True Lithuania

Downtown Šiauliai

The most magnificent building in downtown Šiauliai is the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Constructed in 1625 this church with a 70-meter tall tower is one of few examples of Renaissance (Mannerism) style in Lithuanian ecclesial architecture.

Šiauliai Cathedral dominates the central Prisikėlimo square. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Other buildings at the main Prisikėlimo (Ressurection) square are mainly Soviet historicist architecture of 1940s/1950s when Šiauliai was rebuilt after World War 2 damage. Unlike the later (1960s-1980s) Soviet concrete slab architecture created with nothing but cheapness in mind the Soviet historicism was promoted by J. Stalin to represent his new empire and carried ideological meaning. One example is the imposing Water tower at the opposite end of Vasario 16 street which was built to provide a secular urbanistic counterweight to the Cathedral.

Vilniaus street, a.k.a. "The boulevard" (traditional high street of Šiauliai) is another place to look for Stalinist architecture. In 1976 it became the first pedestrianized street all over the Soviet Union. While currently partly outcompeted by shopping malls it still is the main downtown hub for restaurants, peaceful stroll and tourist activities. Renovated in 2007 it also has numerous small sculptures.

The southern part of the Šiauliai boulevard. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In the west, the pedestrian zone begins at Vilniaus/Žemaitės intersection. Nearby residential courtyard hides a modest St. Ignacio church (1936; in a courtyard) while Šiauliai art gallery stands streetside. Further eastwards on you pass a small and blunt Radio/TV museum.

The Vilniaus/Tilžės intersection is where the history of Šiauliai began. Now it is marked by a rooster statue that greets visitors daily at 12:00 and 18:00 in many foreign languages. Museum of photography is nearby, offering a neatly restored gallery of photography-inspired art as well as real camera obscura. Bicycle museum is further on. Museum of Chocolate (Tilžės street) is a small-but-modern one, located in a historic Rūta chocolate factory (est. 1913) returned to original owners after the Soviet occupation. Its sweets may be bought here cheaply.

Beyond the Boulevard's eastern end stands the art nouveau villa of a Jewish businessman Chaimas Frenkelis (1908) and the now-disused leather factory that brought him riches. The "villa" is actually a magnificent (albeit compact) palace which now houses a museum on the lives of the urban dwellers, prewar provincial elite and the Frenkelis family.

Chaimas Frenkelis villa with the former factory beyond it. Miraculously the villa survived the wars intact while the factory has been bombed. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The southern limit of Šiauliai downtown is marked by a railroad. Both rail and bus stations are located there, the latter incorporated into Saulės miestas, one of the Šiauliai's major malls (the name means "Sun city" and is a popular nickname for Šiauliai). Saulės miestas is good for shopping and eating but lacks entertainment.

The Neobyzanthine style of St. George Catholic church (near the railroad) reminds of its Russian Orthodox origins. The church was completed in 1909 to serve the Russian Imperial garrison. When Lithuania regained independence (1918) the Russian army departed and the building was ceded to the Roman Catholics.

A small number of Russian Orthodox people remained and they were allocated a place for a new church in the Old Cemetary in northern downtown near Talkša Lake. This lake surrounded by parks and greenery provides recreation. Centuries ago the Salduvė hill east of Talkša hosted a wooden castle which defended Šiauliai. Saulės Laikrodžio (Sundial) square south of Talkša is crowned by a sculpture-sundial that is a modern symbol of Šiauliai.

Map of Downtown Šiauliai. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Šiauliai No Comments