Sunday 16 September
We left the Russian Cruise with Scenic Tsar this morning by bus, with our escort Darya, for the trip back into town to catch the train to Helsinki ready to commence our 10day Baltic States tour from Helsinki to Berlin via Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius and Warsaw. It took some time to go through security at the station to board the train that departed at 11.30. Within a short time the Russian Customs Officers (with rather dour expressions) came onboard to check our Passports and remove our Entry Permits; as we crossed the border, Finnish Custom’s Officers came through and stamped our Passports – these Officers were bright and cheerful as they welcomed us to Finland.
Our train arrived in Helsinki at 3pm where we were met by our Tour Director, Erika, and our local guide Rebeca. After saying goodbye to Darya, we commenced our sightseeing tour of the city visiting many local attractions while Rebeca kept up a running commentary on the history of Helsinki as well as information on the sights we visited. Our driver for the trip is Arturo and I already like him because he always lowers the bus for us which did not always happen previously.
Finally at 6pm we were delivered to our hotel. After a quick refresh, we met downstairs for our welcome briefing – suffice to say, Erika rattled on for far too long. Rather than allowing us to read her printed information in our own time, she explained the first three days plus activities in minute detail. To add insult to injury, she noted there were some slow walkers in the group who needed to be punctual so as not to delay the other members of the group. It was nearly 8pm by the time we started dinner; given that we had a set menu, the staff take the prize for the slowest service ever. One couple of the group became rather frustrated with the delay and left before the main course (9pm) was served – thankfully that had a positive effect on the service of the remainder of the meal.
Monday 17 September
We had free time for the morning before catching the ferry to Tallinn. After breakfast we walked back to the station (in the rain) in search of an ATM as well as a chemist. With no real desire to continue in the rain, we returned to the hotel to finish packing and be ready to leave on the bus at 12md.
The ferry boarding process was quickly achieved; I guess it would need to well organised as the Tallink Ferries carry some 10million passengers per year and is the largest business in Estonia. We all soon settled into the Business Lounge where food and alcohol were self serve – the two hour journey passed pleasantly indeed for some.
“Tallinn, Estonia’s capital on the Baltic Sea, is the country’s cultural hub. It retains its walled, cobblestoned Old Town, home to cafes and shops, as well as Kiek in de Kök, a 15th-century defensive tower. Its Gothic Town Hall, built in the 13th century and with a 64m-high tower, sits in historic Tallinn’s main square. St. Nicholas Church is a 13th-century landmark exhibiting ecclesiastical art.
Tallinn’s Estonian History Museum, in the Great Guild Hall, covers the country’s history through the ages. The Kadriorg Palace was built in the 18th century by Czar Peter the Great. In its gardens, the Kumu Art Museum showcases national and international works. For a bird’s-eye view of the city, visitors venture to the observation deck of the 314m Tallinn TV Tower. Nightlife includes theaters, concert halls and the Estonian National Opera, while the city’s active party scene encompasses numerous bars, pubs and clubs.
Tallinn is the capital and largest city of Estonia and is situated on the northern coast of the country, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland in Harju County. From the 13th century until 1918 (and briefly during the Nazi occupation of Estonia from 1941 to 1944), in languages other than Estonian, the city was known as Reval.
Tallinn was first mentioned in 1219 and received city rights in 1248, but the earliest human settlements date back 5,000 years. The initial claim over the land was laid by the Danes in 1219, after a successful raid of Lindanise led by Valdemar II of Denmark, followed by a period of alternating Scandinavian and German rule. Due to its strategic location, the city became a major trade hub, especially from the 14th to the 16th century, when it grew in importance as part of the Hanseatic League.
Tallinn’s Old Town is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tallinn is the major political, financial, cultural and educational center of Estonia. Often dubbed the Silicon Valley of Europe, it has the highest number of startups per person in Europe and is a birthplace of many international companies, including Skype. The city houses the headquarters of the European Union’s IT agency; providing to the global cybersecurity it is the home to the NATO Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence. It is ranked as a global city and has been listed among the top 10 digital cities in the world. According to the Global Financial Centres Index, Tallinn is among the most competitive financial centers in Northern Europe and ranks 79th internationally. The city was a European Capital of Culture for 2011, along with Turku in Finland.
In 1154, a town called Qlwn or Qalaven (which may be derivations of Kalevan or Kolyvan) was put on the world map of the Almoravid by the Arab cartographer Muhammad al-Idrisi, who described it as “a small town like a large castle” among the towns of ‘Astlanda’. It was suggested that Quwri may have denoted a predecessor of the modern city. The earliest names of Tallinn include Kolyvan, which is known from East Slavic chronicles and may have come from the Estonian mythical hero Kalev.
Until the 13th century, the Scandinavians and Henry of Livonia in his chronicle called the town Lindanisa (or Lyndanisse in Danish, Lindanäs in Swedish and Ledenets in Old East Slavic). This name may have been derived from Linda, the mythical wife of Kalev and the mother of Kalevipoeg, who in an Estonian legend carried rocks to her husband’s grave, which formed the Toompea hill. It has been also suggested that the archaic Estonian word linda is similar to the Votic word lidna ‘castle, town’. According to this suggestion, nisa would have the same meaning as niemi ‘peninsula’, producing Kesoniemi, the old Finnish name for the city.
Another ancient historical name for Tallinn is Rääveli in Finnish. The Icelandic Njal’s saga mentions Tallinn and calls it Rafala, which is probably based on the primitive form of Revala. This name originated from Latin Revelia (Revala or Rävala in Estonian), the adjacent ancient name of the surrounding area. After the Danish conquest in 1219, the town became known in the German, Swedish and Danish languages as Reval (Latin: Revalia). Reval was in use until 1918. The lesser coat of arms of Tallinn depicts the Dannebrog cross.
The previously-used official names in German, Reval and Russian Revel, were replaced after Estonia became independent in 1918.
In Russian, the spelling of the name was changed from Таллинн to Таллин (Tallin) by the Soviet authorities in the 1950s, and this spelling is still officially sanctioned by the Russian government, while Estonian authorities have been using the spelling Таллинн in Russian-language publications since the restoration of independence. The form Таллин is also used in several other languages in some of the countries that emerged from the former Soviet Union. Due to the Russian spelling, the form Tallin is sometimes found in international publications; it is also the official form in Spanish. Other variations of modern spellings include Tallinna in Finnish, Tallina in Latvian and Talinas in Lithuanian.
Old Thomas is one of the symbols and guardians of Tallinn. A weather vane, the figure of an old warrior called Old Thomas, was put on top of the spire of the Tallinn Town Hall in 1530 that became the symbol for the city.
As an important port for trade between Russia and Scandinavia, it became a target for the expansion of the Teutonic Knights and the Kingdom of Denmark during the period of Northern Crusades in the beginning of the 13th century when Christianity was forcibly imposed on the local population. Danish rule of Tallinn and Northern Estonia started in 1219.
In 1285, the city, then known as Reval, became the northern most member of the Hanseatic League – a mercantile and military alliance of German-dominated cities in Northern Europe. The Danes sold Reval along with their other land possessions in northern Estonia to the Teutonic Knights in 1346. Medieval Reval enjoyed a strategic position at the crossroads of trade between Western and Northern Europe and Russia. The city, with a population of 8,000, was very well fortified with city walls and 66 defense towers.
With the start of the Protestant Reformation the German influence became even stronger as the city was converted to Lutheranism. In 1561, Reval politically became a dominion of Sweden.
During the Great Northern War, plague stricken Tallinn along with Swedish Estonia and Livonia capitulated to Imperial Russia in 1710, but the local self-government institutions (Magistracy of Reval and Chivalry of Estonia) retained their cultural and economical autonomy within Imperial Russia as the Governorate of Estonia. The Magistracy of Reval was abolished in 1889. The 19th century brought industrialization of the city and the port kept its importance. During the last decades of the century Russification measures became stronger. Off the coast of Reval, in June 1908, Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra of Russia, along with their children, met their mutual uncle and aunt, Britain’s King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, an act which was seen as a royal confirmation of the Anglo-Russian Entente of the previous year, and which was the first time a reigning British monarch had visited Russia.
On 24 February 1918, the Independence Manifesto was proclaimed in Reval, soon to be Tallinn, followed by Imperial German occupation and a war of independence with Russia. On 2 February 1920, the Tartu Peace Treaty was signed with Soviet Russia, wherein Russia acknowledged the independence of the Estonian Republic. Tallinn became the capital of an independent Estonia. After World War II started, Estonia acceded to the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1940, and later occupied by Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1944. When Germany invaded there were about 1,000 remaining Jews in the city, the nearly all of whom would die in the Holocaust before the war’s end. After the Nazi retreat in 1944, it was annexed by the USSR. After annexation into the Soviet Union, Tallinn became the capital of the Estonian SSR.
During the 1980 Summer Olympics, the sailing (then known as yachting) events were held at Pirita, north-east of central Tallinn. Many buildings, such as the “Olümpia” hotel, the new Main Post Office building, and the Regatta Centre, were built for the Olympics.
In August 1991, an independent democratic Estonian state was established and a period of quick development to a modern European capital ensued. Tallinn became the capital of a de facto independent country once again on 20 August 1991.
Tallinn has historically consisted of three parts:
The Toompea (Domberg) or “Cathedral Hill”, which was the seat of the central authority: first the Danish captains, then the komturs of the Teutonic Order, and Swedish and Russian governors. It was until 1877 a separate town (Dom zu Reval), the residence of the aristocracy; it is today the seat of the Estonian parliament, government and some embassies and residencies.
The Old Town, which is the old Hanseatic town, the “city of the citizens”, was not administratively united with Cathedral Hill until the late 19th century. It was the centre of the medieval trade on which it grew prosperous.
The Estonian town forms a crescent to the south of the Old Town, where the Estonians came to settle. It was not until the mid-19th century that ethnic Estonians replaced the local Baltic Germans as the majority among the residents of Tallinn.
The city of Tallinn has never been razed and pillaged; that was the fate of Tartu, the university town 200km south, which was pillaged in 1397 by the Teutonic Order. Around 1524 Catholic churches in many towns in Estonia, including Tallinn, were pillaged as part of the Reformational fervor: this occurred throughout Europe. Although extensively bombed by Soviet air forces during the later stages of World War II, much of the medieval Old Town still retains its charm. The Tallinn Old Town (including Toompea) became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1997.
At the end of the 15th century a new 159m high Gothic spire was built for St. Olaf’s Church. Between 1549 and 1625 it may have been the tallest building in the world. After several fires and subsequent periods of rebuilding, its overall height is now 123m.
The largest lake in Tallinn is Lake Ülemiste (9.44 km2). It is the main source of the city’s drinking water. Lake Harku is the second largest lake within the borders of Tallinn and its area is 1.6 square kilometres. Tallinn does not lie on a major river; the only significant river in Tallinn is Pirita River in Pirita, a city district counted as a suburb. Historically, the small Härjapea River flowed from Lake Ülemiste through the town into the sea, but the river was diverted for sewage in the 1930s and has since completely disappeared from the cityscape. References to it still remain in the street names Jõe (from Jõgi, river) and Kivisilla (from Kivisild, stone bridge).
A limestone cliff runs through the city. It can be seen at Toompea, Lasnamäe and Astangu. However, Toompea is not a part of the cliff, but a separate hill.
The highest point in Tallinn, at 64metres above sea level, is situated in Hiiu, Nõmme District, in the south-west of the city.
The length of the coast is 46 kilometres. It comprises three bigger peninsulas: Kopli peninsula, Paljassaare peninsula and Kakumäe peninsula. The city has a number of public beaches, including those at Pirita, Stroomi, Kakumäe, Harku and Pikakari.
The geology under the city of Tallinn is made up of rocks and sediments of different composition and age. Youngest are the Quaternary deposits. The material of these deposits are till, varved clay, sand, gravel and pebbles that are of glacial, marine and lacustrine origin. Some of the Quaternary deposits are valuable as they constitute aquifers or, as in the case of gravels and sands, are used as construction materials.
The Quaternary deposits fill valleys that are now buried. The buried valleys of Tallinn are carved into older rock likely by ancient rivers to be later modified by glaciers. While the valley fill is made up of Quaternary sediments the valley themselves originated from erosion that took place before the Quaternary. The substrate into which the buried valleys were carved is made up of hard sedimentary rock of Ediacaran, Cambrian and Ordovician age. Only the upper layer of Ordovician rocks protrudes from the cover of younger deposits croping out in the Baltic Klint at the coast and at a few places inland.
The Ordovician rocks are made up of from top to bottom of a thick layer of limestone and marlstone, then a first layer of argillite followed by first layer of sandstone and siltstone and then another layer of argillite also followed by sandstone and siltstone. In other places of the city hard sedimentary rock is only to be found beneath Quaternary sediments at depths reaching as much as 120 meters below sea level. Underlying the sedimentary rock are the rocks of the Fennoscandian Craton including gneisses and other metamorphic rocks with volcanic rock protoliths and rapakivi granites. The mentioned rocks are much older than the rest (Paleoproterozoic age) and do not crop out anywhere in Estonia.
Tallinn has a humid continental climate with warm, mild summers and cold, snowy winters. Winters are cold but mild for its latitude, owing to its coastal location. The average temperature in February, the coldest month, is −4.3°C.
We were among the last to leave the ferry – most of the other passengers were lined up at the doors well before they were open and then off as fast as they could. We went at a more leisurely pace down the long temporary walkway (the exit hall is being renovated) to the area were Arturo had the bus waiting for us. After a short trip we reached the hotel to unpack; I continued to edit the latest newsletter while John spent the time exploring the Old Town.“
We met some of the other team members for a drink before dinner at 7pm in the hotel dinning room; a very pleasant meal with really good food accompanied by excellent service.
Tuesday 18 September
This morning we part the first part of the Baltic States tour with our local guide Nicholai. We began with a bus ride to the music bowl which is the site for the Singing Festival, a choral event held every 5years (next one in 2019) consisting of up to 15,000 voices of the various choirs across Estonia. In the bus, Nicholai recounted the story of the “Singing Revolution”: over the later years of Communist rule, Estonia conducted peaceful protest by signing their Freedom Hymn at every opportunity; one demonstration comprised a human chain – people from Tallinn to Vilnius (600km) standing, holding hands and for one hour they sang continually; finally declaring independence from the Soviet Union May 1990; Soviet forces tried to overrun them again in 1991 and when that failed, the last USSR President, Mikhail Gorbachev, recognised the Republic of Estonia in September 1991.
Nicholai was proud to tell us that Estonia is the only Baltic State to have totally repaid their NATO rebuilding debt and explained much of the history of his country as we drove and walked around his city. We entered the old city from the top of the hill and wended our way through the narrow thoroughfares down to the Town Square. The old city, a walled city, has much of the wall is still visible and dates from the 14th Century; next year the city will celebrate the 800th Anniversary of the Town Hall. After many centuries of being overrun by various nations, Estonia declared their independence in 1918 and this year there has been a range celebrations to mark their Centenary.
To conclude our walking tour, Nicholai took us through the old Town Hall – we saw the original “Old Thomas” that stood atop the Town Hall before he was knocked down by bombing in WWII before we climbed the steep staircase to the Decision Hall. Nicholai described the ancient processes of the chamber that is still used today for ceremonial occasions as well as Graduations, Weddings, Christenings and the like.
We all made our own arrangements for lunch – John and I found the Pie Shoppe and ate the most delicious pies / rolls covered in the crispest flaky pastry ever. We then walked back to the hotel where I had a well earned rest before John rejoined part of the group to go the Lennusadam Seaplane Harbour.
Dinner was back in the Old City, so rather than another long walk, Marg, Jenny, John and I caught a taxi who dropped us off within 50metres of the restaurant.
Our meal was an Estonia Banquet – platters of local foods placed on the tables and we helped ourselves. The range of food was extensive and delicious and we finished with a delicious berry cake.
Cases packed tonight ready for an earlier start in the morning.
Wednesday 19 September
On the road by 8am; a clear day with temperatures steadily increasing. The first part of the drive was to Parnu on the motorway (or what passes for a motorway in Estonia and then Latvia); we arrived there about 10am and had a break for morning tea. During their drive, Eryka showed us the DVD of the “Singing Revolution” that Nicholai had mentioned yesterday – well worth watching (there is a clip on YouTube if people are interested). The next part of the drive was along the coast road for about an hour before heading back to the motorway until we turned off to have lunch at the Kungu Rija Restaurant and then to the Gauja National Park – called the Switzerland of Latvia.
“The Gauja National Park in Vidzeme is the largest national park in Latvia, with an area of 917.45 km² running from north-east of Sigulda to south-west of Cēsis along the valley of the Gauja River, from which the park takes its name.
Gauja NP was established in order to protect slightly disturbed natural areas, promote nature tourism and ensure sustainable development in the area. National park is characterized by a high biological diversity, rock outcrops and varied terrain shapes, springs, picturesque landscapes and many historical and cultural monuments from different centuries. The major part of the national park and the dominant is the old valley of the Gauja River. The valley is protected and at the same time it can be used for nature and cultural history tourism, as well as healthy recreation.
The park administration is based in Sigulda.
The area of the park is 91.745 ha and it is divided into five functional zones. Nature reserves take up a rather small but at the same time very valuable part of the park and visits are prohibited to these areas. In the rest of the territory is allowed only such economic activities, which do not substantially change the historically developed structure of the landscape.
Forests take up 47%, almost one half of the territory. There are almost 900 plant species, 149 bird and 48 mammal species found in the territory. Since 2004 Gauja NP is a part of Natura 2000 network as a territory, which is designed for conservation of protected species and biotopes.
Tourism history has a long tradition in the Gauja NP. The first visitors were hiking in the Sigulda area with walking-sticks as far back as in the 19th century. Every year thousands of visitors are attracted by the unique landscape, the largest Devonian rock outcrops, sandstone precipices, rocks and caves, as well as monuments of culture and history, which are twined with many legends and stories.
In the national park, there are over 500 monuments of history and culture – hillforts, stone castles, churches, manors, water and windmills, as well as other archeological, architectural and art monuments.”
Our local guide for the tour of the National Park was Edgar and he led the two hour walking tour after delivering the lecture on “keeping up” and “pushing ourselves” at which point Marg, Robin and I decided to quit and stroll back to the bus via the souvenir stalls in the car park.
Edgar kept up his commentary / lecture all the way to our hotel in Riga, where we arrived at 6.30pm. Dinner in the hotel didn’t finished until 9.45pm, which made it rather late to bed.
“Riga, Latvia’s capital, is set on the Baltic Sea at the mouth of the River Daugava; it is considered to be a cultural center and is home to many museums and concert halls. The city is also known for its wooden buildings, art nouveau architecture and medieval Old Town. The pedestrian-only Old Town has many shops and restaurants and is home to busy Livu Square, with bars and nightclubs.
Churches include Riga Cathedral, established in the 1200s, and skyline-dominating St. Peter’s Church, where visitors can tour the Gothic spire. Nearby is the Central Market, occupying 5 former zeppelin hangars. Set in a forest park, the 215-acre Latvian Ethnographic Open-Air Museum showcases traditional crafts, music and food. Other sites include the Latvian National Museum of Art, whose collection spans several centuries, and the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, which recalls the Soviet era. Along the coast, white-sand beaches offer a wide range of water sports like swimming, wake-boarding and canal-boat tours.
Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia. With 641,481 inhabitants (2016), it is also the largest city in the three Baltic states, home to one third of Latvia’s population and one tenth of the three Baltic states’ combined population. The city lies on the Gulf of Riga, at the mouth of the Daugava. Riga’s territory covers 307.17 km2 and lies 1–10m above sea level, on a flat and sandy plain.
Riga was founded in 1201 and is a former Hanseatic League member. Riga’s historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, noted for its Art Nouveau/Jugendstil architecture and 19th century wooden architecture. Riga was the European Capital of Culture during 2014, along with Umeå in Sweden. Riga hosted the 2006 NATO Summit, the Eurovision Song Contest 2003, the 2006 IIHF Men’s World Ice Hockey Championships and the 2013 World Women’s Curling Championship. It is home to the European Union’s office of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC).
In 2016, Riga received over 1.4 million visitors. It is served by Riga International Airport, the largest and busiest airport in the Baltic states. Riga is a member of Eurocities, the Union of the Baltic Cities (UBC) and Union of Capitals of the European Union (UCEU).
One theory about the origin of the name Riga is that it is a corrupted borrowing from the Liv ringa meaning loop, referring to the ancient natural harbour formed by the tributary loop of the Daugava River. The other is that Riga owes its name to this already-established role in commerce between East and West, as a borrowing of the Latvian rija, for threshing barn, the “j” becoming a “g” in German — notably, Riga is called Rie by English geographer Richard Hakluyt (1589), and German historian Dionysius Fabricius (1610) confirms the origin of Riga from rija. Another theory could be that Riga was named after Riege, the German name for the River Rīdzene, a tributary of the Daugava.
Another theory is that Riga’s name is introduced by the bishop Albert, initiator of christening and conquest of Livonian and Baltic people. He introduced also an explanation of city name as derived from Latin rigata (“irrigated”) that symbolizes an “irrigation of dry pagan souls by Christianity”.
The river Daugava has been a trade route since antiquity, part of the Vikings’ Dvina-Dnieper navigation route to Byzantium. A sheltered natural harbour 15 km upriver from the mouth of the Daugava — the site of today’s Riga — has been recorded, as Duna Urbs, as early as the 2nd century. It was settled by the Livs, an ancient Finnic tribe.
Riga began to develop as a centre of Viking trade during the early Middle Ages. Riga’s inhabitants occupied themselves mainly with fishing, animal husbandry, and trading, later developing crafts (in bone, wood, amber, and iron).
The Livonian Chronicle of Henry testifies to Riga having long been a trading centre by the 12th century, referring to it as portus antiquus (ancient port), and describes dwellings and warehouses used to store mostly flax, and hides. German traders began visiting Riga, establishing a nearby outpost in 1158.
Along with German traders also arrived the monk Meinhard of Segeberg to convert the Livonian pagans to Christianity. Catholic and Orthodox Christianity had already arrived in Latvia more than a century earlier, and many Latvians baptised. Meinhard settled among the Livs, building a castle and church at Ikšķile, upstream from Riga, and established his bishopric there. The Livs, however, continued to practice paganism and Meinhard died in Ikšķile in 1196, having failed his mission. In 1198, the Bishop Berthold arrived with a contingent of crusaders and commenced a campaign of forced Christianization. Berthold was killed soon afterwards and his forces defeated.
The Church mobilised to avenge. Pope Innocent III issued a bull declaring a crusade against the Livonians. Bishop Albert was proclaimed Bishop of Livonia by his uncle Hartwig of Uthlede, Prince-Archbishop of Bremen and Hamburg in 1199. Albert landed in Riga in 1200 with 23 ships and 500 Westphalian crusaders. In 1201, he transferred the seat of the Livonian bishopric from Ikšķile to Riga, extorting agreement to do so from the elders of Riga by force.
Under Bishop Albert
The year 1201 also marked the first arrival of German merchants in Novgorod, via the Dvina. To defend territory and trade, Albert established the Order of Livonian Brothers of the Sword in 1202, open to nobles and merchants.
Christianization of the Livs continued. In 1207, Albert started on fortification of the town. Emperor Philip invested Albert with Livonia as a fief and principality of the Holy Roman Empire. To promote a permanent military presence, territorial ownership was divided between the Church and the Order, with the Church taking Riga and two-thirds of all lands conquered and granting the Order a third. Until then, it had been customary for crusaders to serve for a year and then return home.
Albert had ensured Riga’s commercial future by obtaining papal bulls which decreed that all German merchants had to carry on their Baltic trade through Riga. In 1211, Riga minted its first coinage, and Albert laid the cornerstone for the Riga Dom. Riga was not yet secure as an alliance of tribes failed to take Riga. In 1212, Albert led a campaign to compel Polotsk to grant German merchants free river passage. Polotsk conceded Kukenois (Koknese) and Jersika to Albert, also ending the Livs’ tribute to Polotsk.
Riga’s merchant citizenry chafed and sought greater autonomy from the Church. In 1221, they acquired the right to independently self-administer Riga and adopted a city constitution.
That same year Albert was compelled to recognise Danish rule over lands they had conquered in Estonia and Livonia. Albert had sought the aid of King Valdemar of Denmark to protect Riga and Livonian lands against Liv insurrection when reinforcements could not reach Riga. The Danes landed in Livonia, built a fortress at Reval (Tallinn) and set about conquering Estonian and Livonian lands. The Germans attempted, but failed, to assassinate Valdemar. Albert was able to reach an accommodation with them a year later, however and, in 1222, Valdemar returned all Livonian lands and possessions to Albert’s control.
Albert’s difficulties with Riga’s citizenry continued; with papal intervention, a settlement was reached in 1225 whereby they no longer had to pay tax to the Bishop of Riga, and Riga’s citizens acquired the right to elect their magistrates and town councillors. In 1226, Albert consecrated the Dom Cathedral, built St. James Church, (now a cathedral) and founded a parochial school at the Church of St. George.
In 1227, Albert conquered Oesel and the city of Riga concluded a treaty with the Principality of Smolensk giving Polotsk to Riga.
Albert died in January 1229. He failed in his aspiration to be anointed archbishop but the German hegemony he established over the Baltic would last for seven centuries.
Riga in the 16th century
In 1282, Riga became a member of the Hanseatic League. The Hansa was instrumental in giving Riga economic and political stability, thus providing the city with a strong foundation which endured the political conflagrations that were to come, down to modern times.
As the influence of the Hanseatic League waned, Riga became the object of foreign military, political, religious and economic aspirations. Riga accepted the Reformation in 1522, ending the power of the jarchbishops. In 1524, iconoclasts targeted a statue of the Virgin Mary in the Cathedral to make a statement against religious icons. It was accused of being a witch, and given a trial by water in the Daugava River. The statue floated, so it was denounced as a witch and burnt at Kubsberg. With the demise of the Livonian Order during the Livonian War, Riga for twenty years had the status of a Free Imperial City of the Holy Roman Empire before it came under the influence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth by the Treaty of Drohiczyn, which ended the war for Riga in 1581. In 1621, during the Polish–Swedish War (1621–1625), Riga and the outlying fortress of Daugavgriva came under the rule of Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, who intervened in the Thirty Years’ War not only for political and economic gain but also in favour of German Lutheran Protestantism. During the Russo-Swedish War (1656–1658), Riga withstood a siege by Russian forces.
Riga remained the largest city in Sweden until 1710, a period during which the city retained a great deal of autonomous self-government. In that year, in the course of the Great Northern War, Russia under Tsar Peter the Great besieged plague-stricken Riga. Along with the other Livonian towns and gentry, Riga capitulated to Russia, but largely retained their privileges. Riga was made the capital of the Governorate of Riga (later: Livonia). Sweden’s northern dominance had ended, and Russia’s emergence as the strongest Northern power was formalised through the Treaty of Nystad in 1721. Riga became an industrialised port city of the Russian empire, in which it remained until World War I. By 1900, Riga was the third largest city in Russia after Moscow and Saint Petersburg in terms of the number of industrial workers and number of theatres.
During these many centuries of war and changes of power in the Baltic, and despite demographic changes, the Baltic Germans in Riga had maintained a dominant position. By 1867, Riga’s population was 42.9% German. Riga employed German as its official language of administration until the installation of Russian in 1891 as the official language in the Baltic provinces, as part of the policy of Russification of the non-Russian speaking territories of the Russian Empire, including Congress Poland, Finland and the Baltics, undertaken by Tsar Alexander III. More and more Latvians started moving to the city during the mid-19th century. The rise of a Latvian bourgeoisie made Riga a centre of the Latvian National Awakening with the founding of the Riga Latvian Association in 1868 and the organisation of the first national song festival in 1873. The nationalist movement of the Neo-Latvians was followed by the socialist New Current during the city’s rapid industrialisation, culminating in the 1905 Revolution led by the Latvian Social Democratic Workers’ Party.
World War I
The 20th Century brought World War I and the impact of the Russian Revolution of 1917 to Riga. In consequence of the battle of Jugla, the German army marched into Riga on 3 September 1917. On 3 March 1918, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed, giving the Baltic countries to Germany. Because of the Armistice with Germany of 11 November 1918, Germany had to renounce that treaty, as did Russia, leaving Latvia and the other Baltic States in a position to claim independence. Latvia, with Riga as its capital city, thus declared its independence on 18 November 1918. Between World War I and World War II (1918–1940), Riga and Latvia shifted their focus from Russia to the countries of Western Europe. The United Kingdom and Germany replaced Russia as Latvia’s major trade partners. The majority of the Baltic Germans were resettled in late 1939, prior to the occupation of Estonia and Latvia by the Soviet Union in June 1940.
World War II
During World War II, Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union in June 1940 and then was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941–1944. On June 17, 1940, the Soviet forces invaded Latvia occupying bridges, post/telephone, telegraph, and broadcasting offices. Three days later, Latvian president Karlis Ulmanis was forced to approve a pro-Soviet government which had taken office. On July 14–15, rigged elections were held in Latvia and the other Baltic states, The ballots held following instructions: “Only the list of the Latvian Working People’s Bloc must be deposited in the ballot box. The ballot must be deposited without any changes.” The alleged voter activity index was 97.6%. Most notably, the complete election results were published in Moscow 12 hours before the election closed. Soviet electoral documents found later substantiated that the results were completely fabricated. Tribunals were set up to punish “traitors to the people” – those who had fallen short of the “political duty” of voting Latvia into the USSR and those who failed to have their passports stamped for so voting were allowed to be shot in the back of the head. The Soviet authorities, having regained control over Riga and Latvia imposed a regime of terror, opening the headquarters of the KGB, massive deportations started. Hundreds of men were arrested, including leaders of the former Latvian government. The most notorious deportation, the June deportation took place on June 13 and 14, 1941, estimated at 15,600 men, women, and children, and including 20% of Latvia’s last legal government. Similar deportations were repeated after the end of WWII. The building of the KGB located in Brīvības iela 61, known as ‘the corner house’, is now a museum. Stalin’s deportations also included thousands of Latvian Jews. (The mass deportation totalled 131,500 across the Baltics.) Similar atrocities were made after the Nazi occupation of Latvia when the city’s Jewish community was forced into the Riga Ghetto and a Nazi concentration camp was constructed in Kaiserwald. On 25 October 1941, the Nazis relocated all Jews from Riga and the vicinity to the ghetto. Most of Latvia’s Jews (about 24,000) were killed on 30 November and 8 December 1941 in the Rumbula massacre. By the end of the war, the remaining Baltic Germans were expelled to Germany.
The Soviet Red Army re-entered Riga on 13 October 1944. In the following years the massive influx of labourers, administrators, military personnel, and their dependents from Russia and other Soviet republics started. Micro-districts of the large multi-storied housing blocks were built to house immigrant workers.
By the end of the war, Rīga’s historical centre was heavily damaged because of constant bombing. After the war, huge efforts were made to reconstruct and renovate most of the famous buildings that were part of the skyline of the city before the war. Such buildings were, amongst others: St. Peter’s Church which lost its wooden tower after a fire caused by the Wehrmacht (renovated in 1954). Another example: The House of the Blackheads was completely destroyed, its ruins subsequently demolished and a facsimile was constructed in 1995.”
Thursday 20 September
Our day of sightseeing began with a bus tour with Edgar of the inner city to see Art Nouveau architecture, followed by a walking tour to study the architectural detail more closely. Back on the bus we drove to the Old Town and commenced a “forced march” over cobblestones , covering too much of the area in too much detail, listening to our guide lecture us on history, architecture and “pushing yourselves”. What a pleasant relief to be given time off for lunch – the consensus of opinion on our tour guide was not particularly favourable. At this stage, I was ready to slow down, so instead of joining the group for the afternoon, John and I wandered back to our hotel, stopping when we needed to, making the odd purchase (unsuccessfully searched for a hot water bottle – I was met with totally blank looks when I asked). We were fortunate to watch the changing of the guards at the Monument of Freedom and the enjoyed pausing to enjoy the view over the canal and beautiful parklands.
Once back at the hotel it was time for a cup of tea, followed by a rest for me and John headed out for a couple of hours of sightseeing at his pace and choosing.
Rather than walk back to the Old Town for late dinner, Robin, Russell, John and I ate early at the hotel. We all chose “Lamb Chops” from the menu and we were served succulent lamb cutlets with vegetables and wine jus – delicious.
Friday 21 September
Our bus trip commenced at 9am as we headed to Vilnius with our first stop being at 10.30 at the Rundale Palace Museum – a large, ornate building with the most amazing gardens situated well away from the nearest town. It was built in the 18th Century as a Summer Palace. It was later purchased by Catherine the Great for one of her favourites (she was 68 and he was 29).
We were given a tour of Duke’s Apartments of the Palace by a local guide, Jana, who gave us a wonderful insight to the history of the building as well as the lives of the inhabitants. In one of the exhibition glass cabinets I delighted to see rolls hand-made lace which the guide told be were original laces – just exquisite; I was too busy gazing to think to take a photo!
Lunch was served in the Palace; we then had free time to wander in the gardens.
“Rundāle Palace (Latvian: Rundāles pils; German: Schloss Ruhental, formerly Ruhenthal or Ruhendahl) is one of the two major baroque palaces built for the Dukes of Courland in what is now Latvia, the other being Jelgava Palace. The palace was built in two periods, from 1736 until 1740 and from 1764 until 1768. It is situated at Pilsrundāle, 12 km west of Bauska.
In 1735 Duke of Courland Ernst Johann von Biron bought land in Rundāle with an old medieval castle in the territory of a planned summer residence. The old castle was demolished and construction after the design of Bartolomeo Rastrelli started in 1736. Construction proceeded slowly because part of the materials and resources were transferred to the construction of Jelgava Palace, a project which was more important for the duke. Following Biron’s fall from grace in 1740, the palace stood unfinished and empty until 1762 when Biron returned from his exile. Under the supervision of Rastrelli its construction was finished in 1768. Johann Michael Graff produced lavish stucco decorations for the palace during this time. Ernst Johann von Biron loved the palace and moved there already in 1768. He often visited palace and spent summers there until his death in 1772. Son of an Ernst Johann duke Peter von Biron visited palace only a few times because unlike his father he preferred to spend summers in his Vircava manor.
After Duchy of Courland and Semigallia was absorbed by the Russian Empire in 1795, Catherine the Great presented the palace to Count Valerian Zubov, the youngest brother of her lover, Prince Platon Zubov. The Prince spent his declining years there after the death of Valerian Zubov in 1804. His widow, a local landowner’s daughter, Thekla Walentinowicz, married Count Shuvalov, and the palace passed into the control of the Shuvalov family, where it remained until German occupation in World War I when the German army established a hospital and a commandant’s office there. During the French invasion of Russia in 1812, the palace was used as a hospital for Napoleon’s army. Several soldiers who died in this hospital were buried in the park of the palace; a monument has since been built there. At the end of the 19th century, the palace and park were restored and reconstructed.
The palace suffered serious damage in 1919 during Latvian War of Independence. During their retreat Bermontians partially burned the palace. In 1920 after Latvian agrarian reforms the palace became the property of the Ministry of Agriculture. Part of the premises were occupied by the local school and part was reconstructed as flats for Latvian military veterans. In 1924 Rundāle Palace was included in the list of state-protected monuments; though still used as a school. In 1933, Rundāle Palace was taken over by the Ministry of Education and was officially reconstructed for use as a school.
The palace was dealt a serious blow after World War II, when a grain storehouse was set up in the premises in addition to the school. Later, the duke’s dining room was transformed into the school’s gymnasium; the school was located in the palace until 1978.
In 1963, Rundāle Palace became a branch of the Bauska local history museum. In 1965 and also in 1971, the Supreme Soviet of Latvian SSR decided to restore Rundāle Palace. In 1972, Rundāle Palace Museum was established. Latvian painter and art historian Imants Lancmanis became director of the new museum and restoration of the palace became his life’s work. Extensive research and restoration work was completely funded by the state until 1992. After the restoration of Latvia’s independence, the state continued to finance restoration work in part, with additional financing through private donations and later also through the Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund of the EU. In the spring of 2015 it was announced that restoration work in the Rundāle Palace was complete. Total restoration costs from 1972 until 2014 were estimated to be 8,420,495 euros.
The palace is one of the major tourist destinations in Latvia. It is also used for the accommodation of notable guests, such as the leaders of foreign nations. The palace and the surrounding gardens are now a museum.“
Back on the bus at 2pm for the next part of our journey into Lithuania to The Hill of Crosses.
The Hill of Crosses is a site of pilgrimage about 12 km north of the city of Šiauliai, in northern Lithuania. The precise origin of the practice of leaving crosses on the hill is uncertain, but it is believed that the first crosses were placed on the former Jurgaičiai or Domantai hill fort after the 1831 Uprising. Over the generations, not only crosses and crucifixes, but statues of the Virgin Mary, carvings of Lithuanian patriots and thousands of tiny effigies and rosaries have been brought here by Catholic pilgrims. The exact number of crosses is unknown, but estimates put it at about 55,000 in 1990, 100,000 in 2006 and 200,000 today.
Over the generations, the place has come to signify the peaceful endurance of Lithuanian Catholicism despite the threats it faced throughout history. After the 3rd partition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, Lithuania became part of the Russian Empire. Poles and Lithuanians unsuccessfully rebelled against Russian authorities in 1831 and 1863. These two uprisings are connected with the beginnings of the hill: as families could not locate bodies of perished rebels, they started putting up symbolic crosses in place of a former hill fort.
When the old political structure of Eastern Europe fell apart in 1918, Lithuania once again declared its independence. Throughout this time, the Hill of Crosses was used as a place for Lithuanians to pray for peace, for their country, and for the loved ones they had lost during the Wars of Independence.
The site took on a special significance during the years 1944–1990, when Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union. Continuing to travel to the hill and leave their tributes, Lithuanians used it to demonstrate their allegiance to their original identity, religion and heritage. It was a venue of peaceful resistance, although the Soviets worked hard to remove new crosses, and bulldozed the site at least three times (including attempts in 1963 and 1973). There were even rumors that the authorities planned to build a dam on the nearby Kulvė River, a tributary to Mūša, so that the hill would end up underwater.
On September 7, 1993, Pope John Paul II visited the Hill of Crosses, declaring it a place for hope, peace, love and sacrifice. In 2000 a Franciscan hermitage was opened nearby. The interior decoration draws links with La Verna, the mountain where St. Francis is said to have received his stigmata. The hill remains under nobody’s jurisdiction; therefore people are free to build crosses as they see fit.
The Hill of Crosses, where people not only from Lithuania have put crosses for a couple of centuries, witnesses faithfulness and trust of a Christian community to Christ and his Cross. This is an expression of a spontaneous religiousness of the people, and is a symbol not of grief and death but of Faith, Love and Sacrifice. From here the Pope blessed all people of Lithuania and all of Christian Europe.
From the Hill of Crosses website:
The Hill of Crosses is situated in the middle of an arable land, sixteen kilometers from Šiauliai. It is seen from Šiauliai – Ryga highway. The hill is 60 meters long and 40-50 metres wide.
It is hard to imagine so many crosses in one place. But all these crosses tell us about personal and public misfortunes and catastrophes. For example one cross was put after the wreck of the ferry “Estonia”.
The crosses were first counted by Ksywicki in 1900. In historical chronicles he wrote that there were 130 crosses on the hill. Two years later there were already 155 crosses. After the Word War I, in 1922 there were 50 crosses but in 1938 – already over 400. In 1961 the Soviet government demolished over 5000 crosses, by 1975 – 1200 crosses more.
After the political change the crosses were counted by enthusiasts from Šiauliai. They found 14 387 big crosses (1 112 from them were 3-4 meters high, 130 even higher) and about 41 000 small crosses (smaller than 0.5 meters).
Each visitor tries to leave a cross or a rosary. If he has not brought any, he makes one right on the hill, from pebbles, little branches or grass.
In 1994 during his visit to a Franciscan monastery of the mount of Verna (Italy), the Pope John Paul II encouraged the brothers to build a monastery by the Hill of Crosses. A hermit of the Franciscan Brothers was consecrated on July 7, 2000. It is built 300 meters away from the Hill and has sixteen cells. It serves as a novitiate of the Lithuanian Franciscan province of St. Casimir, but the monastery is also open to the pilgrims who look for silence and peace.“
The crosses on the Hill were first mentioned in written chronicles in 1850, but it is believed the first crosses were put by the relatives of victims of the rebellion in 1831 as the tsarist government did not allow the families to honor their deads properly. Crosses of the kind became more numerous after the other rebellion in 1863.
In the beginning of the 20th century the Hill of Crosses was already widely known as a sacral place. In addition to many pilgrims visiting, it was also a place for Masses and devotions. The Hill of Crosses became of special importance during Soviet times – this was the place of anonymous but surprising persistence to the regime. The Soviet government considered the crosses and the hill a hostile and harmful symbol. In 1961 wooden crosses were broken and burnt, metal ones used as scrap metal and stone and concrete crosses were broken and buried. The hill itself was many times destroyed with bulldozers. During the 1973–1975 period about half a thousand crosses used to be demolished each year without even trying to do this secretly. Later the tactics became more subtle: crosses were demolished as having no artistic value, different “epidemics” were announced forbidding people to come into the region or the roads were blocked by police. The Hill was guarded by both the Soviet army and KGB. In 1978 and 1979 there were some attempts to flood the territory. Despite all these endeavors to stop people from visiting the Hill, crosses would reappear after each night.
After the political change in 1988 the status of the Hill of Crosses changed completely – it became both a Lithuanian and a world phenomenon. It gained a world wide fame after the visit of the Pope John Paul II on September 7 1993. The Pope was extremely touched by the cross with the prayer for his health after the attempt upon his life in 1981. In his sermon during the Holy Mass his Eminence said: “Sons and daughters of your country have been carrying to this Hill crosses, akin to that of Golgotha, which saw our Saviour’s death. Thus people have declared their sincere belief that their deceased brothers and sisters “have found Eternity” (…). Cross is a symbol of eternal life in God”.
In 1997 the Church revived devotions on the Hill; they take place every year on the second last Sunday of July. The Hill of Crosses is now under patronage of Šiauliai diocese, established on the 28th May, 1997, and its first bishop Eugenijus Bartulis.
The Hill of Crosses is a sacred place in the Šiauliai region with especially vast spaces for meditations of faith and manifestations of one,s love to God. It is here that Lithuania has passed through Golgotha, its people have experienced so much pain and misfortunes. Namely here revives the sincerest belief in our Saviours sacrifice, love finds response in one’s heart, hopes become stronger. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn 3, 16). Cross is a symbol of such Love.
Bishop of Šiauliai
After one more comfort stop at 5pm (lemon gelato was delicious), we completed the journey to our hotel in the Old Town at Vilnius at 8pm. I was too tired to walk to dinner, so retired.
Saturday 22 September
The group headed out at 8am for a walking tour of the Old Town before the area becomes too busy later in the day when Pope Francis visits.
“Vilnius: capital of Lithuania, is its largest city, with a population of 574,147 as of 2018, situated in the southeast part of Lithuania, the second largest city in the Baltic states and is the seat of the main government institutions of Lithuania and the Vilnius District Municipality. Vilnius is classified as a Gamma global city according to GaWC studies, and is known for the architecture in its Old Town, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Before World War II, Vilnius was one of the largest Jewish centres in Europe. Its Jewish influence has led to it being described as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania” and Napoleon named it “the Jerusalem of the North” as he was passing through in 1812. In 2009, Vilnius was the European Capital of Culture, together with the Austrian city of Linz.
The name of the city originates from the Vilnia River and has also been known by many derivate spellings in various languages throughout its history: Vilna was once common in English. The most notable non-Lithuanian names for the city include: Polish: Wilno, Belarusian: Вiльня, German: Wilna, Latvian: Viļņa, Russian: Вильна, Yiddish: ווילנע (Vilne). A Russian name from the time of the Russian Empire was Вильна (Vilna), although Вильнюс (Vilnyus) is now used. The names Wilno, Wilna and Vilna have also been used in older English, German, French and Italian language publications when the city was one of the capitals of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and later an important city in the Second Polish Republic. The name Vilna is still used in Finnish, Portuguese, Spanish, and Hebrew, while Wilna is still used in German, along with Vilnius.
The neighborhoods of Vilnius also have names in other languages, which represent the languages spoken by various ethnic groups in the area.
According to the legend, Grand Duke Gediminas (c. 1275–1341) was hunting in the sacred forest near the Valley of Šventaragis, near where Vilnia River flows into the Neris River. Tired after the successful hunt of a wisent, the Grand Duke settled in for the night. He fell soundly asleep and dreamed of a huge Iron Wolf standing on top a hill and howling as strong and loud as a hundred wolves. Upon awakening, the Duke asked the krivis (pagan priest) Lizdeika to interpret the dream. And the priest told him: “What is destined for the ruler and the State of Lithuania, is thus: the Iron Wolf represents a castle and a city which will be established by you on this site. This city will be the capital of the Lithuanian lands and the dwelling of their rulers, and the glory of their deeds shall echo throughout the world.” Therefore, Gediminas, obeying the will of gods, built the city, and gave it the name Vilnius – from the stream of the Vilnia River.
Historian Romas Batūra identifies the city with Voruta, one of the castles of Mindaugas, crowned in 1253 as King of Lithuania. During the reign of Vytenis a city started to emerge from a trading settlement and the first Franciscan Catholic church was built.
The city was first mentioned in written sources in 1323 as Vilna, when the Letters of Grand Duke Gediminas were sent to German cities inviting Germans (including German Jews) to settle in the capital city, as well as to Pope John XXII. These letters contain the first unambiguous reference to Vilnius as the capital; Old Trakai Castle had been the earlier seat of the court of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
According to legend, Gediminas dreamt of an iron wolf howling on a hilltop and consulted a pagan priest Lizdeika for its interpretation. He was told: “What is destined for the ruler and the State of Lithuania, is thus: the Iron Wolf represents a castle and a city which will be established by you on this site. This city will be the capital of the Lithuanian lands and the dwelling of their rulers, and the glory of their deeds shall echo throughout the world”. The location offered practical advantages: it lay in the Lithuanian heartland at the confluence of two navigable rivers, surrounded by forests and wetlands that were difficult to penetrate. The duchy had been subject to intrusions by the Teutonic Knights.
Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania
Vilnius was the flourishing capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the residence of the Grand Duke. Gediminas expanded the Grand Duchy through warfare along with strategic alliances and marriages. At its height it covered the territory of modern-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Transnistria, and portions of modern-day Poland and Russia. His grandchildren Vytautas the Great and Jogaila, however, fought civil wars. During the Lithuanian Civil War of 1389–1392, Vytautas besieged and razed the city in an attempt to wrest control from Jogaila. The two later settled their differences; after a series of treaties culminating in the 1569 Union of Lublin, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was formed. The rulers of this federation held either or both of two titles: Grand Duke of Lithuania or King of Poland. In 1387, Jogaila acting as a Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Władysław II Jagiełło, granted Magdeburg rights to the city.
The city underwent a period of expansion. The Vilnius city walls were built for protection between 1503 and 1522, comprising nine city gates and three towers, and Sigismund August moved his court there in 1544.
Its growth was due in part to the establishment of Alma Academia et Universitas Vilnensis Societatis Iesu by the Polish King Stefan Bathory in 1579. The university soon developed into one of the most important scientific and cultural centres of the region and the most notable scientific centre of the Commonwealth.
During its rapid development, the city was open to migrants from the territories of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland, Grand Duchy and further. A variety of languages were spoken: Polish, German, Yiddish, Ruthenian, Lithuanian, Russian, Old Church Slavonic, Latin, Hebrew, and Turkic languages; the city was compared with Babylon. Each group made its unique contribution to the life of the city, and crafts, trade, and science prospered.
The 17th century brought a number of setbacks. The Commonwealth was involved in a series of wars, collectively known as The Deluge. During the Russo-Polish War (1654–1667), Vilnius was occupied by Russian forces; it was pillaged and burned, and its population was massacred. During the Great Northern War it was looted by the Swedish army. An outbreak of bubonic plague in 1710 killed about 35,000 residents; devastating fires occurred in 1715, 1737, 1741, 1748, and 1749. The city’s growth lost its momentum for many years, but even despite this fact, at the end of the 18th century and before the Napoleonic wars, Vilnius, with 56,000 inhabitants, entered the Russian Empire as its 3rd largest city.
In the Russian Empire
The fortunes of the Commonwealth declined during the 18th century. Three partitions took place, dividing its territory among the Russian Empire, the Habsburg Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. After the third partition of April 1795, Vilnius was annexed by the Russian Empire and became the capital of the Vilna Governorate. During Russian rule, the city walls were destroyed, and by 1805 only the Gate of Dawn remained. In 1812, the city was taken by Napoleon on his push towards Moscow, and again during the disastrous retreat. The Grande Armée was welcomed in Vilnius. Thousands of soldiers died in the city during the eventual retreat; the mass graves were uncovered in 2002. Inhabitants expected Tsar Alexander I to grant them autonomy in response to Napoleon’s promises to restore the Commonwealth, but Vilnius did not become autonomous, neither by itself nor as a part of Congress Poland.
Following the November Uprising in 1831, Vilnius University was closed and Russian repressions halted the further development of the city. Civil unrest in 1861 was suppressed by the Imperial Russian Army.
During the January Uprising in 1863, heavy fighting occurred within the city, but was brutally pacified by Mikhail Muravyov, nicknamed The Hangman by the population because of the number of executions he organized. After the uprising, all civil liberties were withdrawn, and use of the Polish and Lithuanian languages was banned. Vilnius had a vibrant Jewish population: according to Russian census of 1897, out of the total population of 154,500, Jews constituted 64,000 (approximately 40%). During the early 20th century, the Lithuanian-speaking population of Vilnius constituted only a small minority, with Polish, Yiddish, and Russian speakers comprising the majority of the city’s population.
During World War I, Vilnius and the rest of Lithuania was occupied by the German Army from 1915 until 1918. The Act of Independence of Lithuania, declaring Lithuanian independence from any affiliation to any other nation, was issued in the city on 16 February 1918. After the withdrawal of German forces, the city was briefly controlled by Polish self-defence units, which were driven out by advancing Soviet forces. Vilnius changed hands again during the Polish–Soviet War and the Lithuanian Wars of Independence: it was taken by the Polish Army, only to fall to Soviet forces again. Shortly after its defeat in the battle of Warsaw, the retreating Red Army, in order to delay the Polish advance, ceded the city to Lithuania after signing the Soviet–Lithuanian Peace Treaty on 12 July 1920.
Poland and Lithuania both perceived the city as their own. The League of Nations became involved in the subsequent dispute between the two countries. The League brokered the Suwałki Agreement on 7 October 1920. Although neither Vilnius or the surrounding region was explicitly addressed in the agreement, numerous historians have described the agreement as allotting Vilnius to Lithuania. On 9 October 1920, the Polish Army surreptitiously, under General Lucjan Żeligowski, seized Vilnius during an operation known as Żeligowski’s Mutiny. The city and its surroundings were designated as a separate state, called the Republic of Central Lithuania. On 20 February 1922 after the highly contested election in Central Lithuania, the entire area was annexed by Poland, with the city becoming the capital of the Wilno Voivodship (Wilno being the name of Vilnius in Polish). Kaunas then became the temporary capital of Lithuania. Lithuania vigorously contested the Polish annexation of Vilnius, and refused diplomatic relations with Poland. The predominant languages of the city were still Polish and, to a lesser extent, Yiddish. The Lithuanian-speaking population at the time was a small minority, at about 6% of the city’s population according even to contemporary Lithuanian sources. The Council of Ambassadors and the international community (with the exception of Lithuania) recognized Polish sovereignty over Vilnus region in 1923.
Vilnius University was reopened in 1919 under the name of Stefan Batory University. By 1931, the city had 195,000 inhabitants, making it the fifth largest city in Poland with varied industries, such as Elektrit, a factory that produced radio receivers.
World War II
In 1940, Lithuanian National Philharmonic Society was established, and since then used the historic old town building where the Great Seimas of Vilnius took place in 1905
World War II began with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. The secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had partitioned Lithuania and Poland into German and Soviet spheres of interest. On 19 September 1939, Vilnius was seized by the Soviet Union (which invaded Poland on 17 September). The USSR and Lithuania concluded a mutual assistance treaty on 10 October 1939, with which the Lithuanian government accepted the presence of Soviet military bases in various parts of the country. On 28 October 1939, the Red Army withdrew from the city to its suburbs (to Naujoji Vilnia) and Vilnius was given over to Lithuania. A Lithuanian Army parade took place on 29 October 1939 through the city centre.
The Lithuanians immediately attempted to Lithuanize the city, for example by Lithuanizing Polish schools. However, the whole of Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union on 3 August 1940 following a June ultimatum from the Soviets demanding, among other things, that unspecified numbers of Red Army soldiers be allowed to enter the country for the purpose of helping to form a more pro-Soviet government. After the ultimatum was issued and Lithuania further occupied, a Soviet government was installed with Vilnius as the capital of the newly created Lithuanian SSR. Between 20,000 and 30,000 of the city’s inhabitants were subsequently arrested by the NKVD and sent to gulags in the far eastern areas of the Soviet Union. The Soviets devastated city industries, moving the major Polish radio factory Elektrit, along with a part of its labour force, to Minsk in Belarus, where it was renamed the Vyacheslav Molotov Radio Factory, after Stalin’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.
On 22 June 1941, the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union. Vilnius was captured on 24 June. Two ghettos were set up in the old town centre for the large Jewish population – the smaller one of which was “liquidated” by October. The larger ghetto lasted until 1943, though its population was regularly deported in roundups known as “Aktionen”. A failed ghetto uprising on 1 September 1943 organised by the Fareinigte Partizaner Organizacje (the United Partisan Organization, the first Jewish partisan unit in German-occupied Europe), was followed by the final destruction of the ghetto. During the Holocaust, about 95% of the 265,000-strong Jewish population of Lithuania was murdered by the German units and Lithuanian Nazi collaborators, many of them in Paneriai, about 10 km west of the old town centre.
In July 1944, Vilnius was captured from the Germans by the Soviet Army and the Polish Armia Krajowa (see Operation Ostra Brama and the Vilnius Offensive). The NKVD arrested the leaders of the Armia Krajowa after requesting a meeting. Shortly afterwards, the town was once again incorporated into the Soviet Union as the capital of the Lithuanian SSR.
The war had irreversibly altered the town – most of the predominantly Polish and Jewish population had been expelled and exterminated respectively, during and after the German occupation. Some members of the intelligentsia and former Waffen SS members hiding in the forest were now targeted and deported to Siberia after the war. The majority of the remaining population was compelled to move to Communist Poland by 1946, and Sovietization began in earnest. Only in the 1960s did Vilnius begin to grow again, following an influx of Lithuanians and Poles from neighbouring regions and from other areas of the Soviet Union (particularly Russia and Belarus). Microdistricts were built in the elderates of Šeškinė, Žirmūnai, Justiniškės and Fabijoniškės.
On 11 March 1990, the Supreme Council of the Lithuanian SSR announced its secession from the Soviet Union and intention to restore an independent Republic of Lithuania. As a result of these declarations, on 9 January 1991, the Soviet Union sent in troops. This culminated in the 13 January attack on the State Radio and Television Building and the Vilnius TV Tower, killing at least fourteen civilians and seriously injuring 700 more. The Soviet Union finally recognised Lithuanian independence in September 1991. The current Constitution, as did the earlier Lithuanian Constitution of 1922, mentions that “the capital of the State of Lithuania shall be the city of Vilnius, the long-standing historical capital of Lithuania”.
Vilnius has been rapidly transformed, and the town has emerged as a modern European city. Many of its older buildings have been renovated, and a business and commercial area is being developed into the New City Centre, expected to become the city’s main administrative and business district on the north side of the Neris river. This area includes modern residential and retail space, with the municipality building and the 129-metre Europa Tower as its most prominent buildings. The construction of Swedbank’s headquarters is symbolic of the importance of Scandinavian banks in Vilnius. The building complex Vilnius Business Harbour was built in 2008, and one of its towers is now the 5th tallest building in Lithuania. More buildings are scheduled for construction in the area. Vilnius was selected as a 2009 European Capital of Culture, along with Linz, the capital of Upper Austria. Its 2009 New Year’s Eve celebration, marking the event, featured a light show said to be “visible from outer space”. In preparation, the historical centre of the city was restored, and its main monuments were renovated. The global economic crisis led to a drop in tourism which prevented many of the projects from reaching their planned extent, and allegations of corruption and incompetence were made against the organisers, while tax increases for cultural activity led to public protests and the general economic conditions sparked riots. In 2015 Remigijus Šimašius became the first directly elected mayor of the city.
On 28–29 November 2013, Vilnius hosted the Eastern Partnership Summit in the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. Many European presidents, prime ministers and other high-ranking officials participated in the event. On 29 November 2013, Georgia and Moldova signed association and free trade agreements with the European Union. Previously, Ukraine and Armenia were also expected to sign the agreements but postponed the decision, sparking large protests in Ukraine.
Old Town of Vilnius
There are 65 churches in Vilnius. Like most medieval towns, Vilnius was developed around its Town Hall. Pilies Street, the main artery, links the Royal Palace with Town Hall. Other streets meander through the palaces of feudal lords and landlords, churches, shops and craftsmen’s workrooms. Narrow, curved streets and intimate courtyards developed in the radial layout of medieval Vilnius.
The Old Town of Vilnius is the historical centre of Vilnius about 3.6 km2 in size. The most valuable historic and cultural sites are concentrated here. The buildings in the old town (there are nearly 1,500) were built over several centuries, creating a blend of many different architectural styles. Although Vilnius is known as a Baroque city, there are examples of Gothic (e.g. Church of St. Anne), Renaissance, and other styles. Their combination is also a gateway to the historic centre of the capital. Owing to its uniqueness, the Old Town of Vilnius was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994. Vilnius University’s main campus’s features 13 courtyards framed by 15th century buildings and splashed with 300-year-old frescoes, and the Church of St. Johns. The Gate of Dawn, the only surviving gate of the first original five gates in the city wall, hosts the painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which has been said to have miracle-working powers. Over 200 tiles and commemorative plaques to writers, who have lived and worked in Vilnius, and foreign authors, who have shared a connection with Vilnius and Lithuania, adorn a wall on Literatų street in the Old Town, presenting a broad overview of the history of Lithuanian literature. In Antakalnis district there is Church of St. Peter and St. Paul – a masterpiece of the 17th-century Baroque famous for its exceptional interior where one can see about 2,000 stucco figures.
In 1995, the world’s first bronze cast of Frank Zappa was installed in the Naujamiestis district with the permission of the government. The Frank Zappa sculpture confirmed the newly found freedom of expression and marked the beginning of a new era for Lithuanian society.
The Vilnius Castle Complex, a group of defensive, cultural, and religious buildings that includes Gediminas Tower of the Upper Castle (which is a part of National Museum of Lithuania), Cathedral Square and the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. Lithuania’s largest art collection is housed in the Lithuanian Art Museum. One branch of it, the Vilnius Picture Gallery in the Old Town, houses a collection of Lithuanian art from the 16th to the beginning of the 20th century. On the other side of the Neris, the National Art Gallery holds a permanent exhibition on Lithuanian 20th-century art, as well as numerous exhibitions on modern art. The House of the Signatories, where the 1918 Act of Independence of Lithuania was signed, is now a historic landmark. The Museum of Genocide Victims is dedicated to the victims of the Soviet era.
The Contemporary Art Centre is the largest venue for contemporary art in the Baltic States, with an exhibition space of 2400 square metres. The Centre is a non-collection based institution committed to developing a broad range of international and Lithuanian exhibition projects as well as presenting a wide range of public programmes including lectures, seminars, performances, film and video screenings, and live new music events.
The Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, named for the author of the first book printed in the Lithuanian language, holds 6,912,266 physical items. The biggest book fair in Baltic States is annually held in Vilnius at LITEXPO, the Baltic’s biggest exhibition centre.
On 10 November 2007, the Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center was opened by avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas. Its premiere exhibition was entitled The Avant-Garde: From Futurism to Fluxus. The Modern Art Centre, which is scheduled to be completed in 2018, will become a new cultural space for the city of Vilnius. It will host a private collection of modern and contemporary Lithuanian visual art. The museum will host exhibitions featuring works from Saint Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum and the Guggenheim Museums, along with non-commercial avant-garde cinema, a library, a museum of Lithuanian Jewish culture, and collections of works by Jonas Mekas and Jurgis Mačiūnas.
The Užupis district near the Old Town, which used to be one of the more run down districts of Vilnius during the Soviet era, is home to a movement of bohemian artists, who operate numerous art galleries and workshops. Užupis declared itself an independent republic on April Fool’s Day in 1997. In the main square, the statue of an angel blowing a trumpet stands as a symbol of artistic freedom.
In 2015, the project of Vilnius Talking Statues was realized. 15 statues around Vilnius now interact with visitors in multiple languages by a simple telephone call to a smart phone.
Vilnius City Opera – an independent opera theatre in Lithuania, blends classical with contemporary art. Lithuanian National Drama Theatre, State Small Theatre of Vilnius, State Youth Theatre and a number of private theatre companies, including OKT / Vilnius City Theatre, Anželika Cholina dance theatre and others, show classical, modern and Lithuanian playwriting directed by world-known Lithuanian and foreign directors.
The Lithuanian National Philharmonic Society is the largest and oldest state owned concert organization in Lithuania, whose main activity is to organise and coordinate live concerts, diverse classical/classical contemporary/jazz music events and tours throughout Lithuania and abroad. The Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra every year builds up a wide-ranging repertoire, introduces exceptional programs, and invites young talent to perform along with outstanding and recognised soloists“
Only about half of our group ventured out for the city walk this morning. We were met at the hotel with our town guide and headed around the corner and up the hill towards the railway station, only to run into a security check as the Pope was visiting this part of the city later. They must have had the system wound up as we had to take watches and anything metal off and those with metal plates in their hips etc had the wand waved around their body several times; at the same time it bucketed down with rain. I had decided not to bring an umbrella and got soaked, so on the return journey past the hotel I borrowed an umbrella from the front desk.
The highlights of the town square were described to us before we headed down a nearby lane which was a Jewish Getto in World War II, on past the local bakery and down to the Presidential Palace but we were stopped by Police and directed down a nearby lane which had a lot of objects placed on the wall. We came by a unique church made of many thousands of bricks that impressed Napoleon so much that he would have liked to have picked it up and taken back to Paris, meanwhile he stabled his horses there.
Back up another lane and we came across a number of teapots stuck into the wall of a building on the other corner of the main street, it is now a wine bar but used to be tea rooms.
We proceeded down the main street until we came to the Cathedral Square which had been setup for the Papal visit later in the day. The Pope is due to meet thousands of young believers between the age of 15 and 35 who were given special tickets to attend and there are plenty of them as the Catholic portion of the population if around 90% of which about half attend church on a regular basis.
We met the bus over the river and outside the exclusion zone and headed around to the Church of St Peter & Paul which was never closed during the Soviet rule. This may have been because there were some reference to the military on some of the walls. Although the interior was all white it had a large amount of decoration which was created out of crushed marble which sets into a hard substance.
Back to the bus and around to the other side of town to visit the KGB Museum that was vacated in 1989 with the fall of the USSR. Most of the rooms have retained their original objects and a few extras have been added to give a true picture of life in the building. The KGB took all their documents; however, over 200,000 less sensitive documents were found and the state poured over these documents to recreate history. Locals were brought to the building for interrogation and then sent on to Siberia and some 138 were executed in the basement. It’s moments like this that makes me appreciate being born in Australia and not having had a war on our land or a socialist system imposed on us.
In the afternoon we headed out of town to visit another castle, Trakai Island Castle, on Lake Galve; as I say they are all different and worth a visit. Gae remained at home to catch up on some much needed rest. We arrived at the site some 40 minutes from town and walked down to the shore of a small lake to be met with a pleasant view of the castle. Our local guide from the morning was with us again and lead us across the wooden footbridge to the structure. We passed through the main gates to a large courtyard where the soldiers were once housed in the upper rooms. We then crossed the drawbridge and into the main castle for a description of the history of the fort.
The local community have done a brilliant job of presenting all the rooms as they would have been in the original castle and special objects that are in display cabinets back in the soldiers quarters.
In our free time, I went up to the first level on the wooden decking and viewed the huge hall that was used to welcome guest and present them to the Duke, it must have been the size of a single’s tennis court with a contoured brick roof to form a floor for the next level. Above they have several reception rooms that had a number of armour displays. On the other side was the Duke’s private residence with bedroom, sitting room and dining room and down the circular steep staircase we visited his private treasury which contained many pieces of silver coins and silverware with coins embedded into the walls.
Back across the drawbridge and up to the Soldiers’ quarters which has be used to display many artifacts up to the 19th Centenary. From there I walked up the spiral staircase in the corner turret to some more displays and gift shop.
I had run out of time to do a quick lap around the island and picked up a magnet & postcard on the way back to the bus. A very successful afternoon of sightseeing. I hope the photos can give you a good idea of this fort and its contents.
The rain managed to stay away while the Pope was out and about, otherwise there was intermittent showers until after dark when the rain set in for some time. Even the weather knows its place when Papal visits are in progress.
We had dinner with Helen and Ted from NZ and thoroughly enjoyed their company over good food. It is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours chatting with people who have achieved so much and are happy to share their experiences.
Sunday 23 September
Today was spent travelling to Warsaw; with 470km to travel there was only time for short comfort stops with a longer break for lunch.
What is designated as motorway in the Baltic States is not quite what we have come to expect from such a road designation in Australia – we really have nothing to complain about when you see how far these countries have come in the relatively short time since they became independent again. The Soviet architecture is still quite evident although it is now being dwarfed by the taller glass edifices of the modern era.
As we neared Warsaw we finally made it onto a twin road – for a short time. The road had not been completed for a section of about 5km which resulted in bumper-to-bumper crawling traffic for a good half hour until we reached the completed section into Warsaw.
Our arrival at the hotel was about an hour later than planned which moved dinner back to 7.30pm; I decided bed was the preferred option.
Monday 24 September
Warsaw is the sprawling capital of Poland. Its widely varied architecture reflects the city’s long, turbulent history, from Gothic churches and neoclassical palaces to Soviet-era blocks and modern skyscrapers. The city’s Old Town was restored after heavy damage during WWII. Its heart is Market Square, with pastel buildings and open-air cafes. The Monument of the Warsaw Mermaid at its center is the city’s symbol.
Area: 517 km²
Population: 1.735 million (2015) United Nations
Overcast and showers this morning for our bus and walking tour of Warsaw. We drove around and looked at several sights before a walking tour of the park that houses Chopin’s statue. We were met there by a photographer and had a group photo taken.
As we walked back to the bus there were beautiful beds of roses as well as a black marble bench seat that played Chopin music when you pressed the button – apparently there are a number of these benches in the city. Public property in the countries we have visited appears to be respected with very little graffiti nor willful damage seen.
After another drive past identified landmarks before being dropped off to walk through to Palace Square for a quick overview and then walked to the Market Place to see the Mermaid statue before breaking for lunch. After a quick bite, John and I caught a cab back to the hotel for a rest before the afternoon and evening activities.
We left the hotel again at 1.30pm, this time by taxi with Marta for our sort trip for the tour of Wilanow Palace – the summer residence for the Kings of Poland. This palace, being away from Warsaw, escaped the destruction of WWII suffered in the capital.
“Wilanów Palace or Wilanowski Palace is a royal palace located in the Wilanów district, Warsaw. Wilanów Palace survived Poland’s partitions and both World Wars, and so serves as a reminder of the culture of the Polish state as it was before the misfortunes of the 18th century.
It is one of Poland’s most important monuments. The Palace’s museum, established in 1805, is a repository of the country’s royal and artistic heritage. The palace and park in Wilanów hosts cultural events and concerts, including Summer Royal Concerts in the Rose Garden and the International Summer Early Music Academy.
The palace, together with other elements of Warsaw Old Town, is one of Poland’s official national Historic Monuments, as designated September 16, 1994. Its listing is maintained by the National Heritage Board of Poland.
Since 2006, the palace has been a member of the international association of European Royal Residences
Wilanów Palace was built for king John III Sobieski in the last quarter of the 17th century and later was enlarged by other owners. It represents the characteristic type of baroque suburban residence built entre cour et jardin (between the entrance court and the garden). Its architecture is original, a merger of generally European art with distinctively Polish building traditions. Upon its elevations and in the palace interiors ancient symbols glorify the Sobieski family, especially the military triumphs of the king.
After the death of John III Sobieski in 1696, the palace was owned by his sons and later by the famous magnate families Sieniawskis, Czartoryskis, Lubomirskis, Potockis and Branicki family of the Korczak coat of arms. In 1720, the property was purchased by Polish stateswoman Elżbieta Sieniawska who enlarged the palace. Between 1730 and 1733 it was a residence of Augustus II the Strong, also a king of Poland (the palace was exchanged with him for the Blue Palace at Senatorska Street), and after his death the property came to Sieniawska’s daughter Maria Zofia Czartoryska. Every owner changed the interiors of the palace, as well as the gardens and grounds, according to the current fashion and needs. In 1778 the estate was inherited by Izabela Lubomirska, called The Blue Marquise. She refurbished some of the interiors in the neoclassical style between 1792–1793 and build a corps de garde, a kitchen building and a bathroom building under the supervision of Szymon Bogumił Zug.
In the year 1805 the owner Stanisław Kostka Potocki made a museum in a part of the palace, one of the first public museums in Poland. A most notable example of the collections is Potocki’s equestrian portrait made by renowned neoclassical French artist Jacques-Louis David in 1781. Besides European and Oriental art, the central part of the palace displayed a commemoration of king John III Sobieski and the glorious national past. The palace was damaged by German forces in World War II, but it was not demolished after the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. After the war, the palace was renovated, and most of the collection stolen by Germany was repatriated. In 1962 it was reopened to the public.”
The remainder of the group met up with us at 3.45pm for the trip out to the Manor House, Siedzow where we were met by Andre, the owner of the property who welcomed us, told us a little about his life and his beautiful home built in the 1700’s, before introducing Eugeniusz Chudak-Morzuchowski who gave our Frederic Chopin recital – we were treated to: Ballade in minor Op.23, Waltz in D flat major Op.64 No.1, Mazuka in G minor Op.24 No.1, Mazuka in C major Op24 No.2, Etude in Csharp minor Op.10 No.4, Etude in G flat major, Op.10 No.5, Etude in C minor Op.10 No12, Nocturne in C sharp minor Op.Posth. and Polonaise in A flat major Op.53. A thoroughly delightful interlude.
Following the music we walked across to the second house for dinner. This house, also built in the 1700’s, was restored by Andre in it’s original style – he bought five houses in the local village to gain the resources he needed for the restoration. We had a delicious meal, prepared by local staff from their own fresh produce. There was plenty of wine, beer and local vodka distributed to the guests, with lots of favourable comments about Andre’s home-made vodkas – the singing on the bus for the return journey may have been helped (or hindered) by the consumption of these local libations. To top off a wonderful evening, all of the ladies were presented with a long-stem rose as we left the restaurant.
A quick pack of the suitcase before bed as cases need to be out by 6.30 tomorrow morning ready for their road trip to Berlin while we travel by train.
Tuesday 25 September
Bright sunshine this morning for our final trip in Arturs’ bus to the station to catch the train to Berlin. Jenny made the “Thank You” remarks to Arturs on behalf of the group and he responded with Erika as interpreter.
Our train left on time with us all seated in the same carriage. The seven hour train journey, in rather uncomfortable seats, passed relatively quickly; predominantly spent looking out the window at the scenery as it alternated between productive farmland and forests of fir, silver birch and spruce trees. The soil looked really rich for much of the journey.
Just before we crossed the Poland / Germany border we were able to see the world’s tallest statue of Christ.
“Christ the King statue of Jesus Christ in Świebodzin, western Poland, completed on 6 November 2010, took five years in total to construct and cost around $1.5 million to build. The money was collected from donations of the 21,000 residents of the town. The project was conceived and led by Sylwester Zawadzki, a retired Polish priest. It is the tallest statue of Jesus in the world.
The statue was built on a 16.5 metres embankment of stones and rubble. Christ the King has a height of 33 metres, symbolising a traditional belief that Jesus’ age at his death was 33. The Crown of the temple is 3.5 metres in diameter and 2 metres in height, and the whole is gilded. It weighs 440 tons. The head alone is 4.5 metres tall and weighs 15 tons. Each hand is 6 metres in length and the distance between the ends of the fingers is 24 metres. It is composed of concrete and fibreglass. It is 3 metres taller than the better known statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, standing at 30.1 metres (99 ft) tall without its pedestal.”
The designs for various elements of the statue were produced by a number of individuals; the sculpture design was primarily produced by Mirosław Kazimierz Patecki with the technical design aspect being undertaken by Assoc. Jakub Marcinowski and Assoc. Mikołaj Kłapeć, both of whom are employees of the University of Zielona Gora. Meanwhile, elements of the clothing and the arms of the statue were designed by Tomasz Stafiniak and Krzysztof Nawojski (the latter being of the town of Świebodzin) respectively. Another resident of Świebodzin, Marian Wybraniec, was responsible for the design of the foundations upon which the statue was constructed.
The construction work was undertaken by staff employed by the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Świebodzin and included welders, locksmiths and mechanics.
On 29 September 2006, the city council of Świebodzin passed a resolution on the establishment of Christ the King. The President (under the authority of the board) along with the mayor spoke to the Bishop of Zielona Góra-Gorzów Diocese. State officials also temporarily halted the project due to safety concerns. With funding from local people and as far away as Canada, the statue was completed on November 6, 2010 and now takes its place as the Largest Statue of Jesus Christ according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
We arrived in Berlin at 4.42pm (the designated time) and were met by our bus driver for the transfer to our hotel. A night off – John joined some of the group members for a quick vicinity orientation, found an auto-teller and returned to join me for a drink; we then went looking for a schnitzel – hope we have better luck Thursday.
Wednesday 26 September
Berlin, Germany’s capital, dates from the 13th century. Reminders of the city’s turbulent 20th-century history include its Holocaust Memorial and the Berlin Wall’s graffitied remains. Divided during the Cold War, its 18th-century Brandenburg Gate has become a symbol of reunification. The city’s also known for its art scene and modern landmarks like the gold-coloured, swoop-roofed Berliner Philharmonie, built in 1963.
The Tiergarten district, near the Brandenburg Gate, houses a massive park and the 19th-century Reichstag, Germany’s parliament. Museum Island, in the Spree River, features the Neues Museum, with its comprehensive Egyptian collection; the Pergamon Museum’s archaeological masterpieces include Greek, Roman and Islamic works. Nightlife ranges from Mitte quarter’s hip restaurants and bars to the cavernous techno clubs in the city’s industrial neighbourhoods. Shopping includes high-end boutiques along Kurfürstendamm, department stores on bustling Friedrichstraße and vintage shops in bohemian Kreuzberg.“
We had the morning off from the trip to Potsdam; John found a laundromat and then went shopping for chips for the iPads to cover the remainder of our time in Germany and France. It was nearly enjoyable to do the ironing when John returned and it is lovely to have some fresh, clean clothes again.
The afternoon was spent on a bus tour of Berlin as well as a visit to the Reichstag. After going through security and being crammed into the biggest lift I have ever seen, we were taken to the top of the main building and deposited at the base of the glass dome (looks like a beehive). Most of us walked up the winding path to the top of the glass dome; Johannes, our guide, set a slower pace to suit some of us while encouraging others to go ahead as they chose. According to my phone, walking up the path was the equivalent to six flights of stairs – no wonder we needed to sit for a while at the top and admire the view. All the way up, Johannes kept up his commentary on the history of the building as well as pointing out the various landmarks as we climbed higher. The view of the Berlin skyline from up there was rather spectacular bathed in glorious sunlight.
“The Reichstag is an historic edifice in Berlin, Germany, constructed to house the Imperial Diet (German: Reichstag) of the German Empire. It was opened in 1894 and housed the Diet until 1933, when it was severely damaged after being set on fire. After World War II, the building fell into disuse; the parliament of the German Democratic Republic (the Volkskammer) met in the Palast der Republik in East Berlin, while the parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany (the Bundestag) met in the Bundeshaus in Bonn.
The ruined building was made safe against the elements and partially refurbished in the 1960s, but no attempt at full restoration was made until after German reunification on 3 October 1990, when it underwent a reconstruction led by architect Norman Foster. After its completion in 1999, it once again became the meeting place of the German parliament: the modern Bundestag.
The official German reunification ceremony on 3 October 1990, was held at the Reichstag building, including Chancellor Helmut Kohl, President Richard von Weizsäcker, former Chancellor Willy Brandt and many others. The event included huge firework displays. One day later, the parliament of the united Germany would assemble in an act of symbolism in the Reichstag building.
However, at that time, the role of Berlin had not yet been decided upon. Only after a fierce debate, considered by many as one of the most memorable sessions of parliament, did the Bundestag conclude, on 20 June 1991, with quite a slim majority in favour of both government and parliament returning to Berlin from Bonn. In 1992, Norman Foster won yet another architectural contest for the reconstruction of the building. His winning concept looked very different from what was later executed. Notably, the original design did not include a cupola.
Before reconstruction began, the Reichstag was wrapped by the Bulgarian-American artist Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude in 1995, attracting millions of visitors. The project was financed by the artists through the sale of preparatory drawings and collages, as well as early works of the 1950s and 1960s.
During the reconstruction, the building was first almost completely gutted, taking out everything except the outer walls, including all changes made by Baumgarten in the 1960s. Respect for the historic aspects of the building was one of the conditions stipulated to the architects, so traces of historical events were to be retained in a visible state. Among them were graffiti left by Soviet soldiers after the final battle for Berlin in April–May 1945. Written in Cyrillic script, they include such slogans as “Hitler kaputt” and names of individual soldiers. However, graffiti with racist or sexist themes were removed, in agreement with Russian diplomats at the time.
The reconstruction was completed in 1999, with the Bundestag convening there officially for the first time on 19 April of that year. The Reichstag is now the second most visited attraction in Germany, not least because of the huge glass dome that was erected on the roof as a gesture to the original 1894 cupola, giving an impressive view over the city, especially at night.
The large glass dome at the very top of the Reichstag has a 360-degree view of the surrounding Berlin cityscape. The main hall (debating chamber) of the parliament below can also be seen from inside the dome, and natural light from above radiates down to the parliament floor. A large sun shield tracks the movement of the sun electronically and blocks direct sunlight which would not only cause large solar gain, but dazzle those below. Construction work was finished in 1999 and the seat of parliament was transferred to the Bundestag in April of that year. The dome is open to visitors by prior registration.”
Once we walked back down (on a different walkway) to the base of the dome, we all enjoyed a delicious afternoon tea in the rooftop restaurant – berry crumble slice with whipped cream plus coffee or tea.
On the drive back to the hotel, Johannes asked the bus driver to stop at the Brandenburg Gate for 15 minutes so those who were not joining the history tour the next day had the opportunity to take photos and have a close look.
Our last dinner together as a group was held at the Tijian Lounge at our hotel. The meal stated out slowly – there were only three wait staff on to serve our group as well as the other occupied tables in addition to covering the bar area (same size as the restaurant). After a long delay, the main course (chicken filled with tomato and cream cheese) delivery was going well until it was discovered that several of us had been served with half-cooked chicken. The staff apologised profusely, begged our indulgence while they prepared our meal again and offered a free drink while we waited. The meal was beautiful once it arrived. Needless to say, it was after 10pm by the time we finished. Just as well for a slightly later start in the morning.
Thursday 27 September
The bus drove a small group of us to the pier at Moltke Bridge for our Cruise on the River Spree. For an hour we cruised down to the lock and back upstream to the pier; the weather continued warm and still for the journey – ideal for sightseeing and taking photos.
Some of the buildings / areas identified included: Friedrichstrasse, Museum Island, Berlin Cathedral, Nikolaiviertel, Reichstag, Government District, Berlin Central Station, Chancellery, House of World Cultures and Tiergarten before returning to the pier.
After we were dropped back to the hotel and had a cup of tea, we walked to the Jewish Memorial. Along the way, the increased police presence for the visit of the Turkish President became quite overt with traffic being stopped from entering sections of roadway. As we walked, the motorcade flashed past; there must have been 20 – 30 officers on bikes, 10 – 15 vans, 1 ambulance, 1 bus and several helicopters accompanied the presidential vehicles. He must have been scheduled to visit that Museum during the afternoon, because when we walked there, it was completely cordoned off and crowds with Turkish Flags beginning to build along the fence line.
Dinner was at a German Restaurant close to our hotel; yes, I was able to have schnitzel and it was delicious. The 19 of us all talking together made quite a deal of noise and when you add in all the other diners, the noise level was nearly deafening. A pleasant way to finish our Scenic Tour