Photo Credit: Courtesy Šnipiškių cemetery and conversion of the Sports Palace into Congress center report.
Šnipiškių cemetery in Vilnius

The web page of the Vilnius Jewish Cemetery (Snipiskiu) in Vilniaus District, Vilnius City Municipality, yields the curt statement: “Cemetery doesn’t exist.” But right underneath that line someone else has written: “Kapinės neišliko,” which, according to Google Translate, means “The cemetery survived.”

An online, April 2015 document titled “Šnipiškių cemetery and conversion of the Sports Palace into Congress center,” issued by Kulturos Paveldo Departamentas (Department of Cultural Heritage), reads (original text kept intact):


Main historical dates

•Jewish cemetery is likely to have been built at the end of the sixteenth century in the then Fishermen suburbs in Šnipiškės

•1817: Šnipiškių cemetery is officially closed, but the last deceased is buried here in 1831

•1831: defensive fortifications of Vilnius fortress are erected in the central and southern part of Šnipiškių cemetery

•1878: Vilnius fortress replaced by a southern military town

•About 1949: complete liquidation of Šnipiškių cemetery. The territory, and the immediate surrounding area gets gradually built over with sports infrastructure

The document continues:

Key dates in heritage protection

•2006-07-04: The Sports Palace lists in the Register of Cultural Properties (a single facility of regional significance, of historical and architectural nature, not attributable to the category of state-protected heritage)

•2007-09-27: in response to an international outrage, proposals are made to amend protection provisions of Vilnius old town related to Šnipiškių cemetery

•2008-04-08: Šnipiškių cemetery listed in the Register of Cultural Properties as a cemetery (a single facility of regional significance, of memorial, historical and architectural nature)

•2009-08-26: DCH (Vilnius’ digital cultural heritage association) and CPJCE conclude an Agreement on the Protection of Šnipiškių Cemetery, in the presence of representatives of the Lithuanian Jewish Community and Vice-ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Culture

•2009-09-09: confirmed detailed plan for the development of the territory (T-2 and T-3) between the Neris River and the streets of Rinktinės, Šeimyniškių, Raitininkų

•2010-02-19: confirmed special plan for Šnipiškių cemetery, with territorial and buffer zone demarcations

•2014-07-01: listing Šnipiškių cemetery among state-protected heritage, with two protection objectives: public awareness and use and public respect

Next, the document lists the 2009 Agreement with CPJCE

•Šnipiškių cemetery boundaries approved as defined by the DCH Evaluation Council back in 2008

•The area of Mindaugo apartment center was included in the buffer zone

•It was agreed for the buffer zone of Šnipiškių cemetery to have three modes (A, B and C; so-called functional zones), which will be subject to different protection requirements

•Main concepts and provisions were agreed on the modalities for certain activities in the territory of Šnipiškių cemetery and its buffer zone, to match the interests of the Jews, the state and the investors

The document includes a long list of understandings between the City of Vilnius and the CPJCE over the protection of Jewish graves in two out of three areas of the construction site. It is clear that the works will be followed closely and that the possibility of damage to historic graves is contained.

Of course, from a purely aesthetic perspective, one could question the association of a remarkably important Jewish cemetery and a sports arena. But, that, of course, doesn’t come near the aesthetic problems associated with, say, the Maccabi Tel Aviv European basketball champion playing the Vilnius team right near the grave of the Vilna Gaon on a Friday night.

Vilnius Sport Palace / Photo credit: Peter Madsen /

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