True Lithuania

Soviet Micro-Districts in Vilnius

By the 1960s Soviet urban philosophy moved from the expansion of natural city centers to the construction of new "micro-districts". Each micro-district would have a shop, a kindergarten, and many apartment blocks. Each apartment block would be built according to a similar design as the rest of them. Every micro-district would be separated from most other micro-districts by grasslands or small forests. The areas between apartment blocks would also be open spaces that are now filled by cars.

There is little to see in most micro-districts but strolling around one of them might be interesting to fully understand where the majority (some 55%) of Vilnius inhabitants live. All the Soviet micro-districts are concentrated west of Vilnius 19th century districts. Four to eight lane trunk streets such as Laisvės Avenue, T. Narbuto street, Ozo street or Ukmergės street connect micro-districts to each other and to the city center. These thoroughfares are now commercial hubs.

The first new Soviet borough in Vilnius is Lazdynai, constructed in 1967 – 1973.
• Karoliniškės is the second one, built in the 1970s. It was the site of the January 13th, 1991 attacks by the Soviet troops against armless people defending the Vilnius TV Tower. This tower, still the tallest structure in Lithuania and once among the 10 tallest in the world, has a public observatory. Paukščių Takas expensive restaurant that is open there rotates around in 24 hours. Streets in Karoliniškės are named after people killed in that bloody night of 1991. While Soviet troops managed to capture the TV tower their advances were halted elsewhere and after several months of propaganda broadcastings, the Soviets abandoned the tower after trashing transmission systems.
Karoliniškės also is the home for the Blessed Jurgis Matulaitis church. The construction started in 1991 but was never finished and while the building is consecrated it looks incomplete without the tower. It is a good example of the early 1990s „church building boom“ when religious freedom finally came to Lithuania.

Laisvės (Independence) Avenue with TV Tower annually converted into the 'World's largest Christmas tree'. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

• Viršuliškės was built in the 1970s.
• Baltupiai was built in the 1970s. Unlike the rest of micro-districts, it has several old buildings. The Calvary church (1700), once proudly standing in the countryside, is a popular religious pilgrimage site with its long Via Dolorosa path in surrounding park recreating the final path taken by Jesus Christ (the 7 km length and relative directions are authentic). Destroyed by the Soviets in 1962 these 35 chapels are now rebuilt. This church is so important that the local village has been renamed Jeruzalė (Jerusalem) in the 18th century; the name is still used for the modern district. This district houses Museum of Customs.
• Santariškės is the location of main hospitals and clinics of Lithuania.
• Šeškinė was built approximately on 1980. It is now famous for Akropolis shopping mall, largest in the Baltic States (over 100 000 sq. m). Vilnius's 2nd largest shopping mall Ozas is also in the same Ozo street, forming the center of a wide-scale modern development which also includes a water theme park and an 11000-seat arena. As the heart of sports (and music) in Vilnius, the area has a basketball monument and an alley where every lamppost bears an image of Lithuania's major sportsperson.

Basketball monument in front of Siemens arena in Šeškinė. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

• Justiniškės was built in the 1980s.
• Fabijoniškės was built in the 1980s.
• Pašilaičiai was built in the late 1980s.
• Pilaitė is the last micro-district (the late 1980s – early 1990s) that was never completed (due to the collapse of the Soviet Union). It was envisioned to be so large that one-fourth of Vilnius population would have lived there, commuting to the city center by light rail. The wide central zone between traffic lanes of Pilaitės Avenue was meant for the rail line. Together with on-ramps descending nowhere, it reminds of the aborted massive visions. Nevertheless, Pilaitė is still continuously expanded, albeit following a more compact design and slower pace.

Some of the older neighborhoods such as Žirmūnai, Antakalnis or Naujininkai were also partly supplanted or expanded by Soviet micro-districts.

After Lithuania regained independence in 1990 Vilnius population ceased to expand. However, a few new districts were developed as people were eager to buy their own modern homes (the square meters of living space per one person in Vilnius used to be much lower than that in Western Europe). These new districts of high-rise apartment blocks were largely laid beyond the furthest Soviet boroughs: Fabijoniškės, Pašilaičiai, Pilaitė, Lazdynai. One exception is Šiaurės miestelis, a residential and commercial zone in Žirmūnai that supplanted a former Russian military base.

Map for Soviet micro-districts of Vilnius is joined to the Vilnius suburbs map

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Vilnius, Vilnius by borough (district) No Comments