Visitors Flock to See Lithuanian Christmas Tree That Resembles Chess Piece

Annual Christmas tree lighting in Vilnius, Lithuania. Saulius Žiūra

Every holiday season, the city of Vilnius — Lithuania's capital — welcomes the season by erecting an unusual, massive Christmas tree in the city's central Cathedral Square and Old Town area. Lit with 70,000 lights, this year's tree is 27 meters (88 feet) tall and was created from about 6,000 spruce branches. The branches weren't cut down just to form the tree; they were left over from workers who were doing general maintenance in the surrounding forests.

The sparkling blue-and-white regal creation resembles a chess queen. The actual chess figure used as a model for the tree was found by archaeologists in 2007 during excavations around the Ducal Palace in Vilnius. Dating to the 14th or 15th century, the piece was made from a spindle tree. Its center was carved with geometrical patterns and then topped by floral designs. The city's tourism agency says historians have found that chess was a favorite game played by Lithuanian nobility.

There is a Christmas market set up in the area surrounding the Vilnius Christmas tree.
There is a Christmas market set up in the area surrounding the Vilnius Christmas tree. Gabrielius Tamosiunas and Gabrielius Khiterer

The dazzling tree isn't the only draw for visitors in Vilinius. A traditional Christmas market offers crafts, sweets and other holiday fare. Visitors also flock to the area for a Christmas train and an ice skating rink.

This year, Brussels-based travel organization European Best Destinations named the Vilnius Christmas tree the most beautiful in Europe. The designation was based on votes from more than 14,000 travelers from 82 countries.

"It is the most beautiful Christmas tree in Europe," the site declared. "The Vilnius Christmas tree is stunning! Get to the bustling streets, watch the Christmas tree and be amazed by the decorations in the Old Town."