16 Jan 2016

The Stories Of Vilnius Catacombs (And Basements)

There are two ways how I like to spend my weekends: the first scenario involves staying at home, eating homemade food and watching telly, the other one is all about going out to see something new. This weekend is quite active one, because it's both days are filled up with tours around (and under) the Vilnius city. 


"Have you ever wondered that a mysterious underground world may exist under your feet while walking in the streets of Vilnius old town? Through long history Vilnius has been repeatedly plagued by fires and wars. The houses in the old town were rebuilt, but some of the underground parts have remained since the old times."  

That's how the tour "The Stories Of  Vilnius Catacombs" is presented on a homepage of the entertainment agency "Vaiduokliai" (Eng."Ghosts"). And, oh boy, they sure know what they're talking about! 
   We started our tour (guided by a wonderfull tour guide Liuda) in the catacombs of Vilnius Cathedral. I have been there before, but since our historians and archaeologists find something new from time to time (or correct some theories), it's always interesting to listen to the guide's stories. 


Feeling claustrophobic yet? No?..

The passages of the Cathedral's catacombs are narrow and small, so it's quite complicated for tall people to navigate in there. There's also one thing with ancient crypts - they are so small that even if you think of yourself as a non claustrophobic person, you start to feel all sorts of thoughts creeping in...


... How about now?

... especially when on your right you notice few coffins (and they of course are not empty!), just laying on the ground, waiting for the day of Resurrection.


Well this really gives an atmosphere to the whole tour...

In the catacombs of Vilnius Cathedral you can see the oldest fresco (painted in XIV century) in Lithuania - Crucifix with Virgin Mary and Saint John. 



The oldest fresco in Lithuania

There are lots of things to see in these catacombs, but one of the most interesting bits are the coffins beloning to royal family. And the most famous of them all is the coffin of the Queen Barbora Radvilaitė (Barbara Radziwiłł).

The coffin of Queen Barbara Radziwiłł
Her love story reminds me the one of "Romeo and Juliet" and you can read more about it here (because I believe that Lithuanian readers know it quite well). 
In this basement you can see not only vaulted ceiling,
but also some beautiful examples of  Baltic amber

During this tour we saw some basements that belong to private houses. Luckily, the most impressive ones are open to public because they belong to few galleries and a museum. The one on the right is under the one of amber galleries in the old town. There you can see vaulted ceiling that is about 500 years old, but I also enjoyed the exibition of Baltic amber!
   In the basement of another amber gallery, we looked at even more astonishing exibition of all sorts of amber not only from Lithuania, but from all around the world! This basement is also famous for it's ceramic ovens from XVth century.

Ceramic ovens
Lithuanian amber

Basements in Vilnius were used not only for storing something or establishing workshops, but also for living. In some of them we saw small open fireplaces, all sorts of niches and so on. Hard to imagine people living there, but you can't argue with historical facts.

Fireplace in the basement where people once lived







The smell of moulds is strong everywhere, but, according to our guide, she is leading the tour for ten years and there are no effects to her health. However, not all places are safe and, for example, in the sewers of Vilnius some dangerous moulds are growing that can infest even smallest wounds. So, although there is a tour into these sewers, one must think twice before going there.

This wall belongs to the oldest dairy shop in Vilnius
We finished our tour in the Jewish Culture and Information Centre (in it's basement, to be exact), where an exposition called "Malina" (it's a code name for hideout) is displayed (you can read more about it here). Here we sayed goodbye to our guide Liuda and met another fascinating guide Rita (if I remember her name correctly). She told us the "long" version of the story about Vilnius ghetto, after which we could poke our heads into the recreated "malina".


I really liked this tour and our guide, so it was a real pleasure to spend three hours walking around (and under) the old town. I had been already in the catacombs of Cathedral and also in the "Malina" exposition before, but it's always interesting to hear new facts, details, another version about certain event because it's told by another guide. So if you have few hours to spair - I do recomend this tour! 


P.S. After that much walking and standing, we really wanted to eat so Vincas and I tried new burger place called "Boom! Burgers". It's burgers are one of the best that I have ate in Vilnius, so this is another place that I can recommend! 







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