Just outside the small city of Šiauliai stands a small hill with a big history. Kryžių Kalnas, or “The Hill of Crosses,” rises proudly from the landscape as the national pilgrimage center of Lithuania and a beacon of the nation’s rich history and tradition.
Occupied by the Teutonic Knights in the 14th century, Šiauliai rallied around a common goal of resisting foreign invaders. Citizens and military officials began placing crosses on the hill of Kryžių Kalnas as a visual representation of their uprising. By the 1800s, the site contained over 150 crosses. By 1940, the number had grown to 400 large crosses and thousands of smaller versions.
Šiauliai was heavily damaged during its capture by the Germans in World War II. Throughout the Soviet occupation and rebuilding effort, Kryžių Kalnas remained a staunch statement of Lithuanian nationalism. Despite the repeated removal and burning of the crosses and even the leveling of the hill itself, pilgrims would return to replace crosses and return the hill to its status as a sacred landmark.
Today, there are hundreds of thousands of crosses on Kryžių Kalnas. Some were placed by native Lithuanians and others by visitors who wished to pay homage to the hill’s intent. There are crosses of all materials and sizes, ranging from over three meters tall, to tiny versions hanging like ornaments from the larger crosses.
Visitors could spend hours exploring the crosses of the small hill without scratching the surface of its history and significance. Photographs of Lithuanian patriots, as well as religious artifacts and paintings, are placed among the crosses, offering a deeper look into the fortitude and national pride that has preserved the hill and its meaning for centuries.
Kryžių Kalnas is visited by thousands of pilgrims and historians each year and remains an inspiration for Lithuanian nationals as a symbol of patriotism and resilience.