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About Lithuania » Vilnius

Vilnius

Some facts: Vilnius is the capital and the biggest city of Lithuania. Vilnius is situated in the south-eastern part of Lithuania at the confluence of the River Vilnelė and the River Neris. The distance from the Baltic Sea and Klaipėda, main Lithuania seaport, to Vilnius is 300 km, from Riga – 263 km, from Tallinn – 527 km, from Varsaw – 393 km. The population of Vilnius is about 550 000 – 57.8% are Lithuanians, 18.7% Polish, 14% Russians, 4% Belorussians, 0.5% Jews and the remaining 5% comprising some other nationalities.
History: Vilnius is one of the country's oldest cities. It stretches along both banks of the fast flowing Neris River, and is set among hills pine forests. Vilnius is very old city indeed. The honor for founding Vilnius is justly given to Gediminas (a Lithuanian Duke) in the year 1323. Having declared Vilnius his "royal town", Gediminas created the conditions for its subsequent growth as the political, economical and cultural center of Lithuania. The fortress on Castle Hill was used for defense purposes and was called the Upper Castle. Following the craftsmen in other European towns at the end of the 15th century, Vilnius craftsmen began to join together by professions into guilds. Many Catholic churches and monasteries appeared in the town. Stone buildings sprang up inside the Lower Castle. The new Cathedral was among them. Crafts and trade continued to develop in the 16th century. Many beautiful new buildings in the late Gothic and Renaissance style appeared in the town. The most significant event in the cultural life of 16th century Lithuania was the founding of the Vilnius Academy in 1579, which was endowed with the rights and privileges of a university. In 1795 Vilnius became the center of a new gubernia consisting of the lands annexed to the Russian Empire. A number of new Classical style buildings were built, including the Cathedral, which had been reconstructed at the end of the 18th century, a new town hall, and the Governor-Generals' Palace. In 1860, a railway, the first in Lithuania, crossed Vilnius and connected with St. Petersburg and Warsaw. During World War I Vilnius was occupied by the Kaiser's troops for three and a half years. On 16 February, 1918, Lithuanian Council in Vilnius proclaimed an independent Lithuanian Republic. In the autumn of 1920, Vilnius and the region to which it belonged were occupied by Poland. On October 10th, 1939, Lithuania and the Soviet Union signed a treaty on mutual aid, in accordance with which Vilnius and the Vilnius Region were returned to Lithuania. In 1940, Vilnius became the capital of Soviet Lithuania, which meant it was an administrative center of occupied Lithuania. On March 11th, 1990, the Supreme Council restored Lithuania's independence.
Town: Vilnius is a cosmopolitan city with diverse architecture. There are more than 40 churches in Vilnius to see. Restaurants, hotels and museums have sprouted since Lithuania declared independence, and young Vilnius residents are providing the city a reputation for being the most hospitable in the world as evidenced by the large membership of the Hospitality Club. Like most medieval towns, Vilnius has developed around its Town Hall. The main artery, Pilies Street, links the governor's palace and the Town Hall. Other streets meander through the palaces of feudal lords and landlords, churches, shops and craftsmen's workrooms. Narrow, curved streets and small cosy courtyards developed in the radial layout of the medieval Vilnius. The Old Town, historical centre of Vilnius, is one of the largest in Europe (3.6 km²). The most valuable historic and cultural sites are concentrated here. The buildings in the old town — there are nearly 1,500 — were built over several centuries, creating a splendid blend of many different architectural styles. Although Vilnius is often called a baroque city, here you will find some buildings of gothic, renaissance and other styles. The main sights of the city are the Gediminas Castle and the Cathedral Square, symbols of the capital. Their combination is also a gateway to the historic centre of the capital. Because of its uniqueness, the Old Town of Vilnius was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994.
What to see: Gates of Dawn. The 16th century Gates of Dawn originally formed part of the town fortifications, being built into the original city wall. In 1671 Carmelites from neighbouring St. Theresa’s built a chapel in the gates to house a holy image of the Virgin Mary, reputed for miracle-working powers. The chapel’s interior was refurbished in the neoclassical style in 1829 and should not be missed.

Cathedral. Once the site of a pagan monument, the first Christian church was thought to have been built here in 1251 by Grand Duke Mindaugas. The current construction dates back as far as 1419, but has suffered several fires and has gone through major reconstructions and renovations. Much of what is seen now was created between 1769 and 1820 by the architect L.Gucevičius in the French-classicist style. The Cathedral was closed by the Soviets in 1950 and used as a picture gallery. It was returned to the Catholic church in 1990. Highlights include its eleven chapels, in particular the High Baroque Chapel of St. Casimir, the patron saint of Lithuania. Built in 1636 to house the sarcophagus of the saint it is one of the national treasures of the country.

Lower Castle Museum. The lower castle is the most active archaeological site in Lithuania and is what's left of the elegant 16th century Royal Palace which was the main residence of Lithuania's grand dukes for about 300 years, before it was destroyed in the 19th century.

St Anne's Church. A much loved Vilnius landmark, and well deserving of the plethora of postcards and tourist guides that it fronts. While the first mention of a church in this location dates back to 1394, the current structure was designed by Benedikt Rejt from 1495-1500 (who also scribbled the plans for Vladislav Hall in the Prague Castle complex) and has survived pretty much intact. The beauty of the church speaks for itself, but one thing worth noting is that, unlike most churches, it is made with external bricks – 33 different kinds, in fact – and therefore has an almost handmade intricate charm. Legend has it that upon seeing the delightful and dainty church, Napoleon wanted to take it back to Paris in the palm of his hand.

National Museum. The museum houses an extensive ethnographic collection with exhibits illustrating the history of the people of Lithuania from the 13th century to the present. Sure, the sleigh which looks like a big elfin slipper will instantly impress, as will the 18th century toilet and the recreated rooms of Lithuanian village life; but it's when you pay attention to the details of the recent additions that this place really impresses. Small flecks of silver, for instance, are some of the earliest Lithuanian coins, found in 2002 at the site of the Lower Castle. Then there are those scraps of fabric, found among remains of Napoleon's soldiers recovered in the same year. Vilnius is still unearthing history, and this is the place to see it.

The Geographical Centre of Europe. Only 25 km to the North of Vilnius is the real centre of Europe. The National Institute of Geography of France marked it to be so in 1989. Centre of Europe you will find by driving Molėtai road up to the indicator to Bernotai. Approximately in 14 km from there there is the European Park. The aim of the open air museum is to give a sense to the geographical centre of Europe with the language of art.
The Open Air Museum of the Centre of Europe. This park was established in 1991 according to the initiative of the young sculptor Gintaras Karosas. The aim of the museum is to make the geographical centre of Europe essential with the help of the language of art. The sculptures, which are the works of sculptors from more than 70 countries worldwide, are exhibited in the open area of 55 ha. Among them one can see some of the works of famous modern artists such as S. LeWitt, M. Abakanowicz and D. Oppenheim. Every year, different artists representing different cultural traditions and international backgrounds add contribute some of their works to this beautiful park at the geographical centre of Europe. The wavy relief of the park and the small ponds build the perfect backgrounds for the sculptures. The blossoming meadows in spring, the harmony of colours in autumn, and the changing illumination of the day in summer create unique and breath-taking impressions that are certain to appeal to every taste. The European Park is one of the most visited places in cultural tourism in Lithuania. Some more than 40 thousand people arrive annually to enjoy the beautiful nature, to run away from daily life routine, to spend free time fruitfully, and to get close look at modern arts.
The monument of Frank Zappa. A monument to the famous American composer, guitarist and singer Frank Zappa was erected in 1995 – the first and the only in the world. Some people only need to know this to find a reason to visit Vilnius.
KGB Museum. During the Soviet occupation, people were tortured in the underground chambers. Now, former inmates are the guides who take you on excursions through the same KGB cells in which they were imprisoned.
Accommodation: Lithuania`s premier business and leisure destination, Vilnius, offers a wide range of accommodation to suit every taste and budget: from modern luxury hotels to bed-and-breakfast guesthouses. For your pleasant stay, Vilnius hotels place at your disposal a broad network of services: rooms designed to meet your work and leisure needs as well as saunas, swimming pools and fitness rooms, guarded car parking etc. Car hiring from economy models to top luxury models is also available.