Located on the southern end of the Baltic Sea, Lithuania tours enjoy a distinctly northern appeal. Surrounded by 99km (60 miles) of coastline, including an area sheltered by the white sands at Curonian peninsula, Lithuania’s seaside may be considered its largest draw. However, those who join us on our Lithuania tours often feel it is the stunning skylines and interesting blend of history that are most fascinating.
Covered by large ice sheets until the glacial retreat of the last ice age, Lithuania only began to be settled 10,000 years ago. Forming Baltic tribes, Lithuania is one of the two countries in Europe to have an Indo-European language that was originally spoken by the tribes from thousands of years prior.
This creates a significant difference with many of Europe’s countries. As no tribe completely replaced the ethnic groups that arrived after the neolithic period, modern day Lithuanians have similar genetics as to their ancient ancestors. This means most of the population looks strikingly similar.
The fragmented tribes of long ago unified under a kingdom in the 13th century, which eventually led to the Lithuanian people being ruled by Sweden, Poland, France and Russia.
During medieval times Lithuanian was the last European nation practicing paganism until being Christianized in the 13th century.
Other religions were brought to the country as well, including Judaism in the 14th century with the Kara-Kalpak people. Trakai, a town situated on the shores of several lakes, has two prominent castles built to fend off German knights in the 14th century. Trakai is famous for its population of Jewish Kara-Kalpak people who were brought to Trakai from the Crimean Peninsula by the Grand Duke Vytautas.
However, the 14th century was still dominant with the Christian faith as evident with chapel of Saint Kazimieras in Vilnius as well as the baroque Peter and Paul Church, originally built in the 14th century.
It’s hard to imagine the greatness of medieval Lithuania with the stark contrast of 20th century Lithuania. Under Soviet rule, Lithuania fell to the German Nazis in WWII and was subjected to the horrors of war. During the occupation, approximately 95% of the Jewish population were killed.
Following their defeat, the Soviets reestablished themselves leading to communist rule until 1991. Collectivization on agriculture hit Lithuania particularly hard in addition to the deportation of large numbers of Lithuanians to Siberia. Lithuania continued to fight and was able to secure independence prior to the Soviet withdrawal in East Germany.
No better place to see plight of the German and Soviet resistance is there than the Hill of Crosses, located just north of the small industrial city of Siauliai. On a small hill stand thousands of crosses that represent Christian devotion and act as a compelling resistance memorial to the German and Soviet occupation. It is considered a national place of pilgrimage.
Truly the highlight of our Lithuania tours is observing the variety of influence concerning the aesthetics of the capital city, Vilnius.The Old Town has nearly 1,500 historic buildings of note built over several centuries creating a splendid blend of many different architectural styles.