Travel Tip: the Uzupis District / Republic

by Travel Expressions - Vilnius, Lithuania -

Uzupis is a district situated on a hill along the Vilnele river. A kind of blending of town and village, on April 1, 1997 its inhabitants "officially" declared the area to be an independent republic, with its own president, flag, and constitution. This cheeky behavior is indicative of the district which is largely populated by Vilnius's Bohemian scene. It also is home to some pretty remarkable historic sights of its own, plus spectacular views of the city. This is the perfect neighborhood to get away from the city and walk around and explore.

Uzupis_multilingual_sign.jpg

Once home to craftsmen, weavers, and tradesmen, during the Soviet period the district was re-inhabited by artists, poets, musicians and squatters, many of whom have helped to restore the houses and set up galleries. While some of the area seems run-down there is a great richness of culture and offbeat beauty to see here. The architecture resembles the Old Town and the streets are lined with lovely old wooden houses. Locals refer to the area as “Montmartre” for its Bohemian free-spiritedness.

There are yearly festivals of alternative art and fashion. On April Fools day mock border guards stamp passports and the entire area, or Republic, erupts into a party.

Check out the “Border Sign” and Constitution Plaque, found on a wall in central Uzupis just around the corner of the statue of the angel. Articles are written in Lithuanian, English and French. It seems serious at first but upon further inspection you’ll see it’s also fun. Here are some of the statements of Uzupis’ constitution: 

  1. Everybody has the right to live by the River Vilnele and the River Vilnele has the right to flow by everyone. 
  2. Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation. 
  3. Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat. 

 

Here is the full Constitution translated into English.

Some of Uzupis’ other sites include St. Ann’s Church, one of the most beautiful churches in Vilnius and in Lithuania. Small in size but an incredible example of Gothic architecture. Another is Bernadine’s cemetery, one of the three oldest in the city, which dates to the 18th century and has over 14,000 burial sites.

Be sure to check out the Old Yards of Uzupis and the Banks of the River Vilnele. Make a trip to the Bartholomew Church, not so much of a stunner but perfect for spectacular views of the city. The Vilnius panoramas from Uzupis are marvelous in general. A must-see site is the Angel of Uzupis Statue. An 8m tall statue of an angel blowing a trumpet and standing on an egg.

Adding to the charm, the district also has a somewhat unexplainable but seemingly genuine fascination of and devotion to Frank Zappa.

For those who want a break from the noisy, touristy Old Town and want some a more relaxed, creative and humorous scene, take a trip Uzupis. A former major of Vilnius, Artūras Zuokas, even lives in Užupis and frequently takes part in the Republic’s events.

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