This summer I have been living and working in Vilnius, Lithuania as a 2016 US/ICOMOS International Exchange Program Intern (IEP).  ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) runs an exchange internship program where they match your skills and interests with an international host organization who has an internship placement available.  This year, there are eleven interns; four from abroad who have been placed with organizations throughout the US and the remainder from the US placed abroad to Jamaica, India, Istanbul and Lithuania.  I have been placed Lietuvos Paminklai (Lithuanian Monuments), a state enterprise that restores important sites including individual buildings, castles, museums and churches.  In addition to restoration work, Lietuvos Paminklai creates Special Plans for managing and restoring the heritage in cities and towns.

My internship started in Washington DC with a three-day orientation along with the other IEP interns before we departed on our separate journeys for the summer. During the orientation we learned more about ICOMOS’s work and goals, received tours of the restoration work of landmarks including the Washington National Cathedral and the US Capital, and met with amazing heritage professionals from the National Park Service, the American Planning Association, and other ICOMOS members.  We were also given our summer ICOMOS assignments, which includes tweeting our activities (follow me here: ).

At Lietuvos Paminklai my task for this summer has been to assist with the Special Plan for Trakai, which is on the World Heritage Tentative List. Trakai is a historic town about a half-hour from Vilnius that is known for its beautiful 14th century, red-brick castles surrounded by lakes.  In addition to the castles, monasteries, and religious buildings, the town of Trakai has an assortment of small, wooden houses which were inhabited by a mix of ethnic groups, most notably the Karaites.  My main assignment has been to collect and organize data on all the buildings in Trakai (over 400 buildings and out-buildings).  I have been documenting their addresses, styles, façade and roof materials, dates built, and gathering photographs of each building. In addition, I have been measuring their lengths, widths, heights, and distance from the street by using a mix of existing maps, photos, working in the field, and looking through the archives.  This information will be used for Paminklai’s Special Plan, which will help protect the natural and cultural resources in Trakai and form a policy for additions, changes, and development in the area.

In addition to documenting Trakai, I have met amazing people who dedicate their lives to saving Lithuania’s heritage.  I have been given personal tours by the architects of the reconstructed Lower Castle of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in Vilnius and the Paliesiaus manor.  I spent a few days in Kaunas with a colleague, which was the capital of Lithuania during the Polish occupation of Vilnius.  There we looked at the city’s Art Deco architecture (a potential World Heritage Site) and visited nearby manors, which have been abandoned after the Soviets nationalized them. I have received a tour of the restoration of textiles, paper, pottery and painting at the Pranas Gudynas Restoration Centre as well as many of Vilnius’s museums. Another highlight of my time here has been meeting Jonas Glemza, the ICOMOS Vice President of Central and Eastern Europe from 1981-1990, who has been an integral part of heritage protection in Lithuania through his books, lectures, associations, and restoration work.

My experience so far has been amazing. Vilnius is a beautiful and interesting city and everyone I have met is friendly, helpful, and proud to show off their country; I have been invited into people’s homes, attended dinner parties, invited to concerts, and taken to festivals, often alone with people I hadn’t even met yet (including my landlord’s sister!).  I’ve also had the chance to visit the historic cities of Tallinn, Estonia, Riga, Lativa, and will be in Sweden next week.

After I leave in early August, I’ll be heading back to D.C. for the final ICOMOS program. There, each intern will put together a board of their summer experiences, give a speech and participate in a panel discussion.  I’ve been assigned to the Climate Change panel, however since none of the heritage professionals I’ve met in the Baltic States have experienced nor worked with climate changes issues in relation to the built heritage, my research is proving more difficult than I thought!

A traditional wooden house in Trakai, a historic town outside Vilnius