The self-proclaimed “Republic” of Užupis is Vilnius’ Bohemian and artistic district. It has its own anthem, constitution, president, bishop, two churches, the Bernadine Cemetery – one of the oldest in the city -, seven bridges, and its own guardian called The Bronze Angel of Užupis, who was put in the centre of the district in 2002.
Dating back to the 16th century, Užupis is one of Vilnius’ oldest districts and despite its current prestigious status, was formerly the city’s poorest area and home to a number of manual workers and a red light-district.
During the Soviet era, the authorities let Užupis go to ruin, and it quickly gained notoriety as the roughest districts in the city. Since Lithuania regained its independence in 1991, artists came and took advantage of the cheap accommodation, and moreover, the city’s art academy is located across the bridge from Bernadinų Gardens. Now its thriving creative community hosts regular fashion festivals, concerts, exhibitions and poetry evenings.
In Lithuanian, Užupis means ‘behind the river’ and this is proclaimed in a number of languages on its entrance sign. The Vilnelė is the district’s river, and is home to Lithuania’s only mermaid – she’s not real, don’t worry! But she lives on the embankment, and those who give in to her charms will remain in Užupis forever.