The Hill of Crosses is a pretty stirring sight in the mid-north of Lithuania. According to the occasionally accurate Wikipedia today there are over 100,000 crosses on this hill, and it has become quite the tourist attraction.
I went and visited it in 2007, so it’s been ten years and it’s grown. At the time I visited they had just begun building a tourist centre there. Other than some foundations to that though, it really was just this incredible hill in the middle of the countryside with crosses on top.
Aside from the tourists, it’s also a pilgrimage site. Between 1831 and 1863, Lithuania and Poland were controlled by Russia. Crosses were placed onto this hill (up to 9,000) to remember those rebels who died trying to gain independence. Following the Russian Revolution and during Soviet times, the place was remembered, despite having between 50 – 400 crosses only, as place to go for locals to assert their identity.
In 1961 5000 crosses were destroyed, and again 1200 in 1975. Yet by 1990 there were 55,000 crosses. It’s a symbol of the Lithuanian people and their struggle against oppression, particularly Soviet oppression.
Today it is easily reached from the town of Siauliai where I stayed for a night in 2007. Asked the local bus driver to tell us where to get off and we went back to the same point to get back into town. Didn’t really see anything of the town, but today I imagine there are tour buses regularly heading there.
You walk through on paths all these crosses, in and around. There are larger crosses and small crosses often hang off them. It’s humbling, but at the same time, I guess, a little creepy too. But it is an unforgettable experience.
If you do head to Lithuania, this is something worth seeing. It’s not your usual tourist attraction, but it has history behind it and is a fascinating place. Be respectful of the locals, it means more to them than it ever will to the visitor. Oh, and of course, May the Journey Never End!