True Lithuania Sights, cities, culture, history and more

True Lithuania: Everything You Need to Know About Lithuania

Lithuania is Vilnius, the 15th century capital of what was then Europe's largest country.

Lithuania is four seasons of lush forests, countless lakes and magnificient coastal dunes of Neringa, sculpted by wind, not by "Private property" signs.

Lithuania is the inspiring Hill of Crosses, a unique-in-the-world place where millions of people have been building Christian symbols despite any persecutions.

Lithuania is the geographic centre of Europe where numerous ethnicities and religions live together for hundreds of years. There are centuries-old religious buidings of more than 10 communities as distinct as Roman Catholicism, Sunni Islam, Judaism and the Russian Old Believer sect.

Lithuania is a robust economy where the scars left by the Soviet Union may be investigated without ever having to do without modern western amenities.

Tourist? Expatriate? Interested in Lithuania? This website is for you.

Read extensive articles on Lithuanian history, architecture, sports, religion, ethnicities, music, holidays, famous people..

Sections of the website:
*Advices - practical help for everyday life in Lithuania.
*Cities - Lithuania's cities, their districts and histories.
*Culture - Lithuanian art, culture, faiths and ethnicities.
*History&Today - Lithuanian history, political and economic scene.
*Lifestyle - Lithuanian passions for sports, music, literature.
*Regions - Zones of Lithuania.
*Sights - Sights for tourists and more (towns, resorts, museums, etc.).

Ask questions and suggest changes in comments.

Website created and copyrighted © by Augustinas Žemaitis, including all its texts, design and photos (with the exception of historical pictures or quotations), unless noted otherwise. To use this information or ask questions please contact the author at tour.baltic [eta] gmail.com . Reuse of this information in other places without author’s permission is forbidden.

Our TOP 10 of Lithuania

Map of Lithuanian ethnographic regions. Numbers mark the top 10 sights. See below for explainations.

1.Vilnius city, a vibrant capital with its extensive old town and countless baroque church spires.
2.The Curonian Spit, a 98 km long narrow Baltic Sea peninsula covered by sandy dunes and pine forests where fishermen huts and upscale hotels exist side-by-side.
3.Hill of Crosses, a unique-in-the-world place where millions of people erected millions of these Christian symbols.
4.Kaunas city, a boomtown in 1880s-1930s when it served firstly as major Russian fortress and then as the seat of Lithuania's government. Kaunas medieval district is more intact than that of Vilnius and the 19th century military buildings still surround the city center, while the Baroque Pažaislis monastery crowns the suburbs.
5.Trakai town with its impressive island castle, many lakes and Karaim ethnic minority.
6.Rumšiškės open-air museum inspired by Stockholm's skansen. Old wooden buildings have been moved here from all over Lithuania and the main ethnic holidays are celebrated the tradtional way.
7.Plokštinė Soviet missile base, a unique opportunity to enter the shafts where nuclear missiles once waited to be launched.
8.Druskininkai 19th century mineral springs resort, revitalised by a large indoor alpine skiing arena and a water entertainment park. Grūtas park, where all the demolished Soviet statues ended up, is not far away.
9.Palanga seaside resort with its lively Basanavičiaus street. But the calmness is never far away in a large manor park, centered at a palace that now houses a major amber museum.
10.Visaginas town built by Soviets in 1980s for nuclear power plant workers - but the plant has since closed down. This somewhat eerie town is what Pripyat (near Chernobyl) would have looked if not for the disaster.

Comments (38) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Dear Sir:
    I am trying to locate information, documents and / or photos of two (2) of my aunts that worked and lived in Lithuanian. The first is Josephine Magdalene Rakauskas who was born in 1894 and at 18 years in 1912 joined the Sisters of Saint Casimir and became Sister Anna Marie). In 1920 she was one of a group of Sisters led by Mother Maria Kaupas (Sisters Anna Marie, Angela, Immaculata and Catherine) to establish an order of the Sisters of St. Casimir in Kaunas. They did establish a home/monastery in the building know as the Camaldolese Monastery, now know as the Pazaislis. Sister Anna Marie returned to the U.S. remained a Sister of St. Casimir until her death in 1989 in Chicago, Illinois, USA.
    The second aunt was Marijona (Mariona) E. Rakauskaite who was invited in 1920 by the Lithuanian National Opera in to sing with that group. She made her debut with the LNO in 1923 in George Bizet’s opera Carmen in the title role as Carmen. Mariona was a companion of Liudas Truikys the noted opera theater set designer. There is a museum in Kaunas dedicated to them.
    I enjoyed you we site and foud it most interesting and I learned many mor things about Lithuania, land of my ancestors. I am hoping to visit Lithuania and Italy as they are the homes of my Lithuanian and Italian ancestors. I am lucky to have such a rich cultural heritage.

    Sincerely, Alfred F. Tenuta, Jr., adopeted name (birth name Peter Paul Rakauskas,
    Jr.)
    CW3 Army of the United States, Retired
    northshore37@sbcglobal.net

    • Thank you for comment. I think your quest at locating the information certainly won’t be that hard if you will come to Lithuania and visit the said museum as well as the Pažaislis monastery (current nuns there have no connection to the historical ones I think but they would lead you on the right direction). This is by the way the article on the Žaliakalnis borough of Kaunas where the museum is located at and where most of pre-WW2 Kaunas artists lived at (and now there are several memorial museums and many memorial plaques).

      • Dear Augustinas:

        Are there any libraries or museums dedicated to the “Lithuanian Book Smugglers”. My grandfathers (Pranziscus Rakauakas) brother Mykloas Rakauskas was a “Book Smuggler” at the age of 16 and had to leave Lithuania in 1888 with the Czar’s police on his heels. I would appreciate any information on the “Book Smugglers”.

        • There is a book smuggler museum (knygnešių muziejus) in Ustronė hamlet near Krekenava (Panevėžys district municipality) – click here. It is open by appointment (phone numbers available at the link), I wouldn’t be too surprised if nobody speaks English there (I haven’t been there myself). The farmstead where it is located was used by book smugglers to hide illegal press. A few knygnešiai stories are also presented in other museums, such as AB spaustuvė in Kaunas suburbs (also open by appointment), maybe also Museum of Lithuanian litearture in Kaunas Old Town. There have been a couple of films made about the knygnešiai and numerous books, though the books are in Lithuanian language.

  2. This is a truly good website. Keep it up! :)

    Nusiunčiau draugei iš Amerikos, kuri labai domisi Lietuva, tai šis tinklalapis pats tas! Ačiū. :)

  3. I can’t seem to find this village anywhere. It was called both of these names, Kuloryny and Kulesgny.

    Also I cannot find Lidzianka on a map.

    Is there a Ledrianka in Lithuania?

    Any help would be appreciated!!

    Thanks!!!

    • Hello. Vilages by these names indeed does not exist in Lithuania, these names are not Lithuanian. However throughout Lithuanian history Lithuania was occupied by various powers and in different languages the names of the same localities were different. Some names (Kuloryny, Kulesgny) sound like they might be Slavic versions of some Lithuanian names. Which part of Lithuania they should be in? Also take note that Lithuania once encompassed much larger area than it does today. What was once regarded to be a Lithuanian land may now as well be in Belarus, Ukraine, Poland or Russia. For instance, a google search finds “Ledianka” (one letter difference from Ledrianka) in Ukraine.

  4. Hello Augustinas! I have enjoyed your site so much and really appreciate the effort you have put into it. I plan to travel to Lithuania in about a year and a half to search out my ancestors and your site will be my main guide. I want to see the land of my ancestors. My grandmother, Anna Abartus (or Abartis) (born in 1895) left in about 1910 to escape from the Russians. She had aided her father, known as Red Beard Abartus who was a revolutionary in hiding, and was therefore known to the Russians and so she had to escape. She went to Canada. I think she was only 15 or 16 at the time and met my grandfather Leon Buta, from Lithuania as well. With everyone in my family gone now, I only have snippits to follow. Have you ever heard of such a story? Many kind regards, Brenda

    • Hello Brenda. I have not heard such story myself. It would help you if you’d know locations (towns) from where your forefathers immigrated from as you could talk to people there, check the church archives. If by “revolutionary” you mean “communist/bolshevist” then chances are that your great grandfather would be mentioned somewhere in Soviet history books (in general there were few communists in Lithuania but the Soviet propaganda (after the 1940 occupation) sought to show it as if there were many, therefore almost every single one was mentioned). However, take note that names might be memorized differently in Lithuania. Before 1918 independence there was no universal Lithuanian orthography meaning that immigrant names would be transcribed rather randomly in America (see e.g. this article). E.g. Anna and Leon are not Lithuanian names (Ona and Leonas are). Abartis and Buta (Būta) are Lithuanian surnames and they are quite uncommon therefore you may tell your story to people with these surnames you could find online (e.g. Facebook).

  5. Thank you Augustinas! My great grandfather was definitely not a communist!!! He was a teacher who refused to stop teaching in the Lithuanian language when it was forbidden to do so by the Russians. The only story I know of regarding location is that he was hiding in the hills on the Russian controlled side and in the closest town, the divide was down the middle of a street so that Lituanians could go to the shops on both sides but not out the back of the shops on the Russian side, if that makes sense… My grandmother braved the divide and got through to warn her father but she was seen by the Russians and so had to escape overseas. That’s the story. Thank you for telling me about the fact that the surnames are uncommon…I hope I can find where my grandmother lived. I have a photo of the family after she left as they all stood before a thatched roof home. Funny, isn’t it, the attraction to roots. Kind regards, Brenda

    • I truly apologise for the wrong interpretation, I took the wrong impression that in English language the word “revolutionary” is used primarilly for various radical militant far left politicians, e.g. F. Castro. If your given year of emigration is correct and this was not World War 1 then there are fewer possible locations as this was probably on boundary of Russian-occupied Lithuania and German-contolled Lithuania Minor, and there were two nearby cities/towns on both sides? In theory it could also be the boundary of Russian-occupied Lithuania and Russian-occupied Latvia as in Latvia there were less restrictions on languages despite the Russian Imperial rule (but this is probably less likely).

      • Yes, I used the wrong word. Perhaps resistance fighter would be more appropriate :-)

        Yes, my dates are correctly set before WWI. Do you know the names of the towns where I could start looking based on my story?

        I don’t even know where to look for a map that would show me the borders of the occupations that you have noted….

        You are kind to help.

        • Click here for a map of interwar Lithuania. The territory marked “Rytprūsiai” was East Prussia both before and after WW1 (until WW2 when it was annexed by Russia). Also three regions immediately north of “Rytprūsiai” used to be part of Germany until WW1 but were part of Lithuania in 1923-1939. These are the regions centered in Klaipėda, Šilutė and Pagėgiai. I wouldn’t dare to guess exact towns as I don’t know exact size, but K. Naumiestis/Širvinta may have been possible (sadly Širvinta is no more: it was completely destroyed by Russians in World War 2 an not rebuilt; K. Naumiestis still exists).

          • that is very sad…I have no idea what all of you went through. I was protected in Canada

            Thank you Augustinas

          • Thank you for sharing the link. I can’t read French personally so can’t comment on the website though

          • Hi Augustinas

            I’ve done a bit more research and I think my great grandfather may have been involved in moving Lithuanian language books into Russian controlled Lithuania from Lithuania minor before 1904 when they were allowed to be used again…I think that is the border that our family story refers to. I’m wondering if you wouldn’t mind contacting me through my gmail account so I can give more detail and ask some more personal questions? Many many thanks, brenda

          • I have contacted you by e-mail

  6. labas,

    I am very much interested in the area of Beinoraiciai also known as Beinoraiciu, my grandfather was born there in1892. During that time, what was the land like, what would people have done for a living? What would of made my grandfather leave there in 1913?

    • Hello. For introduction I suggest reading our page on the Lithuanian history (click here), especially the chapters on 1795-1918 Russian Imperial rule and 1918-1940 independence to better understand the era and its aspirations.

      Basically Russians decided to leave Lithuania as an undeveloped agricultural land due to its border proximity. At the time your grandfather was born the Lithuanian language was still banned and Catholics persecuted by the Russian government but by ~1904 it was forced to soften these policies. By 1913 independence movement was already in a full swing although only World War 1 allowed to finally win freedom, which was after 1913 (perhaps your grandfather would have participated in pro-Lithuanian protests in the USA ~1918 as many Lithuanian Americans did at the time, (click here for one picture of such protest)). Most Lithuanians of 1910s were peasants and would grow food for living. Beinoraičiai village (the one near Pakruojis I assume) was not much different from the major part of rural Lithuania.

  7. Labas,

    Thank you so much, the articles have helped me so much to understand Lithuanian history. My grandfather came to the US and joined the Army and went back and fought for the Lithuanians.

    In Aug. of 2012 I traveled to Beinoraicai, it is a beautiful part of Lithuania, so i would guess that it is pretty much like it was when he lived there.

    I love your website, so happy to have found it.

    • Thank you. Lithuanian nature indeed still looks the same. The people, their aspirations and lifestyle differ however. Back in 1910s nearly all Lithuanians who live in Lithuania were peasants/villagers, deeply religious, had many children and would make many things (some clothes, furniture) inside family rather than buy. As Russia left Lithuania undeveloped choosing an urban life meant emigration (whether to Riga, St. Petersburg or Chicago). Many emigrants of that era would however return and invest their money into land; to inherit the father’s land and expand it used to be the aspiration for many. Today it is different with urban life being more prestigious and villagers viewed in dismay by some; the youth leave the villages hoping never to return. Like in the USA technology was one of the drives for this change. However another drive was the Soviet occupation when nearly all land was nationalized and the land-owning peasants killed or expelled, religion attacked. Urbanization rate increased from 30 to 70 percent as more emphasis was put on heavy industry while the productivity of agriculture suffered as people no longer a bond to the land when it was not even theirs; some would get addicted to alcohol which is still a problem in villages. After independence restoration the land was returned to descendants, however, many of them now live elsewhere and are no longer farmers, therefore they sell or rent the land. This Soviet era also greatly villages architecturally with many old homes destroyed and new ones built on standard plain designs (including apartment blocks which never previously existed in villages).

  8. I have enjoyed your website very much. It is quite interesting to read the history and how it has influenced what is occuring today. I am only begining to research my Lithuanian grandparents emingration to Chicago in 1912. I am looking for possible directed readings specifically coverings the economy of Lithuania ~1890 to 1912. I am trying to determine possible motiviation factors for their emigration. My grandfather was a construction engineer(according to family lore) and founded a construction company shortly after arriving in Chicago.

  9. Hello Augustinas, Your site is our favorite. Our surname was changed in the early 1900 hundreds when my grandfather immigrated to the USA. My great uncle was Kazimieras Mikalocius a farmer in the Laukuva area. He had five children and on all of their birth records there are notes that the Soviet KGB had checked on their records, between 1948-1950. What would be the reason for the investigation at that time? I also had a first cousin once removed, Peter Stoncelis and his wife who had problems immigrating to the US in 1956. They had a sponsor my great uncle Motiejus Kuzas here in the USA. What would have been the reason in Lithuania at that time for difficulty immigrating to the USA?

  10. Augustinas, just another bit of information, Kazimieras Mikalocius’ children were in their early twenties to thirty years old at the time of the investigation and Kazimieras had past away a week after the youngest child was born.

    • Thank you. 1948-1950 was in the times of the early Soviet occupation (i.e. the totalitarian regime of Joseph Stalin). In these times the persecution of various minorities (ethnic, political, religious) was at its highest point. KGB controlled/watched many areas of life. There were many reasons one could be held suspicious by the Soviet regime: owning “too much” land before the occupation, owning a Lithuanian flag, having once participated in capitalist/religious/patriotic organizations (e.g. Boy Scouts), etc. All of these have led in many cases not only to investigations, but even capital punishments or extra-judicial killings under the Stalin’s regime. Collective punishment was widely practiced so while one’s record may have been “pure”, actions by one’s relatives were held a sufficient reason for punishment, let alone investigation (e.g. if someone’s relative would have previously emigrated to a capitalist state this could raise suspicion). Being ethnic Lithuanian alone was a reason for increased suspicion.

      As such, it is hardly possible to say now what were the exact reasons for checks as there could have been many. Something related to their (or their relatives’ an friends’) status before the Soviet occupation and their (or their relatives’ and friends’) participation in non-communist organizations and events may have been a reason. I assume actions of related people may have been a reason, as all the brothers were investigated and as I understand none were imprisoned/expelled/murdered (which would have been likely the case if their own actions were a reason for investigations). Perhaps Kazimieras Mikaločius used to own „too much“ (in the Soviet opinion) land as a farmer?

      These are however merely guesses as while I am knowledgable of the general situation in the era, I have a limited knowledge of exact KGB work methods. Perhaps someone specializing particularly in the KGB work will add more information eventually if he/she would read these messages and if I would learn more on the issue at some time I would add more info.

      In your post you don’t mention whether Peter Stoncelis had troubles with US authorities, Soviet authorities or some other authorities (e.g. West German if he moved there as a refugee after WW2 and then attempted remigrate to USA, as many Lithuanians did in 1940s-1950s). In the Soviet Union (and thus occupied Baltic States) emigration was nearly banned (allowed only in some very limited circumstances).

      More info on the World War 2 in Lithuania and the later Soviet occupation of Lithuania are available on the website and may be useful to you.

      • Augustinas

        You may be the person who can help me. My ancestors lived in Kalviai (Kowalki)(Varena) It still exists. I cannot find any pictures of this community. Might you have a reference? I know who lived in the manor house in 1909 from the church census. I was wondering the simplest way of understanding who held these blocks of land going back to the middle ages. I know that my family (Stanielun) was represented in this village in 1795.

        aciu labai

        Jim Staneluis

        • James, Kalviai is a small village (population 68) so there are few pics available. However by clicking here you may see a farmstead recently sold in Kalviai, with interior and exterior images. It looks like a traditional home of the area (forested Dzūkija); many homes look like this in the region. The simplest way to search for historical information is through the state archives.

          • Labas,

            I am hoping you are well and staying warm.

            I am hoping you could help me again with the spelling of family names. I want to have the Lithuanian Archivers do some reseach for me but uncertain of spelling. I have seen my great-grandmothers name spelled Szarniukic, Scarniukic, Scheran, Sarna, Serna, it was pronounced Sirna. I know she came from Pacmevezys in 1900.

            Her mothers last name was Yrameniuke and Petracrikic.

            Any help would be appreciated.

            aciu

          • Hi, thank you. Modern surnames that sound similar are Šernas and Šerna (may have been written Szerna, Szernas in Polonized orthography). “Šerniukas” is a diminutive of “Šernas” (meaning wild boar in Lithuanian); I am not sure if there is a surname “Šerniukas” but it is possible to call someone with a surname “Šernas” to be “Šerniukas” especially in early age / childhood. The city you mention is likely Panevėžys (click here for info). Yrameniuke and Petracrikic does not rings much bell to me currently, parts of the surnames sound Lithuanian (e.g. “iuke” is a female diminutive, “Petras” is a Lithuanian version of “Peter”) but other parts seem to be greatly transformed, or maybe these already were rare surnames before transformation. One possibility for “Pertacrikic” may be “Petrauskas” (male surname) and for “Yrameniuke” – “Ermanytė”, but I am not sure.

  11. Thank you so much for your help. I was able to contact the Lithuanian Archives, hopefully they will be able to find some information for me.

    Aciu

  12. What a fascinating website, really inspired me to visit Vilnius.

  13. Great Site! I love Lithuania! All my people are from the Panevezys area. I think your site is the BEST for Lithuania. No BS. No Hype. Just pertinent information. Your’s is my default site for all things Lithuanian. Please keep up the good work. I know it’s not easy keeping up a site this informative. With Much appreciation, Paul Alencikas


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