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Barricades memorial, Vilnius

  
   - darkometer rating:  1 -
 
A leftover part of the barricades that were erected in January 1991 near the Seimas (parliament) in Vilnius during Lithuania's struggle for independence from the Soviet Union which had sent in the military to crack down on any such ambitions.
 
But since the Lithuanians persisted and prevailed, and did indeed gain fully recognized independence shortly after, these barricades are seen as a national symbol of the country's new statehood. Hence a small part of it has been preserved as this memorial.   
More background info: for the general historical-political context see under TV Tower and 13 January exhibition.
   
The barricades in the centre of Vilnius were erected during the turbulent January events of 1991 to help protect the Seimas (parliament)/Supreme Court from being seized by the Soviet military as well, which in the early hours of 13 January had violently attacked the TV Tower, television and radio centres and shut down all broadcasts from there. 
  
But the people had already been urged to go and protect the Seimas and hundreds of thousands did so. They were supported by construction workers who used heavy machinery to put large blocks of concrete into place to serve as anti-tank barricades. 
  
And it worked. The military did not even attack the barricades but retreated. Even though confrontation and skirmishes with the Soviets continued until the summer (when the USSR finally collapsed altogether), especially in the border regions (cf. Antakalnis cemetery), the success of the defence of Vilnius by means of these barricades made them a symbol of national heroism for the Lithuanians. So it was decided to preserve a small section and turn it into a memorial monument. 
  
  
What there is to see: mainly a preserved section of concrete blocks that were used as anti-tank barricades in January 1991. These are now covered by a roof and glass panels, so the overall appearance is quite different to what it was back in the day. 
  
Still, you can see the barricades and the political graffiti on some of the blocks and concrete slabs as well as some rusty old barbed wire. But now it is all just quiet and in fact the whole atmosphere here felt rather dead. 
  
The glass house encasing the main part of the preserved barricades appears to double up as a kind of memorial hall as well, but this was locked when I was there and didn't seem like it was publicly accessible at any time at all (maybe just for memorial ceremonies?). 
  
Still, you could peek through the glass and make out more rusty barbed wire and a few panels with photos from 1991. There was also a board to which some three dozen children's paintings were pinned that showed scenes from those January 1991 events as well (you could clearly make out the TV Tower, tanks and lots of Lithuanian flags on many of them). 
  
At the front of the memorial, facing the street and square and Gedimino pr., there's also a memorial to the Chechen victims of the devastating wars that Russia's been waging for decades in that part of the Caucasus. 
  
Another plaque lists the names of the 14 Lithuanian civilians who lost their lives on 13 January 1991. 
  
By the side of the street, small markers point out where the rest of the barricades would have been which were dismantled some time after the independence struggle.
  
The whole thing is comparatively low key and unless you know about it you could easily miss it. But it is worth a quick look when in this part of Vilnius, if only for the historical significance. It's much less rewarding in terms of the commodification of the site for (foreign) visitors, which really is negligible at best.  
  
  
Location: on the western edge of the administrative centre of Vilnius, next to the Seimas building, set back from the square in front of the Seimas and Gedimino pr., in the north-western corner of the complex.
  
Google maps locator: [54.691, 25.261]
  
  
Access and costs: a bit hidden, but not difficult to get to; free.  
  
Details: You would hardly happen upon the memorial just walking by, but if you know where it is it's easy to locate. Coming from the Old Town of Vilnius, simply walk the main central street, Gedimino pr., all the way to near its western end, where the the modernist squarish block of the Seimas is the dominant landmark. 
  
Walk past the Seimas and turn right and you are more or less in front of the memorial. The concrete blocks are really only visible from closer up, so look for the large glass panes and the steel roof above. 
  
As far as I could make out you can only view the memorial from the outside, which is freely accessible at all times. 
  
The space within was locked and there was no indication it could ever be accessed by the general public. But you can peek in through the glass. 
  
Keep your eyes open for the markers by the road that show where the rest of the barricades used to stand.  
  
  
Time required: not long, just a few minutes.  
    
  
Combinations with other dark destinations: in general see under Vilnius.  
  
The main other sites linked to the barricades are the TV Tower and 13 January exhibition and also Antakalnis cemetery, where most of the victims of the violent events of that night are buried in “martyrs' graves”. 
  
The Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights also contains a section on the barricades and has some photos and video footage of their construction and the mass rally accompanying this. 
  
  
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The Seimas Palace building (housing the Lithuanian parliament) may not be the most visually appealing edifices of its type, being basically just a squarish, modernist, beige concrete-and-glass block, but it is still a local landmark. Incidentally, the main architect of the Seimas Palace's late 1970s/early 80s design had earlier designed the Neringa Hotel with its remarkable interiors in the late 1950s (see under Vilnius).
  
The much more touristy Old Town with the main historical sights begins at the other, eastern end of Gedimino pr, with Vilnius Cathedral a bit over a mile (1.8 km) away. But some of the grand buildings flanking the street are worth a look en route as well. 
  
See in general under Vilnius.   
  
  
 
  • Barricades memorial 1 - next to the SeimasBarricades memorial 1 - next to the Seimas
  • Barricades memorial 2 - with roof and glass wallsBarricades memorial 2 - with roof and glass walls
  • Barricades memorial 3 - partly behind glassBarricades memorial 3 - partly behind glass
  • Barricades memorial 4 - Chechnya commemoration integrated tooBarricades memorial 4 - Chechnya commemoration integrated too
  • Barricades memorial 5 - original graffitiBarricades memorial 5 - original graffiti
  • Barricades memorial 6 - strawberry tankBarricades memorial 6 - strawberry tank
  • Barricades memorial 7 - grim outlookBarricades memorial 7 - grim outlook
  • Barricades memorial 8 - inside - not yet openBarricades memorial 8 - inside - not yet open
  • Barricades memorial 9 - open-air partBarricades memorial 9 - open-air part
  • other barricades location markers on Gediminas Streetother barricades location markers on Gediminas Street
  
   
  
  
  
  
  

© dark-tourism.com, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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