- World heritage objects in Lithuania
World heritage objects in Lithuania
Vilnius Historic Centre
In 1994 the Vilnius historic centre was inscribed on the UNESCO World heritage list as having outstanding universal value (under ii and iv criteria of selection). The historic part of the city was formed in the 14-18th centuries and covered the area of 359.5 ha. In its prospering times Vilnius made a great influence on cultural and architectural development of the whole region of Central and Eastern Europe. The objects of the Vilnius historic centre are extraordinary examples of unique architectural development under the changing influences of different epochs and cultures.
For ages one of the most beautiful capitals in Europe was famous for its tolerance for different nations and religions. The inhabitants of various nationalities and confessions settled in the city and its suburbs, both Eastern and Western cultural traditions thrived together in this most eastern part of the Western culture.
The political and cultural centre of the ancient Lithuanian Grand Duchy is represented by a complex of defensive systems and representative buildings. In the 16th century a defensive wall surrounded the historical centre of the city. Century after century Vilnius was growing and expanding. Despite the devastating fires and wars, it has preserved a radial city plan so typical for the Middle Ages, an irregular net of narrow streets, the harmony of architecture and natural environment.
The authentic buildings that served for defensive, residential, representative and spiritual purposes have been preserved in the Vilnius Old Town. Here you can find the features of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and, Classical architectural styles. The architecture of the city is unique, because all the stiles merge into one harmonious aesthetical unit.
In today's international cultural context the Vilnius historic centre bears witness not only to the heritage of a particular civilization but also to an exceptional cultural lifestyle.
The Curonian Spit
The Curonian Spit was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2000. This cultural landscape, created by human hands in more than 200 years, under selection criterion (v), was recognised as an exceptional example of traditional settlement or use of land or sea in a certain area. The cultural landscape of unique beauty of the Curonian Spit is a result of continuous encounter of natural factors and the human effort.
Back in the 14th century, people started changing the relief of the Curonian Spit, which had been formed by nature out of surplus sand 5,000 years ago. In the 14th century, the Curonian Spit saw the emergence of a network of sedentary settlements and more intense economic activities. In the 14-18th centuries, the narrow strip of land between the Curonian Lagoon and the Baltic Sea, due to constant felling of trees, witnessed degradation of the natural balance, which resulted in the formation of moving sand dunes.
The moving sand turned one settlement into a desert. In order to stop the erosion, the end of the 18th century marked the start of major works, which have determined global exclusivity of the Curonian Spit. In order to stop the moving sand dunes and not to allow changes of their surface, the dunes were reinforced, artificial relief barriers were built and vegetation was planted. In this way people stopped the erosion and sand storms, reinforced the Grand Dunes and formed, along the entire Spit, a protective ridge of the Baltic coast. Currently, this is the only territory in the world of such dimensions (98 kilometres long and 0.4–4 kilometres wide), where more than half of the vegetation was planted by people. Due to special natural conditions, the works of relief reinforcement and vegetation planting on the Curonian Spit are still important.
Windblown, moving dunes have remained and are preserved in Nagliai and Grobštas nature reserves as well as in the Parnidis landscape reserve. Apart from cultural landscape, objects of archaeological, historical, urban, architectural heritage, disclosing the people's lifestyle which evolved under exceptional conditions, are preserved on the Curonian Spit.
Kernavė Archaeological Site
The uniqueness of the Kernavė Archaeological Site, inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2004 under selection criteria (iii) and (iv), has also been determined by human activities. This territory is a site witnessing a cultural tradition of civilisation and an exceptional example of buildings, the architectural ensemble and landscape of a certain period in the history of the humanity.
The complex of archaeological and historical properties located in Kernavė reflects the stages of evolution of a settlement on the valley of the River Neris from the Stone Age until the 13-14th century. Kernavė was first mentioned in written documents in 1279. At that time, it was a pagan medieval city on the Pajauta valley, with the residence of the Duke on the central mound. This political and economic centre with flourishing trade and the development of crafts by professional masters was destroyed in 1390 during an attack of Teutonic knights. A subsequent settlement emerged on the upper terrace, on the site of the current town of Kernavė. The site of the old medieval city still contains untouched cultural layers from the end of the 14th century, which made it possible to reconstruct the urban framework of the city and restore the fragments of everyday life of the inhabitants.
Currently, the territory of the State Cultural Reserve of Kernavė covers 194.4 hectares, where 18 objects of archaeological, historical and architectural heritage are preserved. The five fortified mounds located on the territory are an example of the land surface, cultivated by people and adapted to defence, which has no analogues in the Baltic Sea Region. This complex not only witnesses the grandeur of the former capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, but also has an exceptional aesthetic impact on the landscape.
The Kernavė Archaeological Site with the remaining artefacts reflecting the lifestyle of a medieval city of the last pagan state in Europe is also unique because its burial sites and other archaeological finds confirm the junction and coexistence of the pagan and Christian cultures.
Cross-crafting and its Symbolism
Cross-crafting and its symbolism in Lithuania , a unique cultural tradition having no analogues in the world, in 2001 was listed by UNESCO among the masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
A very specific tradition of cross-crafting and its symbolism started to develop in the 15th century, when Lithuania, the last pagan country in Europe, officially and entirely became a catholic country. For a long time new ideas of Christianity and antique local pagan traditions were very closely related in the local mentality. This dualism obviously was reflected in the cross-crafting tradition, where symbols of both religions could be found. Later, with incorporation of Lithuania into the orthodox Russian Empire in the 19th century or under the Soviet regime in the 20th century, typical wooden Lithuanian crosses became a symbol of national and religious identity.
The Lithuanian traditional crosses, pillar-type crosses and shrines could be found not only in cemeteries and churchyards, but on the premises of almost every farmstead, along the roadsides, in fields and villages, and even in forests. Cross-crafting, as a branch of traditional folk art, entails not only the making of the monument itself, but also the customs and rituals related to a particular monument.
The current panorama of cross-crafting in Lithuania is diverse, dynamic and subject to constant change, as new crosses continue to be built. The bulk of these monuments were erected in the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of this century. Against the background of modern monuments, the old ones – a live testimony to tradition – are of exceptional value.
The custom of erecting wooden monuments on graves of the deceased, near homesteads and in villages, to mark a key event in one's life, to express request, gratitude or veneration is deeply rooted in the mind of Lithuanians. It is a custom that long periods of persecutions and prohibitions failed to eradicate. Therefore, today, Lithuania remains a unique exposition of cross-crafting in the open. One of the most significant monuments - now the world famous Hill of Crosses near Šiauliai - is featuring thousands of crosses and has become a kind of symbol of Lithuanian cross-crafting.
Struvė Geodetic Arc
In 2005, the Struvė Geodetic Arc was inscribed on the World Heritage List as a territory reflecting changes of influences of a certain epoch or a defined cultural space in the area of technology evolution (criterion (ii)), an outstanding example of a type of technological ensemble which illustrates a significant stage in human history (criterion (iv)) and a site directly associated with ideas of outstanding universal significance (criterion (vi)). This site witnessing the progress of science is a chain of triangulations composed in 1816–1855 and named after Tartu (Estonia) University professor, astronomer Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struvė (1793–1864); the chain extended over 2,820 kilometres from Fuglenes (Norway) to the mouth of Danube at the Black Sea in Ukraine. The oldest part of the Arc was made in 1816–1821 in Vilnius district. In this territory, design and measurement works were conducted by an officer of the Tsarist army, Carl Tenner (1783–1859).
The received results of measuring a meridian arc were a significant achievement of science; they were still used, for almost a hundred years, for calculating the parameters of the Earth's ellipsoid. This project is an excellent example of cooperation of scientists and rulers of many countries for the benefit of scientific progress. When assessing this heritage site, criterion (vi) was applied considering that the emergence of the Struvė Geodetic Arc had been determined by a constant human aspiration and a desire to explore and know the surrounding world, while the establishment of exact parameters of the Earth's ellipsoid had been encouraged by the theory of Isaac Newton saying that the Earth is not a completely correct sphere.
Currently, 34 differently marked points of the Struvė Geodetic Arc are kept in 10 European states (in Lithuania, they are in Gireišiai, Meškonys and Paliepiukai).
The Baltic Song and Dance Celebrations
In 2003, the Baltic Song and Dance Celebrations – a common heritage of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – were listed by UNESCO among the masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
The tradition of these large-scale celebrations started at the end of 19th century in Estonia. In those times, when Estonia and all Baltic states were incorporated in Orthodox Russian Empire, traditional songs and dances became one of the ways to express the national identity and intentions to restore independence.
The Song and Dance Celebrations are held every five years in Estonia and Latvia and every four years in Lithuania. The traditional festivals run on for several days and gather as many as 40,000 singers, musicians and dancers from Baltic and other countries. Most of the participants of the festivals belong to amateur choirs and dance groups. Their repertories reflect a wide range of musical traditions in the Baltic States, from the most ancient folk songs to contemporary compositions. Directed by professional choir conductors, bandleaders and dance instructors, many singers and dancers practise throughout the year in community centres and local cultural institutions.
Lithuanian Sutartinės / Multipart Songs - on UNESCO World Heritage List
On 16 November 2010, during the 5th session of the Inter-governmental Committee on Protection of Intangible Cultural Heritage held in Nairobi (Kenya), Lithuanian polyphonic songs (Sutartinės, multipart songs) were inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Lithuanian multipart songs (Sutartinės - their Lithuanian name derives from the verb "sutarti", which means "to accord", "to be in harmony") is a unique phenomenon of Lithuanian traditional music, a particularly old form of polyphony. Lithuanian multipart songs are a syncretic art reflecting the connection between music, text and movement. They are mostly sung by women, while instrumental music is played by men with panpipes, aerophones, chordophones and other instruments. The texts of songs contain a lot of archaic choruses and onomatopoeic words, the meaning of which can only be guessed now. A characteristic feature of Lithuanian multipart songs is simultaneous sound of different melodies and different texts (notional and onomatopoeic).
In European theory of music, Lithuanian multipart songs are considered a paradox: harmony is created by accords of dissonance intervals – seconds. As from the beginning of the 20th century, Lithuanian multipart songs have become one of the most striking symbols of the Lithuanian cultural identity. The works of many contemporary composers are based on Lithuanian multipart songs. Abroad, multipart songs have become an original "business card" of Lithuania.
Lithuanian multipart songs are the 3rd property of Lithuanian intangible culture included into the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, together with Cross-crafting and Cross Symbolism in Lithuania (2001) and the tradition of Song and Dance Celebrations in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (2003). The purpose of the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity is to ensure a better familiarity of intangible cultural heritage, draw attention to its importance, promote inter-cultural dialogue and respect for the diversity of cultures.
You can listen to Lithuanian multipart songs at: Lithuanian multipart songs