Grutas Park, in addition to being one of the top things to do in Lithuania is also one of its most interesting Soviet sites.
What is Grutas Park?
Grutas Park (Grūto Parkas in Lithuanian) is Lithuania’s sculpture park, a place where Soviet statues have been placed to preserve them and make them accessible to those who want to know more about the era as well as to keep them out of the main public eye given their association with an occupying totalitarian regime.
Established in 2001, Grutas Park has plenty of statues of Lenin, but local Lithuanian Communist Party officials are also represented, as is “Rusija” and other metaphorical tributes to the values of the USSR—as many as 86 along 2 km of paths.
The park also displays a variety of other relics from this period in history, giving a sense of the aesthetic and ideology of the time. If you’ve heard of or been to Hungary’s Memento Park, the idea is similar—better to collect all these statues in one place so they can be viewed within an explanatory context rather than destroy them, and the history they belong to, completely.
Table of Contents
- Entry to Grutas Park
- Exploring Grutas Park
- Tips for Visiting Lithuania’s Soviet Sculpture Park
- Getting to Grutas Park
Entry to Grutas Park
As you enter Lithuania’s Soviet sculpture park before buying a ticket, you walk down a path that is a strange mixture of wildlife and doom. Llamas frolic in an enclosed pasture around busts placed on concrete pillars.
Boxcar for Transporting Deportees
You can also examine a boxcar like those used to transport deportees to Siberia, complete with bucket chained to the wall and a high, narrow window. Stop to imagine the misery and hopelessness of deportation—the physical transportation conditions (crowded, unsanitary, hot, and uncertain) and the situation that met the deportees (separated from family and friends, absent proper supplies for survival, forced into hard labor in all weather conditions often without proper shelter or clothing).
The Mother of Kryzkalnis
You’ll pass the Kryzkalnis Moteris, or the Mother of Kryzkalnis (Kryzkalnis is a village in Lithuania) on the left, an 8 m high bronze sculpture of a woman holding a twig from an oak tree; she once stood on the Hill of Glory in this village with a group of sculptures representing military professions at her base.
Animals at Grutas Park
An enclosure for waterfowl is on the right, the start of the small zoo incorporated into the park near the playground, creating interest for children, since the statues themselves would most likely bore even the most curious child.
Exploring Grutas Park
You can follow either of the two major loops that form the park’s exposition, circling back to catch the second after the first because they intersect near the central start point for the main park area.
Types of Sculptures
Both feature sculptures that were removed from cities across Lithuania between 1989-1991, though the sculptures themselves are from the decades that Lithuania was under the yoke of the Soviet Union. Many of the sculptures are by Lithuanian artists.
And while Lenin and Stalin make their obligatory appearance, you’ll also see the faces of high-ranking Lithuanian Soviet officials in various styles. For example, the founders of the Communist Party of Lithuania, Vincas Mickevičius-Kapsukas and Zigmas Aleksa-Angarietis, are represented in stone.
History and information
Of particular interest is the information cards indicating the place that the statues originally appeared. If you’re familiar with any of the Lithuanian cities mentioned, you may be able to imagine the statues standing in those locations. For example, the park keeps the Lenin statue that used to appear in the middle of Lukiskiu Square, the former Red Square of Vilnius, located across from the KGB building (now the KGB Museum). One photo shows it intact; another presents it being torn from its base.
While many of the sculptures themselves are harsh, unyielding, and even sometimes scary, the sculpture park is lush and green, and you’re protected from the sun by the tree canopy. Part of the path also follows a small stream. The softness of the natural environment takes some of the power from the statues, especially when they are surrounded by rings of mushrooms, give purchase to moss, or become a nest for spiders.
Other Park Features
A variety of other features appear throughout Lithuania’s sculpture park. Stained glass murals—which are quite pretty—glow in the soft light of the forest, while tile mosaics lose their luster as they collect dust. Guard towers, further emphasizing the oppression of the time, blast out musical propaganda, and military machines greet you in their martial glory.
You can also visit some of the mini-museums throughout the park, which preserve those relics not able to withstand rain, sun, and snow, such as artworks from the era. Yellow kvas (gira in Lithuanian) tanks, which once held the popular and refreshing fermented drink so popular in the region, stand out among the trees, and a car bearing the word militzija in Cyrillic lettering adds to the character of the place.
Tips for Visiting Lithuania’s Soviet Sculpture Park
Grutas Park makes for pleasant walking even with the grim subject matter.
However, you should dress for the weather and wear comfortable shoes when you visit the sculpture park. Allot at least an hour of your time to view the park, take photos, and enjoy the forest environment that it has been established in.
On hot days, you may also want to bring a bottle of water. And because Lithuania’s weather can be wet at any time of year, if rain is forecasted, it’s better to be prepared with an umbrella than have to run for shelter.
The café on the premises of the sculpture park is one option for lunch, and you can eat either indoors or outdoors. You may also bring a picnic lunch and blanket and eat it on the bank of the pond near the parking lot.
Feel free to pop into the small souvenir shop. Kids can look at the animals or play in the expansive playground.
A toilet is located within the café. Another toilet is located outside the park, near the parking lot, but its cleanliness or the modernity of its plumbing cannot be vouched for.
Getting to Grutas Park
Grutas Park is about two hours from Vilnius and located near Druskininkai, a town in southern Lithuania known for its spa culture. If you want to drive, rent a car or take one of the readily available CityBee cars from Vilnius and take the A4 highway.
Regular bus service also goes from Vilnius to Druskininkai; you can hop off at the Grutas Park stop (it’s not a major bus stop, so ask your driver to alert you). However, be aware that you’ll have to walk a bit to reach the sculpture park, following a street lined with sweet little houses with gardens in the front and dogs barking in greeting.
From Druskininkai, you can catch bus No. 2 at the Druskininkai bus station, which you can also catch on the way back. You can also call a taxi using such service as eTAKSI, the app for which you can download on your phone.
You can enter the park and purchase a map of its monuments, exploring on your own without a guide. An optional audio guide is available in Lithuanian, English, German, French, or Polish.