Lithuanian wooden churches | True Lithuania
True Lithuania

Wooden Buildings in Lithuania (up to year 1940)

Most (~90%) of the buildings constructed in Lithuania before the year 1940 are built of wood. In the 20th century, they were regarded as inferior. Wooden buildings were so shunned by the Soviets that after they occupied Lithuania they censored photographs that pictured wooden buildings in cities. However, for a person from the west, where wood is rarely used for construction, these buildings might be very interesting as some of them include elaborate architectural details.

Residential detached homes in Šnipiškės borough, Vilnius. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

These details are usually attributed to vernacular architecture yet there have also been attempts to emulate other prevalent styles (such as Baroque, Neo-classical or the Gothic revival) using wood as the construction material.

You can see numerous nice wooden residentials in the Žvėrynas borough of Vilnius. In 1990s Žvėrynas became a rich neighborhood and so many new buildings were constructed there post-1990 somewhat altering its face. However, Šnipiškės borough of Vilnius remains an intact and authentic example of a 19th-century wooden suburb where even some streets aren’t paved yet. In Kaunas, there are many wooden buildings in Žaliakalnis borough. A must see for every fan of wooden architecture is the open-air museum in Rumšiškės where many old village buildings were transported from all over Lithuania.

Every city and town (with the exception of Klaipėda Region area that belonged to Germany prior to 1920) have a fair share of wooden buildings. The wooden churches still common in villages are usually the most impressive among them (however not every wooden church is elaborate). Crosses or mini-chapels no longer dot every roadside as they used to a century ago but many of these UNESCO-inscribed wooden Christian objects still remain.

Stelmužė village church and belfry (Zarasai district, Aukštaitija). Built in 1713 it is one of the oldest surviving wooden buildings in Lithuania. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The few wooden synagogues and mosques that survived the Soviet occupation are also an extremely interesting and unique sight. The wooden manors that dot the countryside and the wooden villas in the resort towns like Palanga, Druskininkai or Juodkrantė (Neringa) are well known for their beauty (their rich owners did not attempt to save money on exterior details).

The barn of Kurtuvėnai manor. Typically, the manors of richer nobility families would be all-brick while those of the poorer could have been wooden. Barns and other non-primary structures were more often built of wood than were the palaces. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Unfortunately, the susceptibility of the wood to fire as well as a negative opinion about these buildings mean that few wooden old towns are intact today. As for the smaller villages, however, some of them remain little changed from the pre-war days, e.g. Marcinkonys or Zervynos in Dzūkija National Park.

An Italian style wooden villa Druskininkai. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Further away from the main cities and recreational areas, however, whole villages tend to depopulate quickly and the wooden buildings there gradually cave in even without fires.

A collapsing wooden building in the northeast Lithuania where population has been on a decline for over a century. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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