I visit Europos Park on a bright, cold spring day. Intermittent rainfall exaggerates the sweet smell of pine in the air, and purple wildflowers carpet the soggy ground. Europos Park is an open-air art gallery, hidden away in woodlands about 20 kilometres outside the centre of Vilnius, Lithuania. It’s very pretty and peaceful here; so much so that I quickly get over the discomfort of wet socks and my annoyance at having worn entirely inappropriate footwear.
It’s an unlikely place, and Gintaras Karosas was an unlikely man to have built it, in the unlikeliest of times. It all began when he was a 19 year old art student, and heard that the geographical centre of Europe was actually in an area on the Northern outskirts of Vilnius. The idea of Vilnius being the centre of Europe inspired him. It was (and in places, still is) a controversial claim, but its position was confirmed by the FNGI in 1989. By that time, Karosas had already begun planning his own way of marking the spot.
Ok, so it wasn’t ‘the spot’ exactly – the actual spot is a few kilometres further North, but after a year of searching for the perfect place, Gintaras Karakos found a spot of neglected woodland and made it his mission to clear the trees and create an open air museum.
If you can imagine how difficult it is for a 22 year old art student to clear a forest and open a sculpture park, imagine how difficult it is when you’re trying to do it under Soviet rule and have to get permission from authorities, who are notoriously suspicious of artistic expression. In 1991 after Lithuania declared its freedom, Mr. Karosas finally got permission at least, but no real support – financial or otherwise – from either authorities or his professors. So alone, he set about chopping down and burning the trees himself, clearing a space in the Vilnius wilderness where he hoped to build his dreams. If that alone isn’t worth a visit to the park, I don’t know what is. Well, maybe the multiple sculptures…
Speaking of which, that same year he created the park’s first ever sculpture, a simple but poignant piece entitled ‘Symbol of Europas Park’ which is now, you may be surprised to hear, the official symbol of Europos Park. Bet you didn’t see that coming.
Two years and lots of hard work and harder lobbying later, he held the first international Artist’s symposium at the park, and began to add works from international artists. From there, it just kept growing, and more and more people began to visit. He built it, and they did come.
Today, the park covers 55 acres and houses over 100 works.The sculptures are interesting and beautiful, sometimes funny, sometimes dark, sometimes poignant – but always consciously in sync with their surroundings. Wood, bronze and stone are commonly used materials, and over the years many of the pieces have literally grown into their surroundings; covered in moss, hidden in the trees, and in some cases crumbling into the earth.
The result is that a walk around Europos Park feels like it’s still a forest, first and foremost. A gorgeous, quiet place to explore, with wildflowers growing and rare birds singing… but with over one hundred works of art to discover too. Among these are two by Dennis Oppenheim, the battered carcass of a Lenin statue leftover from Soviet time, a piece by Irish artist Laurent Mellet entitled ‘Requiem For A Dead Pony‘, the creepy-gorgeous ‘Lying Head‘ by Adomas Jacovskis which is this article’s featured image, and of course, the park’s most famous sculpture, the ‘LNK infotree’ (or the TV sculpture, as it’s more widely referred to).
You can pay for guided tours of Europos Park, but if you don’t want to shell out for one I honestly think you’ll be grand just wandering around the park on in your own time, discovering the different works as you go. Of course you won’t get some of the inside information that you will with the tour, but you can buy a guide book if you want more of the story behind the sculptures and there are maps available too to help you find your bearings.
There’s a café in the park where you can grab lunch or a coffee. The coffee is good. I drank lots of it, so I know. I didn’t eat there so I can’t comment on the food, but I will say that if I was going there again I’d 100% bring a picnic with me, and find a quiet little spot in the forest to enjoy it.
How to get there: If you haven’t rented a car, you can take the bus to the Park. It costs just €2 and departs from the Zalgirio Stop on Kalvariju Street. This isn’t exactly a regular service, so make sure you time your visit well. Take a look at the timetable and directions before you set off.
What it costs: Entrance to the park is €7.24 for adults and €3.19 for children at the time of writing. Oh, Lithuania recently switched currency from Litas to Euro and the price of everything had to be converted exactly, to avoid any skulduggery, hence the strange prices!
Flights to Vilnius
- Dee Murray