The legend of the Hill of Three Crosses in Vilnius

Monika Grinevičiūtė | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Like a protector of Vilnius, atop the hill, there stands tall the Monument of Three Crosses. Lying on the Hill of Three Crosses, also known as the Bald Hill, in Kalnai Park area, this monument is visible from every corner of the Old Town. Also, from the hill's observation deck, a magnificent view of Vilnius city opens. Nowadays, the Hill of Three Crosses is one of the most recognizable places in whole Vilnius; however, not everyone knows the mysterious history that this monument hides. Surrounded by dark woods and legends, this hill is the remainder of an ancient castle and the mysterious Franciscan friars

© iStock/MNStudio

The legend of the monks

The legends surrounding the Hill of Three Crosses can be neither disproved nor verified until nowadays. There are a few main versions of the stories of the Monument of Three Crosses. One of them is intertwined with the facts from the Bychowiec Chronicle. According to this chronicle, the 14 Franciscan monks were invited to Vilnius during the 14th century by the Lithuanian - Polish noble family. The visit of the monks and their behaviour in the city angered the people of Vilnius. Franciscan priests preached the gospel in public and badmouthed old Lithuanian gods. Pagan beliefs were widely alive among Vilnius people, resulting in all 14 friars being killed. Seven of them were beheaded on the hill where the Monument of Three Crosses stands. The legend says that the Three Crosses for the first time built there by the Christians in memory of the poor 14 monks killed there. Other legends have slightly different interpretations; nevertheless, despite the stories, it is known that the Three Crosses were built sometime before 1649. In that year, the crosses were depicted in a panegyric to Bishop Jerzy Tyszkiewicz

© Wikimedia Commons/Izidorius Girčys


According to historical references, the wooden Three Crosses stood on the hill till their collapse in the 2nd part of the 19th century. In that time, the Russian Tsar authority did not allow to rebuild them. Later on, during World War I, the German army occupied Vilnius. German authorities admitted to the crosses reconstruction; in that time, the crosses were reassembled from concrete material to last longer. Sadly, it remained only until the Soviet occupation. As Soviets loved to destroy everything on their way, the Three Crosses monument was demolished. But, it was not the end - almost 40 years had passed after the demolishing of the Three Crosses monument. During the Reform Movement of Lithuania, it was rebuilt again as a symbol of Lithuanian identity and resistance to the oppression of the Soviet Union. 

© iStock/dabldy

How to get there

Nowadays, the Hill of Three Crosses is loved and visited place in Vilnius. Many people admire this place for its magnificent panoramic views of Vilnius and the stunning sunsets. The hill is the highest point in Vilnius, even higher than the slope of Gediminas Tower. There are 3 ways to reach the hill: 2 widely known and 1 more secret that just the locals know. Those 2 conventional ways are also different - 1 is for cardio lovers and the 2nd much easier. If you are not afraid to climb up the 800 wooden stairs (good for the heart, but better to avoid it during the hot days) choose the path from Bernardinai Garden side. Head to tennis courts, cross the pedestrian bridge, and you will find the stairs. Good luck with that. The easier way to reach the hill is from the city center; to go from T. Koščiuška Street. Going up this road, you will find the Hill of Crosses without sweating. 

© iStock/MNStudio

The 3rd way is perfect for those who will be near the Užupis District. Go down the street of Kriviai (near Olandai Street), and you will see the house number 42. Follow the concrete path till the woods (left side of the road going from the Old Town side). When you reach the forest, turn to the left, and you will enter the hill called "Stalo Kalnas" (Table Hill). From there, the small wooden stairs will lead you to the Hill of Three Crosses. If you like to explore the new ways, try this road. 

© iStock/MNStudio

Even though the Hill of Three Crosses in Vilnius is surrounded by sad legend, nowadays, it is one of the monuments in Vilnius which symbolize Lithuanian freedom. The Three Crosses Monument is usually enlightened with Lithuanian flag, and sometimes even international flag colours, depending on the world events. The climbing up the hill is worth it because, from atop, you will reveal a magnificent view of the city below you. 

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