The Hill of Crosses is a site near the city of Šiauliai, northern Lithuania. It has been built over hundreds of years by devoted pilgrims from all over the world. Not only crosses, but giant crucifixes, carvings of Lithuanian patriots, statues of the Virgin Mary and thousands of tiny effigies and rosaries have been brought here and assembled into a growing religious tribute.
The real reason for the Hill's existence lies buried in Lithuania's history. The nearby industrial town of Šiauliai was founded in around 1230 AD, and was occupied by Teutonic knights during the 14th century. The first crosses were placed on the Hill during this time, probably to represent the faith and resistance of local Lithuanians against the foreign invaders. Since then, the place has come to signify the peaceful endurance of Lithuanian Catholicism despite the threats it has faced throughout history. Invaded by Russia in 1610, Lithuania disappeared altogether in the partitions of Poland carried out between 1772 and 1795. When the political structure of Eastern Europe fell apart in 1918, Lithuania once again declared its independence. Throughout this time, the Hill of Crosses was used as a place for Lithuanians to pray for peace, for their country, and for the loved ones they had lost.
Most recently, the site took on a special significance during the years 1944-1991, when Lithuania was officially part of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. Continuing to travel to the Hill and leave their tributes, Lithuanians used it to demonstrate their allegiance to their original identity, religion and heritage. Although the Soviets worked hard to remove new crosses almost as soon as they arrived, and bulldozed the site at least three times, by 1985 they had given up.
On September 7, 1993, Pope John Paul II visited the Hill of Crosses, declaring it a place for hope, peace, love and sacrifice.