Hill of Crosses

Top choice monument in Šiauliai

Image by Franz Aberham Getty Images

Lithuania's fabled Hill of Crosses is a symbol of defiance as much as a pilgrimage site. More than 100,000 crosses have been planted on this low hill, many of them strung with rosary beads that rattle softly in the breeze. The tradition began during the 1831 Uprising and reached its height in the 1960s, in defiance of anti-religious Soviet rule. At night locals crept here to lay crosses, infuriating their oppressors.

It's 12km north of Šiauliai (2km off Hwy A12) near Jurgaičiai.

Repeated efforts to bulldoze the hill during the 1960s and '70s didn't deter locals from placing crosses here, despite the harsh punishments for being caught. Today it is forbidden to remove a cross from the site, and any visitor may plant a cross (up to a certain size!). Enterprising vendors sell simple wooden crucifixes near the visitor centre; they loan marker pens for devotees to write a family name, prayer or wish onto the cross before placing it in the soil.

Some of the crosses are devotional, others are memorials (many for people deported to Siberia). They vary greatly in size: a few are finely carved folk-art masterpieces and some are accompanied by mournful statues of the Virgin Mary.

A pathway leads from the hill to a modern chapel; it's worth looking inside to see a view of the Hill of Crosses perfectly framed in the large window at the altar.

Legends swirl around the Hill of Crosses. Some locals claim that the mound conceals the bodies of 14th-century warriors, others swear that it's haunted by monks. It's more than likely that the hill was a pre-Christian worship site.

From the Hwy A12, it's another 2km east from a well-marked turn-off ('Kryžių kalnas 2'). From Šiauliai, take a Joniškis-bound bus (€1.50, 10 minutes, up to seven daily) to the 'Domantai' stop and walk for 15 minutes, or grab a taxi (around €20).