Festivities, days we are all waiting for… This time I am going to talk about the 6th of July. To most of us, this day does say nothing. And indeed it is just a normal, anonymous day outside of Lithuania. Here, however, things are different and it is a state holiday: in particular, this year it was on a Friday, a wonderful opportunity to have a long weekend, especially for those, like me, that were not going to work on Saturday the 7th.
However, for Lithuanians it is not just the opportunity to rest one day more, and to have a weekend excursion to the seaside to invade beaches in Palanga or Jūrmala. The 6th of July is almost a sacred day in Lithuania, despite being completely unrelated with any religious celebrations. When people here talk about this day, their eyes enlighten, their voice becomes sharper, their enthusiasm grows and their right hand almost naturally goes to their heart. And what a heart! A heart that during 364 days per year is bright red, but during that day, the day when everything started, has three colours: “geltona, žalias, raudona”, yellow, green, red, the colours of the national flag.
It’s all true: everything started on a 6th of July, the 6th of July 1253, when Mindaugas was coronated King of Lithuania, the first and only king of this country. To be honest, there was at least another king in the history of Lithuania: less famous and not with the same luck, but still a king, Mindaugas II, but we will talk a little bit about him later.
We said that it all started on the 6th of July 1253, but all what? In four words: the history of Lithuania! Of course people used to inhabit this land since around 10000 BC, but it is only with the constitution of the Kingdom of Lithuania that Baltic tribes were unified under the same nation. The historical events that took place in this area are very interesting and are really worth studying, but they cannot be covered in a blog post. For our purposes, it is sufficient to know that after Mindaugas’s death, people who took power in Lithuania didn’t receive the title of kings, but of grand dukes, and that’s why Mindaugas is considered to be the first and only king here (a surprise is waiting for us at the end of the post).
I took the opportunity of this long weekend to visit, for the first time, the capital, Vilnius, founded by Gediminas in 1323, and to attend the official celebrations for the festivity, or at least part of them, since they run from the 1st to the 6th of July. These celebrations are actually better known as “Dainų šventė” or “Lithuanian song festival”, and are a great opportunity to get to know Lithuanian culture, with its traditional music and dances. During these days there are several events in Vilnius, and many people take part also from different parts of Lithuania. In the whole city there are numerous folkloristic events, some of them even free of charge, all day long. Unfortunately, arriving in Vilnius only on the 6th (together with my hitch-hiking mate Anna), I could see just the very final part of the events: the conclusive parade of all the folk groups involved during the previous days and the final evening concert in Vingis Park, with a choir of allegedly around 30,000 people.
After the final concert, all Lithuania stopped to sing its national anthem, “Tautiška giesmė”, exactly at 21. I was so lucky to witness this extraordinary event. What is even more incredible is that, according to quite a recent tradition, all Lithuanians in the world do the same and sing their anthem at 21 Lithuanian time. So that means that the Lithuanian community in Italy was singing at 20 and the Lithuanian community in Rio de Janeiro at 15. I want to sympathise with the Lithuanian community in Perth. Why? Check the time there when in Lithuania it was 21 and you understand 🙂
The other days, Saturday and Sunday, I had the opportunity, mostly together with other EVS volunteers coming from different parts of Lithuania, to visit Vilnius and to remain astonished by its impressive baroque architecture! In this sense, I regret living 270 km far from such a wonderful and vibrant city! Very interestingly, inside the city there is a neighbourhood that has declared its independence from Lithuania: it’s the Republic of Užupis, created by the artists of Vilnius. This little territory has its own constitution and it’s very picturesque: on a specific day each month it is even possible to get a stamp on your passport. Of course it’s all like a big joke, but it reminds me of what happened in Italy at the end of the 1960s with the Republic of Rose Island. In quite a similar way, a man-made platform on the sea some kilometres far from the town of Rimini declared its independence. They started also to mint coins and to produce their own stamps, with a good impact in terms of tourism (curious people that went there just to sort out what was going on). Unfortunately for them, however, the Italian government was much less tolerant than the Lithuanian one and after some written disputes our police took control of the territory and destroyed the base. Less poetical than Užupis, maybe, but at least more functional! 🙂
I want to conclude this post by talking a little bit, as promised, of Mindaugas II, just to prove wrong that the first Mindaugas was the only king of Lithuania. On the 16th of February 1918, during the First World War, Lithuania declared its first independence and, after a short period of instability, they decided to offer the throne to a noble German, Prince Wilhelm of Urach, who accepted on the 11th of July, with the name of Mindaugas II. After all, Germany was probably going to win the war, and a German king would have given protection to the newborn kingdom against possible future Russian invasions. However, things went differently, and Mindaugas II was never able to come to Lithuania. When the defeat of the German Empire started to be obvious, it was decided to withdraw the proposal to Prince Wilhelm of Urach and monarchy was definitely abolished.
The parade in Vilnius with some of the traditional groups that had performed the days before
Other members of the parade…. can you hear the trumpets?
No, they are not protesting! It’s still one of the numerous groups of the parade
The final countdown… No, I wasn’t at a concert of The Europe, just this was the stage of the final concert and we were waiting for 21 o’clock to sing the national anthem 🙂
A view of Vilnius after the parade… for an Italian it seems like 18, but probably it was almost midnight :))
Two lazy boys in Vilnius… come on, Francesco and Jorge, it’s time to go!!
Magical view of the city! You can admire the baroque architecture of the old town
Picture taken from the gates of the city: one of the main roads of the old town
Anna, Joseph and Alenka in Užupis
An Italian copy of the constitution of Užupis…. Anna, who invited you in this photo?? You have a Ukrainian version available after all! I’m joking, thank you for the company :)))