True Lithuania

Vilnius museums

As the capital of Lithuania Vilnius has the most of its greatest museums.

Art museums excels in modern Lithuanian and Lithuanian diaspora art. Historical museums tend to focus on either the most glorious (Medieval era) or the saddest portions of city history (20th-century occupations and genocides). Technical museums are an interesting place to learn about Eastern European technology, tools, and vehicles. Off-the-beaten "memorial apartments" of local luminaries may have little in particular to offer - but a more personality-based experience of Lithuanian lifestyle and history may be interesting.

Art museums and galleries

Art in Vilnius museums is split according to its period. National Art Gallery (Šnipiškės) has a nice collection of 20th-century Lithuanian art in an appropriately 20th-century building.

Pre-20th-century art is housed in Vilnius Picture Gallery which spreads over several historic palaces in the Old Town. Many temporary exhibits are also housed there whereas the permanent exhibition is rather lackluster (various invaders have carted away many of the old paintings).

Religious art had been a target as well but more of it survived. Some of it, like the Cathedral treasure, had to be hidden from the Soviet eyes. Now this treasure is openly displayed in the new Museum of Religious Art (in St. Michael church, Old Town). However, the best religious art remains located in churches, some of which are rich enough to look like museums (e.g. Ss. Peter and Paul in Antakalnis).

Europe Park is a large permanent exhibition of modern outdoor art in Vilnius suburbs not far from the geographic center of Europe (Vilnius suburbs). Some of its most famous works are 1990s gifts by foreign modern artists to newly independent Lithuania.

Chair-pool by American modern artist Dennis Oppenheim at Europe Park. Photo ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

For 21st century art, Contemporary Art Centre (Old Town) hosts temporary traveling exhibitions of modern art (mostly foreign). It also has a permanent Fluxus room exhibiting 20th-century Fluxus movement that was pioneered by Lithuanian diaspora. Additionally, there are multiple galleries that double as shops in the Old Town, mostly dedicated to paintings or amber.

Three Lithuanian-American painters forced to flee Lithuania after Soviet occupation have bequeathed their works to their homeland after its independence. All three painters now have dedicated museums in Vilnius. All three had their iconic styles: carnival-like colorful for Vytautas Kasiulis, so-called optical impressionism for Kazimieras Žoromskis and optical illusion constructivist for Kazys Varnelis. Varnelis has also been an avid collector and his museum includes minor works by major artists such as Goya. Varnelis museum is in the Old Town while Kasiulis's and Žoromskis's ones are in the New Town.

Museum of Applied Art (Old Town) houses pre-modern applied art.

Museum of film, theater, and music (Old Town) is rather massive but quite chaotic with its copies old performance adverts and pictures of obscure actors unlikely to interest a foreigner.

Museum of Verbos in Vilnius suburbs may be small but it provides good examples of this Vilnius region vernacular art (contraptions of dried flowers which replace palm leafs in local churches).

Verbos museum. Photo ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Prehistoric Baltic crafts and jewelry from archeological digs are best presented at the Kernavė museum, which may be visited in a day trip from Vilnius.

Historical and cultural museums

Various occupations and genocides have been an unfortunate part of recent Vilnius history and many of the largest historical museums are dedicated to it. Tuskulėnai Peace Park and Museum (with impressive memorial) is located at the place of where the Soviet Union secretly buried its victims (Antakalnis) whereas Paneriai memorial and museum is located at a Nazi German killing field (Vilnius suburbs). Soviet Genocide is well documented at the Museum of Genocide Victims (former KGB headquarters, New Town) while the information on the Holocaust is also kept in Jewish Museum (Old Town) among other Jewish memorabilia.

Earlier Lithuanian history and culture is presented in the smaller-than-the-name-implies National Museum (Old Town) and its even more modest section in the castle tower above.

The newly-rebuilt Grand Dukes Palace (Old Town) has rather many informational panels on the Grand Duchy's history (1200s-1700s) and plainer-than-the-real-thing reimaginations of palace rooms.

Grand Dukes palace. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Trakai castle Museum of Lithuanian history may be visited as a day trip from Vilnius.

Technical museums

While technics is now rather international, the technical museums of Lithuania present the Soviet and Eastern European technologies that are hard to come by in the West. Furthermore, they are likely to amuse children.

Museum of Technics (Žirmūnai) housed in Vilnius first power station (1904) is the largest, presenting the Lithuanian technical history among the old turbines. There are also run-of-the-mill do-it-yourself physical experiments.

Museum of Military Vehicles (Antakalnis) exhibits many old military vehicles in open air, much of it either Soviet or donated by the Western countries in the 1990s. Touching and entering is possible.

Museum of military vehicles allows touching. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Privately-owned Toys museum (Old Town) is, however, the one that will be loved the most by kids but adults may also be interested in learning with what toys children used to play in the Soviet Union.

There is also a Museum of Railways in the train station (New Town) and a modern Museum of Money (Old Town) in the Lithuanian Central Bank (both should interest fans of particular fields as they concentrate heavily on Lithuania).

Memorial museums in famous people's homes

While a foreigner is unlikely to know many of the people who have their "memorial apartments", one or two of these may be nice to visit as they are located in former homes that shed light on a Vilnius home of the eras these people live in (mostly 20th century, as the Soviet occupation has largely destroyed the earlier interiors and furniture). They also give an easy access to Lithuanian apartment building stairwells.

Arguably the most famous of these people was Saint Faustyna Kowalska, a Polish nun whose visions of God inspired her to create the Divine Mercy painting venerated by Catholics all over the world. Her former wooden nunnery in Antakalnis is as modest as it used to be in the 1930s and receives many pilgrims.

Also famous is poet Adomas Mickevičius (Adam Mickiewicz) who once lived in Vilnius Old Town.

The Šlapelis family are local heroes who published Lithuanian books in Vilnius under foreign (Russian, Polish) occupations (Old Town).

Writers Vincas Mykolaitis-Putinas and Vincas Krėvė-Mickevičius, as well as blind opera singer Birutė Grincevičiūtė, also have their former downtown apartments turned into memorial museums. The first two are more "interwar / early Soviet" while the last one is more "late Soviet" in style. All are located in New Town.

Memorial apartment of Vincas Krėvė-Mickevičius furnished in a 1930s-1940s style. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

One person has a museum in Vilnius even though he has never visited the city - that's Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. He was venerated by the Soviet government which established his memorials all over the Union. However, the wooden manor in Southern Vilnius, once owned by Pushkin's relatives, is more interesting for presenting authentic furniture and lifestyle of 19th century Russian provincial nobility which was influential in Russian-ruled Lithuania.

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