by Dinh-Long Pham
In March, Danielle Robles brought you to Freetown Christiania--today, it’s time to visit its little sister Užupis, in Vilnius, Luthuania.
Užupis, which means “the other side of the river” in Lithuanian, is surrounded by the Vilnelė River and is a peaceful haven. During the Communist Era, Užupis district was rather neglected and suffered from a lack of utilities. It was a ghetto of sorts--a place where people who didn't fit in the system would often find themselves. However, in the wake of independence, as locals pressed for better conditions in the district, the Republic of Užupis was born. With the new democracy came a flag, a president, an army, an anthem, a currency, and even a Constitution!
Their Constitution is just as much a piece of art (Article 12: “A dog has the right to be a dog”) as a serious reminder of Lithuania’s history (Article 31: “Everyone has the right to be independent”). The Constitution can be found on Paupio Street, along with 22 others; all translated into different languages by volunteers.
Today, around 7,000 people live within the 148-acre Republic. The most striking part of the district is undoubtedly the area that boasts an art gallery, murals, and sculptures everywhere. Though it may be less alternative than it once was (it is now a well-regulated district and a key spot for tourism!), it has controversial potential (i.e. when you come across pieces like Backpacking Jesus!). It's a real treat to stroll around while taking in the vibrant street art, to be surround by the national flags everywhere, to sit on the river swing, to gaze at the Angel of Užupis, and to experience all of the majestic things Užupis has to offer.
In a nutshell, Užupis is an inspiring place that brings the basics of life in a community and transforms it into something magical--an enjoyable retreat from reality to say the least.