No one really knows when the first crosses started appearing on this small hill just outside of the city of Siauliai in Lithuania, but some trace them back to uprisings against Russian rule in 1831 or 1863. Over the years, it has been a place for Lithuanians to pray for peace and their country and to memorialize loved ones who passed away. During the Soviet occupation, it also served as a peaceful sign of resistance to Soviet rule. The Soviets tried to bulldoze the site three times, but the Hill of Crosses endured.
In September 1993, Pope John Paul II visited the Hill and left a cross as a symbol of love, peace, hope and sacrifice.
Today, it is estimated that over 100,000 crosses from all over the world have been placed on the Hill.
The Hill of Crosses is actually closer to Riga, Latvia than it is to Vilnius. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that when I was in Riga, so I visited as a long day trip from Vilnius instead.
I caught the 7:50 bus from Vilnius to Siauliai, which put me in town with plenty of time to catch the 12:15 bus toward the Hill of Crosses. Directions from the tourist office in Vilnius and from the bus station in Siauliai told me to get off at the Domantai stop, from which point I would walk about 2 kilometers to the hill. Although I told my bus driver I was getting off at Domantai, he apparently forgot.
Unlike other bus stops, there was no large sign for Domantai so I completely missed it. Luckily, I did see the sign pointing to the road leading to the Hill of Crosses and managed to get the driver to drop me off in the middle of the highway shortly after we passed it.
Walking down the road to the Hill, I started to wonder if I was going the right way. I was expecting to see a large hill in the distance as my destination but instead I saw nothing but asphalt, grass and trees.
Seeing this cross on the sign of the road gave me confidence that I was heading in the right direction.
Sure enough, about twenty minutes from the highway, I saw a parking lot with a building housing a small tourist information center on one side of the road and a small hill on the other side.
The Hill of Crosses was not what I expected, but it was still pretty incredible.
It is more than just a hill. Crosses spread out around it in all directions.
I found the sheer volume of crosses overwhelming. They came in all shapes and sizes, made out of wood, metal or plastic. Smaller crosses dangled on rosaries hung on larger crosses. Many included names and dates, often memorializing family members.
And they really did come from all over the world – Lithuania, Poland, Russia – even as far as the USA and Brazil.
There was even a cross from Illinois – anyone know the Brazinski family?
I spent nearly an hour and a half exploring the Hill and I easily could have spent even longer. I am not religious, but the presence of so many thousands of crosses placed by people in hope and sorrow was extremely powerful.
If You Go
As I mentioned above, Siauliai is actually closer to Riga, Latvia than to Vilnius. It was a long day trip from Vilnius, but would be easier from Riga. It would also make a nice overnight stop on the way from Riga to Vilnius or vice versa.
Tickets for the bus to the Hill of Crosses can be purchased at the bus station in Siauliai. A large departure board shows the schedule – you want the bus to Joniskis. When you buy your ticket, tell the cashier you will get off at Domantai and she will give you a paper schedule of the return buses.
Try to sit near the front of the bus to remind the driver to let you off at Domantai – it is about 15-20 minutes from Siauliai. The stop is almost immediately after you see the sign (pictured above) for the Hill of Crosses.
When you return to Siauliai, keep an eye out for the approaching bus as you may need to flag it down to stop. It may also be possible to catch a marshrutka (private mini-van) back to the city (which is what I did).
Have you been to the Hill of Crosses or any place similar? What did you think?