Crosses. Huge crosses. Crucifixes.
Wooden ones, Steel ones. Gold ones.
To my left; my right, in front, and behind
They were Everywhere.
Welcome; To The Hill of Crosses.
Many Singaporeans know of the Terracotta Warriors of Xi'an, buried together with the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. Some might even be familar with the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Krakow, Poland where war crimes (genocide) were committed against the Jews. But almost none know of the hundreds of thousands of crosses planted on this lonely hill in Lithuania, probably one of the greatest symbols of religious resistance in the world. (Heck, most Singaporeans don't even know Lithuania exists)
The act of planting crosses on a hill began in 1831 by the families of dead Polish and Luthanian resistance fighters (agains't the Russian Empire) when they couldn't find the bodies of their loved ones who perished in the unsucessful rebellion.
By WWII, Lithuanians still persisted with the practice of planting crosses on the hill, but this time, to protest against the Soviet Union, who weren't exactly fans of independent religion, much less Catholicism. In fact, the Soviets got so pissed, they bulldozed the hill THREE times! Somehow though, the crosses kept comming back; in even greater numbers!
Today, besides being a symbol against oppression, Catholics from all across the world (those in Singapore only know the Vatican) travel to Lithuania, just to plant a cross on this hill and say a prayer. This particular hill in Lithuania, is now among the most significant pilgrimage sites in Europe among Catholics. The Hill of Crosses today is to Catholics what Mecca is to Muslims, Jerusalem is to Christians, and Tibet/India/Nepal are to Buddists.
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It's a lonely walk to the Hill of Crosses. I sang aloud to keep myself entertained
Lufthansa will take you to Vilnius, capital of Lithuania (transit at Frankfurt). I spent a couple of days in Vilnius before taking a train to Siauliai (pronounced as "show-lay"), the country's 4th largest city. The train journey takes around 2 hours. Tickets are available at the Vilnius train station. Train timings are at 6:45am, 9.41am and 5.40pm. The last train back to Vilnius leaves at 7:11pm. You don't have to book it online like a typical Singaporean. Just buy and take the next available train; idiot proof.
When you arrive at Siauliai train station, walk to the Autobus station 10 -15 minutes away. (see where everyone is walking and follow the crowd. Singaporeans do that best) A public bus will take you there for around 1 Euro. Don't worry, when the locals see tourists there, they know you're here for the Hill of Crosses. I just showed the driver the tattooed cross on my arm and he got the idea. (remind him to tell you when to get off. Around 20mins bus ride)
I'm finally here!
If you don't happen to have a cross tattooed on your arm like I do, look for the bus going toward "Joniškis". In the rare event the bus driver can't tell you're a tourist, tell him you want to get of at Domantai; wooden signposts with arrows will guide you the rest of the way.
From the point the bus drops you off, it's around a 30min walk to the hill (2km). You could of course hitchhike as any car on that road will definately going towards the hill. It's a really lonely walk though. I sang aloud to myself while I did my "trek".
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The Hill Of Crosses
In this section, i'll let my pictures do most of the talking.
The Hill of Crosses is eerily quiet. As you walk toward the crosses, you can hear the faint sound of hymns being played over speakers hidden among the thousands of crosses. For Christians and Catholics, it's probably a soothing/holy/can feel Jesus's presence kind of feeling. (at least thats what I felt)
For those not of this faith, you'll probably find the overall atmosphere more unsettling. I don't think i've seen as many crosses anywhere else in my life! Not even in a cemetery.
Narrow paths led me around the "Holy Hill". I was carrying both my backpacks with me as I maneuvered my way around.
Paths of mud and snow eventually become paths of wood as I approached the top of the hill.
I found the hill is truely amazing as it triggered different emotions in me at various points. I don't know how long you could spend here before you would become bored. Me? I spent 2 hours just wandering about the hill. I had starting walking toward the hill from the Domentai stop at 2.30pm. By 5pm, it was time to make my way back. Another 2km walk ahead of me. On hindsight, I should have hitched a ride.
As I was only here for a couple of hours, below are more photos of the Hill of Crosses at various other occassions for you to customize your visit.
The Hill of Crosses in the Winter....
Image Credit: cdn.advisor.travel
Image Credit: http://www.lovethesepics.com/
.... At night; if you dare to camp here
Image Credit: http://www.thebohemianblog.com/
.... For worshiping/praying/giving thanks
Image Credit: http://www.truelithuania.com/ The Pope is visiting
.... Or even for wedding photoshoots!
Image Credit: The Daily Mail
Tip: I'd sugguest a night at Siauliai so it isn't too much of a rush. (There's a decent old town to checkout) If you're going to Riga, Latvia (like I did), be sure to board the bus (available at the same Autobus station) leaving at 5pm. Get the 7pm one like I did and you'll find yourself in Latvia surrounded by darkness and non English speaking locals to rely on for directions.
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Who Should Visit?
The Hill of Crosses was the main reason for my visit to Lithuania. Perhaps it's because I am of the Christian faith; but somehow, saying a prayer in the midst of a multitude of crosses really intrigued me. When I finally got to the hill, I was pumping my fist into the air, going "Yes! I'm here at last!"
Of course, you don't have to be a Christian or Catholic to truly appreciate this wonder. Claim to be a history buff and you never heard of this hill? Time for you to book the next flight out to Lithuania. You've just got to be here, especially if you're really into Soviet or religious history in general. Lithuania is more than just this hill of course. I visited a KGB museum in Vilnius (the capital) you history fans would absolutely love.
And if you're a traveler who's just out to cross amazing wonders off your bucket list, there's no reason why this shouldn't be on it. (This hill is about as exotic as hills can possibly get!)
This trip to the Hill of Crosses was part of my 12 day adventure across the Baltic territories of Europe. You might want to check out 12 Days Finland & The Baltics @2.5k SGD Nett! (Including Airtickets) for a summary of my entire experience!
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