True Lithuania

Šnipiškės Borough in Vilnius

Sometimes Šnipiškės is regarded as a "Village inside a city" and its central districts still live up to this title. They are almost entirely dominated by wooden private homes. Most of them are heated by burning wood in stoves and many even lack tap water and sewerage (public water outlets are used). Some of the streets are not yet paved. This central Šnipiškės is an indirect heritage of Soviet urban planning when new districts would be built in some places while some others would be left completely untouched. Šnipiškės was among the later and so you can still witness how a 19th-century wooden suburb of Vilnius looked like. Streets like Giedraičių or unpaved Šilutės are the best to see this.

Central Šnipiškės is no Žvėrynas. Despite being in a walking distance to the city center this district somehow fails to attract the rich and remains dominated by its old inhabitants.

19th and early 20th century wooden houses in Giedraičių street, Šnipiškės. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The southern Šnipiškės is a different story, however. Designated to be the new city center in the 1980s it saw its old homes replaced by 22 story Hotel Lietuva, planetarium and the largest department store in Soviet Vilnius. In the 2000s this trend continued with the first skyscraper district in Lithuania hugging the modern Konstitucijos (Constitution) Avenue and the new Europos (Europe) Square. Several mid-sized shopping malls and many offices are here next to Neris river as is the National Gallery of (20th Century) Art. On the area's western edge the Baltic Way memorial commemorates the world's original (and largest) human chain (2 million people, 650 km for the Baltic States independence in 1989). The tricolor wall itself is unique for being crowd-funded, every brick bearing a name of a benefactor.

The pro-development stance that regards the wooden Šnipiškės as a total anachronism frequently clashed with a stance that sees it as an important heritage that must be saved. There was a time when owners of some old wooden houses would burn them down in order to get a construction permit for a modern building. However, as of now, it is still possible to see a remarkable contrast between a 19th-century suburb and 21st-century city center within meters from each other in Šnipiškės. They are nearby but not intermingled as there is a very fine invisible line that divides glass-and-concrete skyscrapers on the one side, and the World War 1 era buildings on the other.

A view south from Central Šnipiškės (Giedraičių Street) with the new city center visible. The circular skyscraper to the right is the 33 floor Europa Tower. With 148 meters height, it is the tallest building in the Baltic States. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The main thoroughfare of Šnipiškės is the north-south Kalvarijų street. You see all the faces of Šnipiškės by traveling it and you may always turn westwards into the side-streets. Kalvarijų Street begins in the south with graceful Saint Raphael church and monastery (1709) on one side and a nice Gothic revival palace on the other, sadly half-destroyed by the Soviets. These elaborate buildings could as well be in the New Town which is just beyond the Žaliasis bridge.

Going the Kalvarijų street northwards you pass the recent developments and then wooden buildings start appearing. One of the largest marketplaces in Vilnius (Kalvarijų turgus) and a Russian Orthodox church of Archangel Michael are located alongside.

Kalvarijų street serves as a trunk road linking city center to its northern boroughs. Therefore many buildings here have been converted to commercial use. If you want a more authentic experience, you may choose to stroll in some of the parallel streets such as Giedraičių and Šilutės.

There is a third and the least interesting face of Šnipiškės: the north of the district (to the north of Žalgirio street). It is dominated by Soviet functionalist apartment blocks that are not different from similar buildings elsewhere in Vilnius. Except that there is an occasional wooden house left between them.

Map of central and southern Šnipiškės. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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