Day trip | Lithuania

The Hill of Crosses near Šiauliai

Crosses of devotion stand as a symbol of Lithuanian resistance – but are far from a cemetery.

A staircase amidst many crosses made of wood and metal leads up the hill. In the center of the picture is a large statue of Christ.

The Hill of Crosses near the Lithuanian town of Šiauliai

When a light wind blows, it rings, tinkles and chimes everywhere. More than 10,000 crosses made of wood, iron and every other imaginable material are set up on Kryžių Kalnas, the "mountain of crosses", near Šiauliai. Many are hung with rosaries and they make the most noise. A staircase leads up the hill into a grey sky.

The first crosses are said to have been erected here in 1831, after Lithuanians died in an uprising against Tsarist Russia and their families were forbidden to bury their loved ones. After more bloody unrest in 1863, the erection of crosses was banned. But new ones were erected in secret time and again, so that gradually a forest of crosses and crucifixes grew on the small hill twelve kilometres north of the city of Šiauliai.

The site finally became a symbol of Lithuanian resistance in the 1960s, when Soviet soldiers burned wooden crosses, converted metal crosses into scrap metal and bulldozed the hill itself. Today, there is hardly a trace of the fights of the past. The crosses are back.

The small hill is surrounded by meadows with molehills, you can hear people praying loudly, a sheep bleating somewhere. The place looks like a gigantic cemetery but not a single person is buried here. NATO's Baltic Air Policing Department has erected a gold shield, Lithuanian villages have immortalised themselves with memorial plaques, and individuals bless their children and grandchildren - and the whole country - on their personal crosses.