True Lithuania

Top 10 interwar sites

The interwar Lithuanian independence may have been short (1918-1940) but it solidified the nation to survive further decades under occupation. Early modern buildings (monuments, government offices, cultural/religious institutions) of the era still makes it impossible to forget those prosperous times. Most of them are located in Kaunas which served as the capital because Vilnius was under a fiercely-disputed Polish rule.

1.Absorb the essence of patriotic interwar Lithuania in Vienybės (Unity) square at Kaunas New Town, with its key national museums (War, most famous painter M. K. Čiurlionis) and monuments (Freedom, Unknown Soldier, National revival heroes). It gets even more atmospheric when the local carillon (built in 1937) offers regular free concerts.

2.Ascend the roof of plain white art deco Christ Ressurection Church (Žaliakalnis borough of Kaunas), commissioned over Kaunas to be its new symbol and the largest church in the Baltics. Turned into a factory by the Soviets the church it has only been completed after independence.

3.Search for other rather monumental interwar buildings at Kaunas New Town. With its status of "Temporary capital", Kaunas boomed increasing its population by 66% in 1923-1939 period. Some architects sought to use this momentum to develop a new architectural style combining art deco and Bauhaus ideas from the West with Lithuanian ethnic patterns. The central post office and Officer's club are among its key examples.

4.Take a calm walk in tree-lined Žaliakalnis borough, the interwar addition of Kaunas where Lithuanian elite of the era built their new homes. Among the memorial plaque-clad homes some of the interwar Lithuania's largest projects were undertaken: Europe's first basketball-specific arena, a funicular, a zoo, a stadium. All these together turned Kaunas into a true capital city.

5.Visit the modest Interwar presidency in Kaunas Old Town, now used for temporary exhibitions related to Interwar Lithuania.

6.Find out why Kaunas served as a capital in museum of Šlapelis family in Vilnius. Poland conquered Vilnius region from Lithuania in 1920 and Šlapelis's bookstore served as a hub of the mistrusted Lithuanian language and culture afterward.

7.Pray at Šiluva village where the earliest church-recognized Europe's Maryan vision took place (1608). The pilgrimages became especially popular during the interwar period when Catholic tradition, widely seen as the most Lithuanian one, liberated itself from Russian Orthodox domination. The fact that Virgin Mary chose Lithuania to appear at was seen as extremely important; clubs used to organize Santiago de Compostella-like cross-country pilgrimages on foot and an obelisk-like chapel has been erected in 1924 on the site of the vision.

8.Explore Petrašiūnai cemetery in Kaunas which served as a pantheon for Kaunas elite. While many of these luminaries were later expelled or forced to flee by the Soviets, some of their remains were nevertheless repatriated to Petrašiūnai when possible, e.g. semiotic Algirdas J. Greimas and ethnologist Marija Gimbutas.

9.Stroll at Rasos cemetery in southern Vilnius where one can say the interwar Polish-Lithuanian conflict over Vilnius is interred. Polish dictator Juzef Pilsudski (the person behind the 1920s idea to annex Vilnius to Poland) ordered to bury his heart there. Not far away lie the graves of Polish soldiers who fought for the city within Poland. Further on the Lithuanian interwar luminaries who have never acknowledged Vilnius as a Polish city rest in piece.

10.Take a detour to the manor built for authoritarian president Antanas Smetona in his native Užulėnis village (near Ukmergė). Combining remnants of the old Lithuanian countryside lifestyle (e.g. stables for horses) that still prevailed among commoners (and were respected by the elite) with a more modern architectural style it epitomizes the dreams of that time now known as the "Smetonic era" (1926-1940).

Map of the top Interwar (1918-1940) locations in Lithuania

Map of the top Interwar (1918-1940) locations in Lithuania. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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