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As the first Soviet republic to gain independence, Lithuania exudes pride and vibrancy in its historic cities, from the tiny capital of Vilnius to Šiauliai with its humbling Hill of Crosses. The country also radiates with natural charm; the Baltic Sea kisses sandy beaches, and untouched forests and marshland house unique and protected wildlife and rare birds.
In the 14th century, Lithuania was the largest country in Europe, being part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a principality with Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia. In the 16th century, it stood in the shadow of Poland under a commonwealth, which lasted for over 200 years, until Russia invaded the territory and occupied most of Lithuania. Lithuania declared independence in 1918 but the Soviets and Nazi Germany thwarted this in 1940 by occupying the country. After centuries of unrest, Lithuania won independence in 1990, being the first Soviet republic to do so.
Lithuania’s rich history is evident in its diverse cities. In Šiauliai, you can’t miss the awe-inspiring Hill of Crosses, a hill beautifully littered with crosses and crucifixes, symbolizing the resistance against Soviet occupation. While the Soviets have endeavoured to destroy this sacred site, the crosses have been repopulated every time, with every family in Lithuania supposedly having placed a cross here.
The lively capital of Vilnius is also dripping with reminders of the past, from the former Jewish Ghetto to the 14th century Presidential Palace, where the last Bishop of Vilnius once lived. Visit the Gates of Dawn and the Baroque Church of St. Peter and St. Paul to admire the exceptional sculptural decoration, or see the 16th century Gothic St. Anne’s Church. The Old Town also permeates with an air of romance, with cute cafes and old world architecture gracing the narrow streets.
In 2009, Lithuania’s capital was dubbed the European Capital of Culture. With an abundance of cultural spectacles, concerts and festivals occurring throughout the year, Vilnius clearly deserves this title. Embrace Lithuania’s folk culture, from its folk music to its unique traditions such as Shrovetide, a tradition of chasing winter away. For a spot of nature, there is a wealth of natural wonders at your doorstep – national parks and stretches of beaches being popular among visitors.
Let Trafalgar take you on a memorable journey through the best parts of Lithuania, highlighting the country’s intriguing history and showing you the treasures that make this country so fascinating.
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