Hill of Crosses is probably a breathtaking tourist spot in Lithuania. As the name suggests, a hill (two separate mounds) crammed with crosses. Exact counts of the crosses are not determined yet. However, it is believed, more than 1,50,000 crucifixes have been placed on the hill. Though ruined and reconstructed several times, the hill is a silent speaker of Lithuanian belief, tradition, willpower and peaceful resistance of the people. Pope John Paul II declared the hill as a place for hope, peace, love and sacrifice.
Located in Northern Lithuania (the southernmost Baltic Country), Hill of Crosses can be troublesome to access by public transport and thus the conducted tour operators ask for a handsome package for the same. However, DIY plans (Do-It-Yourself) can be made. In this post I would like to share my DIY trip to this sacred place.
History of the Hill of Crosses:
First of all, I would like to share a brief history of the place. The date and time of the first cross could not be revealed. Or it has already gone with the wind of time. But for sure, Over the generations, the place was revered by Lithuanians to bid the last salute to their loved ones. In 1975, Lithuania lost their existence as a ‘country’. But they never lost their own identity. After the 3rd partition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, Lithuania became part of the Russian Empire. Poles and Lithuanians unsuccessfully rebelled against Russian authorities in 1831 and 1863. These two uprisings are connected with the beginnings of the hill. Families could not locate bodies of perished rebels, they started putting up symbolic crosses at the site of a former hill fort. When the old political structure of Eastern Europe fell apart in 1918, Lithuania once again declared its independence and the hill is a place of contemplation and remembrance for the families of those who disappeared during the fighting leading to independence. Throughout this time, the Hill of Crosses was used as a place for Lithuanians to pray for peace, for their country, and for the loved ones they had lost during the Wars of Independence.
After the Second World War, the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania and the site was bulldozed as the authorities wanted to build a dam on the nearby Kulvė River for agriculture. But the dam could not be constructed. Instead, Lithuanians kept continuing their worship to the hill. After the Soviet fall, Lithuania became independent in 1990. The ‘decoration’ of the Hill of Crosses again started. Then the hill had only 50000 crosses. On September 7, 1993, the hill got a major spotlight when Pope John Paul II visited the site and declared it a place for hope, peace, love and sacrifice. Nowadays, there are 150000 crosses on the hill.
I started earlier from Vilnius (the capital of Lithuania) and reached Šiauliai (pronounced as Sho-lay), the nearest train and express bus station from the HIll of Crosses. Šiauliai is also well connected by train and bus with Riga, the capital of Latvia.
I made a mistake. Instead of pre-booking the train ticket, I opted to buy it from the counter and obviously no ticket was left. Thus, I had to go by bus. From Šiauliai, I took a local bus heading over to Joniškis. Here, I came across a minor issue. The bus driver was unable to get the meaning of the ‘Hill of Crosses’. While travelling to non-English speaking countries, usually in my mobile I keep a photograph of the monument that I want to visit. It helped me in this situation. The driver suggested that I should get down at the Domantai stop.
I followed him. Leaving the bus I looked out for the brown “Kryziu kalnas 2” sign and followed the direction. After walking 2 kilometers, finally I reached the Hill of Crosses.
The sacred place was not built plan fully. Thus the structure strikes the human mind. Few of them were wooden but mostly the crucifixes are made of scrap metals so that none can burn them anymore. Some of the crosses are a few meters high and some of them are only a few inches.
I went up the hill. There is no plan or particular pattern followed. The crucifixes are just placed. Some of the old crosses are still present. Some of them are newly added. Later I heard, still people keep bringing new crucifixes everyday.
I stayed there for a few hours. Since I had to catch the next bus to return, I came back to the bus stop.