formed with Poland in 1385 and this led to the creation of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.

During the 18th century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth declined as a political power and then took Russia over most of the country, forcing its laws, language, and religion on the Lithuanians. In 1917 the Russian Empire collapsed during the Russian Revolution and in 1918 Lithuania proclaimed its independence. Like its Baltic neighbours, there followed 2 years of conflict with Russia before being officially recognised as a sovereign state in July 1920. As part of an ongoing dispute with Poland, Polish forces then took over Vilnius  and the city was formally annexed in 1922. Lithuania, however, refused to recognize the situation and continued to claim Vilnius and its surroundings.

St. Nicholas Church is one of the oldest Eastern Orthodox churches in Vilnius and apparently, the first wooden Orthodox chapel was located here and was built around 1340. Seven years later, the Vilnius martyrs were supposedly buried there.

St. Paraskeva Church is the oldest Eastern Orthodox church in Lithuania and is one of only two fully Lithuanian-language parishes of the Orthodox Church in Lithuania

The Dominican Church of the Holy Spirit is one of the most ornate Baroque churches in Vilnius and many believe that the city’s first church stood in this place when Gediminas ruled. Vytautas built the Church of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the 15th century and it was later given to the oldest Dominican Monastery in Lithuania.

Services are conducted in Polish and on 5 September 1993, Pope John Paul II met with Polish believers in this church. Human remains believed to be victims of wars or epidemics are still present in the basements. The 18th century organ is one of the oldest in Lithuania.

The Alumnatas was a theological school established by the Pope in 1582 and here students from Scandinavian, Central and Southern Europe studied and lived. The Jesuits trained priests here for missions in the East. The Alumnatas courtyard is one of the most beautiful examples of the Late Renaissance architecture in Vilnius and it overlooks the present day courtyard of the Presidential Palace. 

Vilnius University is a public research university and the oldest in the Baltic states and in Northern Europe outside the United Kingdom. Today it is Lithuania's leading academic institution and it ranks among the top 400 (or top 800 universities worldwide).

The Church of St. Johns was entrusted to the Jesuit College in 1571 the Church was entrusted to the Jesuit College and is considered the origin of the University. Since the times of the Jesuit Academy professors and students used to pray here, and Vilnius theologians gave sermons.

The Presidential Palace is located in Daukantas Square in the old town. The square is named after Simonas Daukantas, a pioneer of the Lithuanian National Revival,the 19th-century.

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