We left beautiful Riga and travelled across the rich agricultural plains of Latvia and Lithuania to Vilnius. Vilnius, established in the 13th Century, is a pretty city sitting along the Vilnia River.
On our first day we decided to take the city tour bus to get an overview of the city. There were plenty of beautiful old building and modern skyscrapers. We chose a few ‘must see’ sights for the next day or two. The Church of St Peter and St Paul was an example of total over the top Baroque architecture. Built in the latter half of the 17th Century, the interior took 30 years to finish. The Cathedral is another important church for Lithuanians. This church was first built in the 14th Century and destroyed and rebuilt in each successive century. The separate belfry was built in the 16th Century and offers great views of the old town.
|Some of the ornate stucco work inside the Church of St Peter and St Paul|
|The ceiling painting and stucco work|
|The outside of Church of St Peter and St Paul|
|The bell tower of the Cathedral|
We walked up the hill to the 14th Century fortified tower built by the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Gediminas. Inside the tower was an excellent exhibit of the Baltic Way. In 1989 the people of the Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia formed a human chain from Gediminas Tower in Vilnius through Riga, Latvia to Tallinn, Estonia in a peaceful demonstration of their independence from Russia. Two million people joined hands in solidarity stretching 650 km. It was a very moving exhibit. There is a good YouTube video of the event here.
|The Tower of Gediminas|
|The route of The Baltic Way|
The next day we set out for the Museum of Genocide Victims; not a very pleasant topic but we wanted to find out more of the history of Lithuania. Sadly the museum was closed. On the façade engraved in stones on the plinth were the names of the people murdered inside by the KGB at the end of WWII.
|Names of dissidents killed - so many were so young|
|Plaque on the wall of the museum|
We moved on to the National Museum of Lithuania which was filled with interesting cultural artifacts and exhibits.
|Traditional Lithuanian dress|
|Wooden and iron crosses which dot the countryside in Lithuania|
Next went to the Palace of the Dukes. The Palace of the Dukes had some excellent displays and gave a great overview of the history of Lithuania. This Medieval history was quite different from Latvia. Unlike Latvia which generally remained loose tribal groups practicing their traditional pagan religion until the 13th Century and then dominated by various powers (German, Swedish, Russian) until the early 20th Century, Lithuania was an organised Duchy starting in the 13th Century and then became part of dynastic union with the Kingdom of Poland. By the 1400’s the Grand Duchy stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. It’s knights were renown warriors, mainly defending their lands against the Teutonic Knights who were fighting the Northern Crusades, culminating in the great Lithuanian victory at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410. This victory still seems a great source of national pride.
|Suit of armour|
|Entrance to the Palace of the Grand Duchy|
Within the museum was a virtual reality exhibit of the growth of Vilnius through the Middle Ages. The virtual reality was fantastic - castles and towns shot up all around me while I floated in the middle. I had to hold onto the monitor so I didn't get dizzy!
|Founder of Vilnius - King Mindaugus|
We also had time to sample some traditional Lithuanian delicacies such as the cold pink soup and potato and meat dumplings.
|Cold Pink Soup served with a side of potatoes instead of bread|
|Potato and meat dumplings|