A June 2004 trip
to Siauliai by Owen Lipsett
Quote: Just outside of Siauliai stands the Hill of the Crosses, Lithuania's most famous and beloved monument, a veritable forest of faith set in an otherwise quiet rural location.
The most plausible story is that the modern hill (if that’s the proper term) developed in its present form with crosses erected to commemorate insurgents killed in the anti-Russian revolt of 1831 which were further augmented by those honoring the fallen in the subsequent revolt of 1863-4. During the 1950s, Lithuanians returning from the Siberian gulags placed crosses to honor those who had died in captivity and in thanks for their own deliverance. Soviet authorities reacted harshly to this expression of both Christianity and nationalism by destroying the crosses and patrolling the site, although the crosses continued to appear.
At the end of Soviet occupation in 1991, the hill had 40,000 crosses, a number that has probably doubled in the intervening years and continues to grow daily. The range of crosses, from cheap plastic versions sold by vendors at the site to full-sized traditional carved crosses (one of which was erected by Pope John Paul II himself) is almost as striking at their number. Visually, the hill resembles a densely packed forest in many places and will likely continue to expand outward. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the story, seeing the hill from a distance as you approach it along the turn-off from the A12 highway is powerful, and if you’re aware of it or have some connection to Lithuania it’s still more striking. Be sure to allow yourself an hour, at a minimum, to gain an appreciation of its sheer size and the diversity of its contents.
Siauliai itself is a fairly uninteresting place which unfortunately suffers from the worst of both Soviet architecture and post-Soviet economic malaise, best known for its whitewashed cathedral and its former role as the Soviet Union’s bicycle-manufacturing capital.
This makes it a doable day trip from any of these cities (I took a day trip from Klaipeda myself), but if your itinerary includes both Lithuania and Latvia, Siauliai is a convenient place to stop whether you’re heading north or south as it has the best bus and rail connections of any city in northern Lithuania (Samogitia).
Try to spend as little time as possible at Siauliai’s bus station where the local mafia seeks to prey on travelers by posing as minibus drivers – if anyone makes this claim (especially in English) avoid them. Minibuses only leave from the designated gates at the station.
If you wish to stay in Siauliai, be sure to book far ahead – accommodations, particularly inexpensive accommodations, are limited and fill up quickly.
Getting to the Hill of the Crosses:
Local buses between Siauliai and Joniskis and long-distance buses between Siauliai and Riga all stop at the "Kryziu kalnas" (Hill of the Crosses) stop on the A12 highway; however, you must flag them down or specifically request the stop. The journey takes 15-20 minutes. The city claims to run minibuses to the hill, but they were not in evidence on my visit.
Once you get off, you’ll see a sign (across the A12 if you’re coming from Siauliai, on your side if coming from Riga or points north) that says "Kryziu kalnas 2" and points down a country road. Walk down it, and you’ll see the hill on your right-hand side.
Taxis between the Hill and Siauliai cost approximately 25 LT and are a good option if you need to make a connection, as Lithuanian buses are notoriously unpunctual.
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