The area once housed a fort and the year 1831 marked the end of the November Uprising during which Poland sought independence from the Russian Empire. This resulted in the loss of some 40,000 men. Another rebellion, the January Uprising which lasted from 1863 to 1865, saw the loss of another 20,000. Many Lithuanian families weren’t able to retrieve the bodies of their loved ones, so they put up symbolic crosses where the former hill fort was located to honor them.
When Lithuania gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990, the amount of crosses grew to incredible numbers. The Hill of Crosses also gained international notoriety when Pope John Paul II visited in 1993 and prayed there.
The number of crosses left at the site continues to grow daily. Although the Hill of Crosses can appear somewhat haunting and eery, it stands as a reminder of the horrors of war and the fight for freedom across the world.