For a tiny country way off at the edge of Europe, Lithuania has some pretty impressive claims to fame. You’ve probably even seen a few of their athletes on TV, with those long names full of endless consonant strings and funny accent marks. Want to learn more? How about perusing some fun and interesting facts about Lithuania?
It’s regained its independence and has been growing fast, rejoining the Western world, and moving higher up on the backpacker radar ever year. So let’s learn a thing or two, shall we?
- Lithuania used to be huge. Back in the 1400s it was one of the biggest countries in Europe, whose territory included most of modern-day Belarus and western Ukraine. It even teamed up with Poland to form the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for a few hundred years, until it was carved up by surrounding European powers.
- The first school dates back to 1387, at Vilnius Cathedral.
- Lithuania had a brief history of independence after WWI, but was soon incorporated into the Soviet Union, followed by Nazi conquest, and Soviet conquest again.
- This tiny country was the first to declare independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, leading the way for other countries to break free from the USSR soon after.
- Lithuania’s economy was the fastest growing in Europe throughout much of the 2000s, though the global economic crisis of 2008 did some damage.
- Lithuania only ever had a single king: Mindaugas, who united the tribes and established a monarchy, but was assassinated a few decades later.
- Of all the Baltic states, Lithuanians are most closely related to Latvians, rather Estonians, who are more Nordic than Baltic. Even so, Lithuanians and Latvians aren’t very closely related.
- Of all Indo-European languages, Lithuanian is considered to have changed the least over the years, and is thus valuable for the study of linguistic development.
- In their own language, the country is called Lietuva.
- Due to its former Soviet history, Lithuania is multicultural, though not quite as much as the other countries in the Baltic region. Ethnic Lithuanians comprise about 84% of the population, with Russians and Poles accounting for most of the rest.
- The colors of the Lithuanian flag are the same colors as a stoplight. Not the same order, though.
- Though Lithuania has experienced quite a few periods of Russification and other attempts to marginalize its culture, the language and other practices managed to survive, thanks to smuggled books and secret home schooling practices.
- Basketball is the country’s national sport, and the team is ranked third worldwide. Several players have even joined the NBA.
- In Lithuania, the Easter Bunny doesn’t bring you Easter eggs. Easter Granny does. If you think that’s weird, remember that she’s the only one of those two with opposable thumbs.
- Though Christianity has existed there for hundreds of years, many old-fashioned pagan traditions still exist, often integrated into the Christian proceedings.
- Lithuania is the only country in the world with its own official scent, called the Scent of Lithuania.
- Lithuania––yes, little Lithuania––has the fastest internet speeds in the world, as of 2011.
- Forest covers 1/3 of the country, including many protected regions and national parks.
- Lithuania is one of several countries vying for recognition as containing the geographical center of Europe, just north of Vilnius.
- The national bird is the stork, as many of them make their homes in the rural areas of the country.
- Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis was an internationally known composer, who created 200 pieces of music during his relatively brief life.
- Several Lithuanians have become NBA players, though perhaps most famous is Arvydas Sabonis, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
- Žydrūnas Savickas has won the World’s Strongest Man competition, and also happens to be the most decorated strength competitor of all time. They call him Big Z.
- Famous second-generation Lithuanians include the founder of Zemaitis guitars, and Anthony Kiedis. Sean Penn has some ancestry from there as well.
Have fun in Lithuania!
So now that you know a few fun facts about Lithuania, you’ll probably want to visit someday. Don’t worry about pronouncing those names, though. You’ll never be able to do it, and they speak enough English and are friendly enough that it’ll all be okay.