In recent years Lithuanian cities have undergone urban layout transformations enhancing their public areas. The modernisation wave has also swept over the city squares, converting them from urban elements into flourishing social life hubs.
Despite the contemporary outlook, the country’s squares still stand today as monuments to Lithuania’s rich past. “When planning and building town squares now, urbanists are trying to add as many functions as possible—such as recreational, commercial, cultural, entertainment—and also make the spaces welcoming for people of all ages,” said Dalia Dijokienė, an architect and urban specialist.
Therefore wanderers chasing after Lithuanian cities’ characteristic secrets are sure to unearth some of them in their squares, where they can relax and people-watch and feel the past lying dormant under the contemporary facades.
Blending the natural elements with contemporary artwork
The architect suggests starting this journey into the urban jungle with one of the latest additions to a myriad of Lithuania’s squares—Vingriai Stream Square. With 700 years of rich history up its sleeve, Vilnius continues to prove its contemporary approach to city life and its urban elements. Vingriai Street, located in the heart of the center, has recently transformed from a road packed with cars to a tranquil oasis.
Water is the prevailing theme here, as the area used to be the oldest water supply reservoir for the city til 1914. The transition from a historically significant part of the town to a modern public recreation spot is also reflected in the artwork filling the area. Seven contemporary sculptures—a gift from the MO Museum located nearby—complement the benches shaped like waves and a tiny stream running across the pavement.
The passers-by are tempted to walk among the sculptures and draw inspiration from the local artistry or take a breather surrounded by the murmurs of the stream.
“Vilnius Vingriai Square is an exceptional example of urban architecture because it blends the contemporary with the city’s history. Also, it is in a prime spot because it opens up to striking views of the Old Town below,” the architect said. The square has become a spot for citizens to relax, recharge, get together, and interact with the surroundings.
Square immortalising public resistance
Another one of Vilnius’ squares gives a good glimpse into the country’s historical transformations. Adomas Mickevičius Square is a reminder of Lithuanian yearning for freedom. The square held one of the first public demonstrations against the Soviet occupation in 1987.
The square is also tucked away in the UNESCO-listed Old Town and adjoins Vilnius’ Gothic gem—the Church of St. Anne’s and Bernadine Complex. The church has not changed during the past five centuries, retaining the original facades as well as interior details, and bequeathing some old-world charm onto the square.
Now the space is widely visited by locals and city guests alike. Some reflect on the times past while admiring a monument built in honour of a Lithuanian and Polish poet Adomas Mickevičius (Adam Mickiewicz), while others take in the adjacent architectural jewels.
Urban spot recognized by prestigious awards
Moving towards central Lithuania in search of unique squares, travellers are encouraged to visit Kaunas, the second-largest city and the European Capital of Culture 2022. A few years ago, the city reconstructed its Unity Square, which has since scored several prestigious awards. In 2021 iF Design Award, one of the largest European design competitions, voted Kaunas Unity Square the best in Architecture Category for its outstanding architectural idea, form, and functionality. The renovated area also made it to the top 25 in the Rebirth Project category of the international Dezeen Awards back in 2020.
The square reflects the clash of history and rapid modernisation. It borders the Vytautas Magnus War Museum—an example of modernist architecture and one of the oldest museums in Lithuania, which symbolises Lithuanian perseverance and the fight for freedom. An eternal flame, first ignited in 1923, blazes in the museum’s garden, reminding its visitors of freedom’s sacrifices.
The contemporary look of the square blends easily into the surrounding historical buildings. Two fountains and a stretch of lush greenery invite the citizens for a serene stroll, while concrete sculptures are favoured by bikers, roller skaters, skateboarders, and other high-intensity sports aficionados.
Other Lithuanian cities can also boast of well-beloved squares, which have metamorphosed into twenty-first-century city life magnets for local and global wanderers.