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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Užupis is a district of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, partially located in the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its name means "on the other side of a river." That river is the Vilnia River which gave Vilnius its name. It is often compared to Montmartre in Paris. Today the district houses art galleries, artist workshops, and popular cafés.

Užupis is a small (about 148 acres) and isolated district. On one side it is separated from the Old Town by the Vilnia River, on the other there are steep hills, on the third there is an industrial area built under the Soviet rule. First bridges across the river were built in the 16th century. The district was inhabited mostly by Jews. Most of the original population vanished during the Holocaust and Jewish Cemetery was destroyed by the Soviets. Empty houses were occupied by criminals, tramps, and prostitutes.

Communities of Užupis

The district was one of the most neglected areas in the city before Lithuania declared independence in 1990. While it used to be a run down area with houses without any utilities, in recent times it is becoming an upmarket residential area, home to the city's artists and bohemians.

The residents have declared a tongue-in-cheek Republic of Užupis with its own flag, president, constitution, and even an army of 12 men. They celebrate this half-serious independence in annual Užupis Day on April Fool's Day. That day Užupis has its own currency, customs, elections, and carnivals. Artists are trying to create a sense of community through art and celebration. President of the Republic of Užupis is a poet, musician and film director Romas Lileikis. The first initiative undertaken by the community was building a monument for Frank Zappa.

Since Soviet times many famous artists live in Užupis or have their workshops there. Many young artists are squatting in abandoned buildings in Užupis near to Vilnia river.

Angel of Užupis

An angel has become a symbol of Užupis on April 4, 2001, when a statue was uncovered in the main square. The sculpture depicts an angel blowing a trumpet and symbolizes revival and artistic freedom of the district. Sometimes Užupis republic is also called Republic of Angels.

Before the permanent sculpture was put in place, a sculpture of an egg took its place, which became an object of various anecdotes. After decommissioning it was sold in an auction for 10,200 litas.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Užupis" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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