On my numerous visits to Vilnius in Lithuania I always find time to wander round the bohemian quarter called Uzupis which is sometimes compared to Monmartre in Paris or Christiania in Copenhagen.
On my most recent visit in September 2014 I came across toilets placed in the middle of the river (living art), photographs placed along the river sides as well as one of the funniest signs I have seen in a long time concerning apple eaters.
Užupis is a “republic” of artists. It has its own anthem, constitution (which is one of the funniest documents you will ever read!), president, bishop, two churches, one of the oldest graveyards in Vilnius (Bernardine Cemetery), seven bridges, and a guardian (the bronze angel of Užupis). The constitution of the Republic of Užupis is displayed on a fence at the beginning of Paupio Street (in over 20 languages).
This is one of the oldest districts in Vilnius and is mentioned in historic documents as early as the 16th century.
In earlier times, vanes of numerous mills could be seen turning here. It was the poorest suburb of the city and was inhabited mostly by craftsmen. At some point in its history, a red-light district was located nearby. In Soviet times, Užupis was badly neglected and had the notoriety of being the most dangerous district of Vilnius.
In time, artists came to settle in the cheap accommodation in Užupis; moreover, the Art Academy was situated right across the bridge. Alternative fashion festivals, concerts, exhibitions, poetry evenings, performances, and original Užupis festivities are now organised here. At the present time Užupis is one of the most prestigious and expensive districts in Vilnius.
The name Užupis means “place beyond the river”. The Vilnia River, often called Vilnelė, is an integral part of Užupis. It is therefore quite natural that one of the symbols of Užupis is a bronze mermaid, also known as the Užupis Mermaid, created by sculptor Romas Vilčiauskas. The mermaid occupies a special niche on the embankment of the Vilnia. It is said that it is the mermaid who attracts people from all over the world to Užupis. Those who surrender to her charm remain in Užupis forever.
A sculpture of an angel was placed in the central square of Užupis in 2002. The bronze angel, also created by sculptor Romas Vilčiauskas, has become the symbol of Užupis.
If you visit Vilnius then be sure to wander down to Uzupis district because you never know what surprising site may be around the next corner.