So many museums – so little time! Leashia and I managed to get to a fair few. Don’t forget many state owned museums are free on the last Sunday of each month and may be closed on a Monday.
Museum of Occupation & Freeedom Fights [KGB Museum]
Above – A cross fashioned from an artillery shell and a prison cell now dedicated to Jews murdered by the Nazis.
This is the second KGB Museum that Leashia and I have visited, the other was in Riga which was a horrifying experience. This museum is housed in the building that was the former headquarters in Vilnius of the infamous Cheka/ KGB and Gestapo. Like the KGB museum in Riga the experience was just as horrific but necessary if you want to try and understand what the Lithuanians suffered under the Soviet occupations of 1940 – 1941 and 1944-1990 as well as the Nazi occupation of 1941-1944. The similarities to the Russian invasion and occupation of Eastern Ukraine in 2022 are clear – the warning signs were already there in 2014 but the world chose to ignore them. History repeating.
The exhibits are numerous, graphic and disturbing and cover all aspects of the Soviet and Nazi occupations including protests, the resistance and partisan groups. The complex is deceivingly large and there are many prison cells as well as interrogation and torture chambers, exercise areas and an execution room that you can walk into. Not nice.
This small museum is hidden up a steep path but well signposted so you shouldn’t miss it. Exhibits relating to the Holocaust in Lithuania and life in the Ghettos are covered in detail. Another harrowing but necessary experience to take in when visiting the city.
The Tolerance Center [American spelling] is set in an old Jewish Theatre [English spelling] and has displays covering the history and culture of Lithuanian Jews [Litvaks]. The occupation, persecution and resistance of the Jewish people is also covered. On our visit the museum was having a facelift and the exhibits mainly consisted of a huge amount of writing which I would have preferred to have absorbed in book format as it was too much to take in.
The best part for us was the Samuel Bak Museum, an art gallery displaying work by the artist Samuel Bak – a Vilnius born survivor of the Ghetto. Drawing on his experiences in the ghetto, his work is post modern in style, powerful and evocative.
This museum is simply wonderful. A real immersive hands on experience. Leashia and I spent over two hours here and tried out and interacted with every exhibit.
We had a friendly and knowledgeable member of staff with us nearly all of the time which really enhanced our visit as they encouraged us and explained the science. We were never rushed. We absolutely loved it!
Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania
The original palace was demolished in the 19th Century, this reconstruction opened in 2009 and is now a wonderful museum housing a huge array of artifacts relating to the history of Lithuania and its role in Europe. The entrance leads to a grand courtyard and then you head underground which takes you right into the original foundations of the palace which is fascinating. Many finds that were discovered during the renovation are on display. The rooms are furnished in a range of styles befitting a Grand Duke or Duchess. I particularly liked the large tiled heating ovens that were present in the corner of many rooms.
The upper castle has had a turbulent history and now all that remains is the rebuilt tower which offers superb views over Vilnius.
The fun way to the tower is by the funicular and it means you can avoid huffing and puffing up the stairs. The tower has displays relating to the history of the castle and a floor dedicated to the anti Soviet Baltic Way protest of 1989. When we visited there was also a moving display of support of Ukraine by local school children.
Bastion of the Vilnius Defensive Wall Museum
The Bastion is pretty much all that remains of the original city wall and it has now been renovated and turned into an interesting weapons museum. Many of the exhibits are housed in the long tunnel underneath the tower. The views of Vilnius from the tower courtyard are pretty good.
The MO Museum opened in 2018 and has displays of modern art as well as film screenings and concerts. We never made it inside but enjoyed the works of art outside the modern building.
Churches, Cathedral and Synagogue
Eating and Drinking in Vilnius