Tuesday, 4 December 2012



Šiauliai is the fourth largest city in Lithuania.  From 1994 to 2010 it was the capital of Šiauliai County. Unofficially, the city is the capital of Northern Lithuania.

The city was first mentioned in written sources as Soule in Livonian Order chronicles describing the battle of Saule. Thus the city's founding date is now considered to be September 22, 1236, the same date when the battle took place, not far from Šiauliai. At first it developed as a defense post against the raids by the Teutonic and Livonian Orders. After the battle of Grunwald in 1410, the raids stopped and Šiauliai started to develop as an agricultural settlement. In 1445, a wooden church was built. It was replaced in 1634 with the brick church which can be seen in the city centre today.

Šiauliai was granted Magdeburg city rights in 1589. In the 16th century it became an administrative center of the area. However, in the 17th and 18th centuries the city was devastated by The Deluge and epidemics of the Bubonic plague.

The credit for the city's rebirth goes to Antoni Tyzenhaus (1733–1785) who after a violent revolt of peasants of the Crown properties in the Northern Lithuania (so-called in Polish: Powstanie Szawelskie, 1769), started the radical economic and urban reforms. He decided to rebuilt the city according to the Classicism ideas: at first houses were built randomly in a radial shape, but Tyzenhaus decided to build the city in an orderly rectangular grid. Šiauliai grew to become a well-developed city, with several prominent brick buildings. In 1791 Stanisław August Poniatowski, king of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, confirmed once again that Šiauliai's city rights and granted it a coat of arms which depicted a bear, the symbol of Samogitia, the Eye of Providence, and a red bull, the symbol of the Poniatowski family. The modern coat of arms has been modeled after this version.

After the Partitions of Poland, Šiauliai got a new coat of arms. The city grew and became an important educational and cultural center. Also, infrastructure was rapidly developing: in 1836–1858 a road connecting Riga and Tilsit was built, in 1871 a railroad connecting Liepāja with Romny was built. Šiauliai, being in a crossroad of important merchant routes, started to develop as an industrial town. Already in 1897 it was the third largest city in Lithuania with population of about 16,000. The demographics changed also: 56.4% of the inhabitants were Jewish in 1909. Šiauliai was known for its leather industry. Chaim Frenkel owned the biggest leather factory in the Russian Empire.

During World War I, about 65% of the buildings were burned down and the city center was destroyed. After the war and re-establishment of Lithuania, the importance of Šiauliai grew. Before Klaipėda was attached to Lithuania, the city was second after Kaunas by population size. By 1929 the city center was rebuilt. Modern utilities were also included: streets were lighted, it had public transportation, telephone and telegraph lines, water supply network and sewer.

The first independence years were difficult because the industrial city lost its markets in Russia. It needed to find new clients in Western Europe. Culture also flourished as many new periodicals were printed, new schools and universities opened, a library, theater, museum, and normal school were opened.

In 1939, one fifth of the city's population was Jewish. German soldiers entered Šiauliai on June 26, 1941. According to one of the Jewish survivors of Šiauliai, Nesse Godin, some 700 people were shot in nearby woods during the first weeks of occupation after having been forced to dig their own graves. The Šiauliai Ghetto was established in July 1941. 

There were two Jewish ghetto areas in Šiauliai, one in the Kaukas suburb, and one in Trakų. During World War II, the Jewish population was reduced from 8,000 to 500. About 80% of the buildings were destroyed.

The city was largely rebuilt anew in a typical Soviet fashion during the years of subsequent Soviet occupation.

                                                        Šiauliai’s Top 5:
  1. Šiauliai Cathedral A Samogitian elder M. Kęsgaila built the first wooden church in Šiauliai in 1445. Later, the church was destroyed several times, burned down, until it got its present form – Renaissance style, one towered, with six wall apse. When pope John Paul II established Šiauliai Diocese, the church became a Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul. The church is painted from inside and outside with two shades of white. The Cathedral is surrounded by a brick wall with small watch towers at corners and firing openings. On the southern wall of the building you can see a sundial and external lighting, which has several control programs. The lighting is switched on during all church and Šiauliai city festivities.
  2. Sundial Square and the Golden Boy. The  750th anniversary of the city's existence in 1986 motivated the proper acknowledgment of the significance of this date. The competition for the reconstruction of the square was announced in 1981, and it was won by a trio of architects from Šiauliai: A. Černiauskas, R. Jurėla and A. Vyšniūnas. The centrepiece of Sundial Square is the gilded and bronze-ornamented decorative sculpture Šaulys (Archer) by Stanislovas Kuzma. It is almost four metres high. The sculpture, often referred to as the Golden Boy, and the numbers 12, 3 and 6, indicating the hours and infused into the pavement of the square in a way unify the three symbols of Šiauliai: the sun, representing the Battle of the Sun that took place on the city grounds, the archer that the city's name derives from, and the time that has passed since the name of the city was mentioned for the first time (in 1236). It is the highest sundial in Lithuania.
  3. “Cockerel” Clock Square Intersection of Vilniaus and Tilžės Streets. In 2003, the city of Šiauliai was celebrating its 767th anniversary, and one of its renewed symbols, the Cockerel, crowed: "Come on a date". Couples in love or business people agree to meet here: "We'll meet at the Cockerel". Now, the city symbol not only crows, but it also greets passers-by: "Welcome to Šiauliai." The greeting is uttered in English, German, French, Russian, Spanish, Esperanto, Hebrew, Swedish, Romany, and other languages.
  4. The Battle of the sun window. Lithuania's biggest stained glass window, "The Battle of the Sun", by Professor Kazys Morkūnas, is situated in the "Sun" concert hall. Its width is 200 square metres (length - 52 m.). It depicts the 1236 battle between the Lithuanian and Livonian Order armies and commemorates the 750th anniversary since the name of Šiauliai was first mentioned in historical chronicles.
  5. Hill of Crosses is a national centre of pilgrimage in Lithuania. Standing upon a small hill are many hundreds of thousands of crosses that represent Christian devotion and a memorial to Lithuanian national identity. Over the centuries, the Hill has come to signify the peaceful endurance of Lithuanian Catholicism. After the 3rd partition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, Lithuania became part of the Russian Empire. 
    Poles and Lithuanians unsuccessfully rebelled against Russian authorities in 1831 and 1863. The two uprisings are thought to be connected with the contemporary use of the hill as a religious site. When families could not locate bodies of perished rebels during the uprisings, they started putting up symbolic crosses in the location of a former hill fort. In 1961, 1973 and 1975 the Hill was cleared and the crosses were burned or turned into scrap metal with the area being covered with waste to discourage further similar activities at the site. On each occasion the local inhabitants and pilgrims from all over Lithuania replaced the crosses on the hill. The hill is currently visited by many thousands of visitors and pilgrims from all over the world. The current number of crosses is unknown. Estimates put it at about 55,000 in 1990 and by 2006 the number had grown to an estimated 100,000.


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