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Soviet (Stalinist) Historicism in Lithuania (1944 – 1955)

Between the second Soviet occupation of Lithuania (1944) and the death of Stalin some monumental buildings were built. Stalinist period was shorter than in Moscow or Minsk but the so-called “city improvement” drive led by Russian architects such as Anikin in Vilnius brought extremely serious changes to the cities of Lithuania. Many pre-war buildings were torn down in order to form wide boulevards and empty squares, because the cobbled medieval labyrinthine streets were considered “un-socialist”.

Many architectural gems were lost in these years, including all the major churches of Klaipėda and the Vilnius Great Synagogue, for centuries the center of the Lithuanian Jewish culture. Entire medieval streets and districts were demolished in the major cities.

Some of these buildings were replaced by Soviet historicist cinemas (Lenin once claimed that “Cinema is the art above all arts”), educational buildings and apartment blocks for the Soviet elite. In Vilnius the best reminders of this era are the Pergalė cinema (currently a casino) and the House of the Scientists next to Neris river (once nicknamed "The Kremlin"). Wide Vokiečių street is an example what the Vilnius Old Town would look now had the Anikin’s vision been fulfilled. The old wing of Vilnius airport (1952) is also Soviet historicist with statues related to aviation („Pilot“, „Airplane repairman“, „Parachutists“...) on its city-side facade and pseudo-Roman white columns in the arrival hall.

House of the Scientists by architect Giovanni Rippa from Leningrad in Naujamiestis borough of Vilnius is one of the best examples of the monumental Stalinist architecture in Lithuania. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The downtown of Šiauliai city, heavily damaged in World War 2, received many Soviet historicist buildings during the rebuilding works. It is in this city the style is the most prevalent with many dominant buildings dating to the era (in the main Vilniaus Street, Prisikėlimo Square).

Soviet (Stalinist) historicism in a way emulated historicism of the 19th century, but with less architectural details. While the historicist masterpieces of 1890s and 1900s had their entire facades turned into a works of art the Soviet historicist buildings typically have only some elaborate details on otherwise plain facades. Soviet historicist builings also tend to be larger in size.

Spa Draugystė (1953-1962) in Druskininkai resort. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

This monumental style failed to reach most smaller towns. Even in the main cities it was largely created by Russian architects relocated from the Soviet heartland (Leningrad or Moscow). At the time most Lithuanian and Polish architects were either murdered/exiled by the Soviets or left Lithuania in fear of their lifes before Soviet armies recaptured it.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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