09-Sep-2007 -- The Geographical Centre of Europe was visited while staying in Vilnius for the “Second Lithuanian Swiss Geodetic Science Week“. This seminar was carried out as part of the cooperation between the Institute of Geodesy and Photogrammetry at ETH Zurich and the Institute of Geodesy at Vilnius Gediminas Technical University (VGTU). Geodesists have a certain affinity for computation of coordinates – so certainly a visit to the Geographic Centre of the European Continent was on the agenda.
Access to the point is trivial – in contrast to confluence points which are normally not signposted. The trip to the center point is easy when traveling by car from Vilnius in NNE direction on the main road A14 towards Utena. About 25km after leaving Vilnius the site is signposted to the left and reached 1 minute after the turn-off.
Even though locating the point doesn’t require a GPS receiver, I followed my habit to bring one and measure the discrepancy between mine and the official readings. At the monument (the centre of the star, picture #3) the WGS 84 coordinate reading was 54°54'23.7"N 25°19'09.3"E. The difference to the official coordinates is probably explained by taking a nearby boulder (picture #1) as the proper centre. Anyway, the location is somewhat arbitrary because there is no exact mathematical definition for such a Centre – is it where the lines between extreme points intersect? Or if the centre of gravity is the goal should islands count? Any Geographer returning from a trip to the Ural Mountain Range will have new findings that may shift the Centre. However, the discussion about the correct coordinates is a century-long debate and will be ongoing forever, since the results of any coordinate computation strongly depends on the country where the computation is carried out. Well, the French seem to make an exception here – probably because they didn’t find an algorithm that shifted the Centre into Paris.
For a more serious explanation why the “real” Centre is in the vicinity of the Lithuanian village Purnuškės let me repeat what the sign says:
Several countries claim to be at the heart of Europe, but according to the research of the French National Geographic Institute, the one and only geographical central point of the continent is in Lithuania, a fact that even won recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records.
In 1989, a group of French scientists from the institute announced that the geographical centre of Europe was just to the north of the Lithuanian capital Vilnius – 26 kilometres to be exact – near the village of Purnuškės.
The map references of their version of the centre of Europe are 54 degrees 54 minutes latitude and 25 degrees, 19 minutes longitude. These references were defined only after a re-estimation of the boundaries of the European continent. The northern point was defined at Spitsbergen (80°45'N – 20°35'E), the southern point in the Canary Islands (27°38'N – 17°58'W), the eastern point at the crest of the Urals (67°59'N – 66°10'E) and the western point in the Azores (39°27'N – 31°16'W). The boundary of the continent runs along the Kara River, the highest crest of the Urals, along the Ural River and the Caspian Sea, along to the Apsheron Peninsula, over the highest crests of the Caucasus mountains, through the Black Sea and the channels of the Dardanelle and the Bosphorus, along the eastern shore of the Aegean – the border between Greece and Turkey – and through the Mediterranean Sea and the Gibraltar channel. According to these estimates of the boundaries of Europe, the Canary Isles, Madeira and the Azores, were attached to Europe together with Iceland. The scientists did not take into account the location of Malta in the middle of the Mediterranean; however, this would change the location of the geographical centre of Europe by only 100 metres. Taking into consideration the precision of these calculations, Europe’s geographical centre could in fact be located at any point in Lithuania, having the form of an irregular square approximately 1100 metres north-south and 800 metres east-west.
A reserve for the European Geographical Centre was arranged in 1992. It covered Girija Lake, Bernotai Hill and a burial ground for pagans called an alkakalnis, as well as surrounding woods and fields.
On 1 May 2004, the date Lithuania entered the European Union, a famous Lithuanian sculptor Gediminas Jokubonis unveiled at the site his composition of a column of white granite, the top of which is rimmed by a crown of stars.
I am sure the true Centre of Europe is in Zurich-Seebach.
CP visit details:
- Time at the Centre: 14:00 pm
- Deviation time: ca. 1 hour (from Vilnius)
- Hiking distance: 400 m
- Distance to a road: ca. 500 km
- Topography: slightly hilly
- Position accuracy at the Centre: 8 m
- Weather: cloudy, 17° C (felt temperature)
- Location of the Centre: In the Eastern Part of Lithuania, north of the city of Vilnius.