The Christmas metamorphosis of Vilnius city jail
Searching for a new identity, the grisly former prison will greet visitors with light installations and a water-sculpted Christmas tree
- 06 december 2019 19:30
- Plamen Petrov
Lukiškės prison, a hundred-years-old maximum-security confinement place in Vilnius built by Russian tzars, is not what a typical tourist attraction looks like. Now this is about to change, as this unwelcoming place will be transformed by an artistic experiment for Christmas.
From December 20 to January 5 (4pm to 10pm), the former prison will be open to visitors for free, putting a smile on its grim face with the help of light installations, a Christmas tree sculpted by water and other objects of experimental art, all dedicated to the topic of metamorphosis.
Lukiškės prison was built in 1902, when Lithuania was under Russian rule, and initially served as both a jail for pre-trial detention and a prison for punishment. In 1905 Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church was added to the complex, which also included administrative offices and prison officers’ apartments in an area of almost 2 ha. In Lithuania’s turbulent times, the prison was used consecutively by the Russian tzars, the German administration during WWI, the Polish government of Vilnius, the Lithuanian government in 1939-1940, the Soviets, the Germans during WWII, then again the Soviets and finally by the democratic Lithuanian government after the restoration of independence in 1990.
Most of the regimes used Lukiškės prison not only for punishment of criminals, but of their political opponents as well. So, because of the prison’s bad karma, Lithuanian authorities decided to close it. The relocation of prisoners and staff to other confinement facilities was completed in the summer of 2019 and the search for Lukiškės prison’s new identity began. Authorities simply had to follow the example of other ill-famed detention centers like Rakowiecka prison in Warsaw and La Modelo in Barcelona which were recently closed and converted to public spaces. And they did.
Public space and filming location
The Alternative Christmas Yard project, supported by the municipality, will completely transform the courtyard of the former prison for the holidays. Residents and guests of Vilnius will be greeted by various light installations that symbolize the transformation of the place, a water sculpture, serving as an alternative Christmas Tree, and interactive swings. The Alternative Christmas Yard will serve as an alternative meeting point and a substitute for traditional Christmas markets.
But what will happen with the former prison when the merriment of the Christmas holidays is over? It may well become a filming location, following the success of Netflix's series Young Wallander which was shot in the Lithuanian capital. According to local media reports, state enterprise Turto Bankas has been tasked with producing a concept by next spring on ways to adapt the former prison complex to a top-notch filming facility.
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