Upon waking on my first morning in Vilnius, I was excited to hear from the hostel staff that my first day in Lithuania coincided with the Independence Day of Užupis. A self-proclaimed republic within the capital that I didn’t even know existed. Perfect! I headed off to explore. Here’s what I found out.
Located just across the Vilnia river from the old town, the name Užupis literally means ‘behind the river’. The independence day that I’d heard about is celebrated on April Fools Day and is mainly tongue in cheek, as are most aspects of the republic. Nonetheless, it still brings fun, colour and activity to Vilnius’ artist district. The republic has it’s own anthem, president and constitution- which you can read in numerous languages on silver plaques. The constitution includes phrases like “Everyone has the right to make mistakes”, “Everyone has the right to be happy”, “Everyone has the right to cry” and “A dog has the right to be a dog”.
While the district has undergone a revival in recent years, it’s actually one of Vilnius’ oldest districts, dating back to the 16th century when it was one of the city’s poorest areas. During the Soviet era the district went to ruin and was known as one of the roughest areas of the city. These days, the bohemian neighbourhood is full of murals, cafes and artist studios.