Vilnius Palace of Concerts and Sports is a huge concrete block standing on a former Jewish cemetery. It is for many years partly abandoned, now strange-looking object between newly built apartment houses in central Vilnius. What’s behind this?
The original name for Vilnius Palace of Concerts is Sporto Rūmai. Construction started in 1965 and was finished in 1971. The purpose of the construction was to be a place for people of Lithunaina to gather and watch sports and concerts approved by the communist government. In total 4400 people could take part in the same time. What to notice with the structure is a shape that’s reminding of a wave. A building in a similar architectural style can be found in Minsk, Belarus and Gdansk, Poland and is categorized as emblematic of Communist Modernism.
Except for the concerts, volleyball, and basketball was the most popular events in Sporto Rūmai.
But Vilnius Palace of Concerts and Sports was also the place for big gatherings of reforms in Soviet Lithuania. One of the key roles in the Lithuanian independence movement had the political organization Sąjūdis which hold its launch congress in the hall. And on the 13th of January year 1991, the funeral was held for the 13 people killed by Soviet forces in Vilnius TV tower.
Controversial Choice of Place to Build on
The place they choose to build this Palace of Concerts and Sports on was from the beginning a subject of protests. In fact, on the same spot as the building now stands, a Jewish cemetery was in service until 1831 when Russian authorities shut it down. The cemetery had existed since the 1600th but somehow, the area was sold to the city of Vilnius.
During the construction of a soccer stadium in 1949-1950, the cemetery was totally wiped out. The last monument från the Jewish site was taken away in 1955. Still, it was sensitive to build a place of entertainment in a former sacred place. Many Jews have as late as in 2016-2017, sent protests to a suggestion to transform the abandoned building, and instead wish the place to be honored. Even Lithuania’s Chief Rabbi was fired because he didn’t support the signatures with protest from 45.000 Jews of Lithuanian ancestry. Despite this, the Jewish head organization of Lithuania approved the plans to do new constructions on the site.
The Building Became Abandoned
Now to the thing that caught my attention – This huge abandoned building right in the city center of Vilnius. It was abandoned in the year 2004, because of risks to be unsafe. It was sold and the plan was to use the area to apartment buildings.
In 2006, the building was placed on the Vilnius list of cultural heritage buildings, and now all plans for a quick change stopped. The problem was as many times before, lack of funds. Even the EU didn’t want to pay any restoration of the building. And also, if a restoration should be made, the city didn’t have any use for its space. Meanwhile, the building continued to be used for different unofficial activities such as movies. In 2009, a ban was declared to enter and use the building because of the risk of collapse.
From the year 2013, the authorities tried to sell the building on auction. They said it was not too much effort to restore it. In 2015, three failed attempts to sell the building were made. Finally, in 2016, the plans for restoration are ready and some small maintenance begins. But, in 2017, the plans are canceled due to uncertain agreements with the contractor.
Until that is solved, this giant concrete block, shaped as a way, still is visible to all in Vilnius city center, in front of the Gediminas castle.