True Lithuania

Žirmūnai borough

Žirmūnai is a largely rebuilt borough that has some hidden gems.

Foremost among them is the Tuskulėnai Peace Park. Once a manor owned by Tiškevičiai and Valavičiai families (built in 1825) it was nationalized by the Soviets and used to dispose of the political prisoner bodies. At least 724 were buried here, including Lithuanian freedom fighters, priests, and Polish Armija Krajowa fighters. Some criminals (10%) were also buried but as Soviets purposefully damaged all the bodies with acid the bones were impossible to distinguish after exhumation in 1996.

Neoclassical Tuskulėnai manor now houses park offices and temporary exhibitions while a small but modern museum is located at the southern end of the complex. The underground memorial and columbarium (2006) look like a crowned burial mound in the center. Its massive brutalist entrance hides an impressive post-modern interior, incorporating Egyptian and vernacular Lithuanian details. Visiting could be arranged at the park offices or museum.

Interior of Tuskulėnai Memorial. The symbolic round central room (right) is surrounded by a corridor full of numbered urns with the remains of Tuskulėnai victims. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The Soviet brutalist Palace of Concerts and Sports (1971) on the northern bank of Neris river is built on a place where Vilnius largest Jewish cemetery once stood (until it was destroyed by the Soviets in the 1950s). With the completion of new arenas, this one is no longer used. Car park in front of it was turned into a grassland for memorial purposes in the 2000s.

Palace of Concerts and Sports in Vilnius (Olimpiečių Street) is an example of what the key public buildings of the late Soviet era looked like. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Formerly the complex also included Žalgiris stadium, built by the German POWs in 1948 and the largest stadium in Lithuania, a red-brick ice rink, and a Stalinist Žalgiris swimming pool. However, all these buildings have since been demolished to vacate the expensive land. Nearby street names like Olimpiečių and Sporto still reminds of the past when southern Žirmūnai was the heart of Lithuanian sport.

On the opposite side of Rinktinės street, a Museum of Technology operates in what was Vilnius's first power plant (1904), still crowned by a statue of personified Energy. The showcases range from old turbines, cars and Lithuanian industrial history to generic optical illusions.

The North Town (Šiaurės Miestelis) area spent the 19th century as an Imperial Russian military base, which housed a Soviet garrison after World War 2. Around the year 2000 it was heavily redeveloped and now there is a modern district of new apartments, offices, and retail. A quarter of it forms the Ogmios Retail City which is a good place for shopping.

A few Russian imperial barracks remain in the North Town, purposefully restored instead of facing destruction. They add some atmosphere to the district but are not a reason enough to visit on their own.

The rest of Žirmūnai is effectively a Soviet apartment borough built around the 1960s when it became the first functionalist district of Vilnius.

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