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Published: August 6th 2007
Hill of Crosses - in 1930
This photo was taken in 1930. Back then there were maybe 300 or 400 crosses on the hill. Note that there are three hills on the photo.
One day we made a trip to the city Šiauliai in northern Lithuania. Outside this city is one of Lithuania's most remarkable places, the Hill of Crosses
. This is a place we have wished to visit for several years and finally we now had the time to do it.
In the countryside a few kilometers outside Šiauliai is a a place called the Domantai Hill, though it is known better as the Hill of Crosses. There are actually two hills there and they are practically covered with crosses. Nobody really knows when people started to place crosses on this hill. It is well established that the locals have used the place for worship and as a memorial for their loved ones for over 150 years. Wikipedia states that it is believed that this unusual way of worship started in 1831, but nobody knows for sure.
In 1944 Lithuania was occupied by Soviet Union. To make Soviet Union a unified country the leaders in Moscow tried to "Russify" the occupied territories. In school the students were forced to learn Russian, the language of the new masters. Ethnic Russians were forced to moved to non-Russian areas in the union to disperse the
Hill of Crosses - in 2007
This photo was taken from the same position in 2007. There are maybe 50000 crosses on the hill. Note that there are only two hills left. The Russians had one hill bulldozed away.
local languages and the local people with hope that eventually everybody would become Russians. Also local traditions and any local nationalism was banned. Since local traditions were discouraged in the USSR the Russians in 1961 ordered all the Crosses to be destroyed. By doing that the Russians turned The Hill of Crosses into a symbol for the Lithuanian nationalism. The Lithuanians then began anew to erect crosses on the hill partly to restore the place but also to spite the Russians. The Russians once again ran bulldozers over the hill and destroyed all the crosses. This time, to ensure that the site was not reopened again, the Russians placed a fence and guards around the hill. But it is a well-known fact that no chain is stronger than its weakest link. The weak link in this case being placing young underpaid Russian soldiers as guards. An underpaid Russian soldier can easily be bribed with a bottle of vodka or a few western cigarettes. So again there were soon plenty of crosses on the Domantai Hill. The Russians tried to destroy the Hill of Crosses at least once probably twice more. In one of these attepts to break the Lithanians' spirit
Hill of Crosses
It's hard to imagine the size of the place
they even bulldozed one of the three original hills away altogether leaving only two hills on the site. The Russians even poored rubbish and sewage and put KGB to guard the site, but still they failed. Each time the Lithuanians found a way to erect crosses on the Domantai Hill. Eventually the Russians left the Hill of Crosses alone and today the site is a popular pilgrimage site for people all over the world.
It is believed that over 50000 crosses are covering the hills today. The crosses are of an astonishing variety. There are three meter high wooden crosses with elaborate carvings but there are also simple crosses less than two centimeters in size. There are crosses of all kinds of materials. Wood being the most common but steel, iron, stone and plastic crosses are everywhere too. Many crosses are planted carefully obviusly with the purpose af being there for many years and others are thrown in big heaps and will get covered by other crosses in a matter of days. Some crosses have names carved into them to make sure that there is no doubt who is to be remembered by that particular cross but others
Hill of Crosses
It's hard to imagine the size of the place because in one photo you can only fit a small part of it all
are totally anonymous so nobody, other than that person who put it there, can possibly know who it's for.
We are not religious people so putting a cross there ourselves was out of the question. But visiting the Hill of Crosses was still sort of a pilgrimage for us. Not a religious one but to pay homage to all the people who during the years of occupation kept coming there and planting new crosses each time the Russians had them pulled down. It was a quiet and totally harmless way to protest against the Russian occupation and obviously it was an efficient one.
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