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Lithuania: The Hill of Crosses

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Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, it appears: a mound thick with crosses of all shapes and sizes and colours, imposing and almost garish in design and number (it is estimated there are at least 100,000 of them). The place: northern Lithuania. The site: the Hill of Crosses. For centuries, Catholic pilgrims and tourists alike have flocked here, whether to deposit their own crosses or to gape in wonderment at the ones already there. I formed part of the latter- I moved about incredulously, camera furiously snapping away.

I was on the second day of my eight-day Busabout tour around Scandinavia and the Baltics: the day before was spent kicking around Lithuania's capital, Vilnius, and Day two saw a brief stop at the Hill of Crosses before heading onward to our first border crossing into Latvia.

The Hill of Crosses may be a misnomer, though -- crucifixes, statues of the Virgin Mary, and rosaries also abound. For believers, this may well be heaven on earth, but for me, this place was plain freaky. At once eerie and gothic, the Hill of Crosses for me had a very Tim Burton-esque feel. The surroundings could have been a film set for Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands, I half expected a bizarrely-clad Johnny Depp to poke his head out from behind a statue of baby Jesus.

No one knows for certain how the practice of putting down crosses started, but in more recent times it has come to symbolize the enduring committment of Lithuanians to their country and staunchly Catholic identity. You see, though Lithuania has been a republic since 1990, it spent much of the last 200 years under Soviet rule, engaging in a number of bloody uprisings in a desperate bid for independence. The Hill of Crosses became a site of peaceful resistance, a place where Lithuanians could go, crosses in tow and ready to plant, to pray for their country and for the lives lost in the wars for independence.

I was shocked to learn that the Soviets had actually bulldozed the hill three times, in an attempt to stymie the Lithuanian's efforts. However, what I saw around me was proof that they were undaunted.

One word: wow.

Have you ever been to an intensely holy place or one packed with historical importance?

Read more about Oneika's adventures around the world on her blog: Oneika the Traveller