VILNIUS - CHARMING CAPITAL OF LITHUANIA
Along this street one finds the important national institutions of the Seimas (Parliament) of the Republic of Lithuania and the National Martynas Mažvydas Library, as well as banks, hotels, luxurious shops, restaurants and cafés.
GEDIMINAS TOWER OF THE UPPER CASTLE
According to the legend found in the Chronicle of Lithuania, the castle on the Castle Hill was founded by Grand Duke of Lithuania Gediminas. He once had a prophetical dream. In his dream he saw an iron wolf standing on this place and howling like hundred wolves. The pagan priest Lizdeika interpreted this dream as the will of the Gods. Gediminas should build a castle and a city that would soon become famous and prosperous, and would be unassailable for enemies. According to other historical facts, there had already been large settlements on the banks of the Vilnia River and Gediminas chose this place for the construction of the new town because of its favourable and very good geographical location.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF LITHUANIA
The Museum houses main collections of archaeology, history and ethnic culture of Lithuania. It is situated in the historical centre of Lithuania – in the buildings of the Vilnius Castle complex. Today the Museum has over 998 thousand exhibits. It organises expeditions of ethnic culture researchers and historians, carries out archaeological excavations. More than half the exhibits of the museums of Lithuania to be restored, are restored at the Restoration Centre. There is a specialised library and the archive at the Museum. Expositions of archaeology, history, ethnic culture and thematic exhibitions illustrate the development of history and culture of Lithuania. More than 250 thousand people visit the Museum every year. The Museum has guided tours.
PILIES AND DIDZIOJI STREET
Didžioji (‘Main’) Street is one of Vilnius’ oldest streets. It starts at Subačiaus Street and extends to Šv. Jono (Saint John’s) Street. Its further extension is Pilies (‘Castle’) Street, which formerly was considered to be one street along with Didžioji Street, and it was called Didžioji Pilies gatvė (‘Castle Main Street’). These two streets are among the most visited by local townspeople and by visitors. Here you will find all that you seek: luxurious boutiques, coffee shops, cultural centres, embassies, night clubs, souvenir sellers and the happy hubbub of the city.
THE CATHEDRAL (St Stanislaus and St Vladislav Cathedral)
It is thought that the first church was established in 1251 by Grand Duke Mindaugas, following his conversion. Many Grand Dukes of Lithuania were crowned and many of them are buried there. With the passing of time the cathedral had to be rebuilt several times due to fires, and was remodelled in more modern styles. In the 18th century the building took on its present form in the strict classical style. The Cathedral has more than ten chapels in their original form, which contain many historic and art monuments.
THE CHURCH OF ST PETER AND ST PAUL
St Peter and Paul’s Church is a masterpiece of the 17th-century Baroque famous for its exceptional interior where one can see about 2,000 stucco figures. Legend has it that there was a temple of the pagan goddess Milda on this site. Once there was a wooden church there, which was destroyed during the time of wars with Moscow. The present Church was built by Hetman Mykolas Kazimieras Pacas who wanted to perpetuate Vilnius liberation from Russians. The Church acquired its present appearance in 1676, later it was adorned with stucco, frescoes. At the beginning of the 19th century its Rococo pulpit was made. To commemorate the visit of Pope John Paul II to Lithuania and Vilnius, the square in front of the church was named after him.
THE ENSEMBLE OF THE CHIRCH OF ST ANNE AND THE CHURCH OF ST ANNE AND THE CHURCH OF ST FRANCIS AND ST BERNARDINO
One of the most impressive architectural masterpieces of the Vilnius Old Town is Šv. Onos (Saint Anne’s) Church, built in the late 15th–early 16th centuries. This is the most outstanding and enchanting Late Gothic building in Lithuania. It is constructed from 33 different kinds of clay bricks, presented an astounding example of the inventiveness and boldness of the master masons of the time. Legend has it that Napoléon Bonaparte was enchanted by the church’s beauty, and he wished that he could magically transport it to Paris in the palm of his hand.
Šv. Pranciškaus ir Bernardino (Saints Francis and Bernardine) Church, commonly referred to as the Bernardine Church, was built at the end of the 15th century. It is one of the largest Gothic sacred buildings in Lithuania. Later the church was incorporated into the city’s defensive structures, which is why it has guard towers with archers’ holes. After rebuilding in the 16th–17th centuries the church took on aspects of Renaissance and Baroque style. The church is currently undergoing restoration, and archaeological investigations are taking place simultaneously.
THE GATES OF DAWN
The Gates of Dawn is one of the most visited shrines in Vilnius that is famous not only in Lithuania but also abroad, worshipped by the representatives of other creeds too. This is the only surviving gate of the first original five gates in the city wall that was built between 1503 and 1522. The gates were first mentioned in 1514. At first the Gates of Dawn were called the Medininkai Gate, as it is on the road to Medininkai, in Polish Ostra Brama, the “Sharp Gate” because they were in the southern end of the city, which was called the Sharp. Later, due to the cult of the Virgin Mary they could be related to the sunrise, dawn. The painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy, in the Chapel of the Gates of Dawn is known all over the world. Many churches in other countries have copies of this painting. The picture, which is also called “Vilnius Madonna”, was painted in 17th century. It is painted in the renaissance style, in tempera on oak boards, later repainted in oil. Since the middle of the 17th century it has been said to have miracle-working powers. The Holy Mother of God of the Gates of Dawn has been granted the title of Mother of Mercy twice.
THE MUSEUM OF GENOCIDE VICTIMS
This is a historical-memorial museum forming its collections following thematic principle. Historical-documentary material reflecting repression taken against the inhabitants of Lithuania by occupational regimes (1940-1990), material on the anti-Soviet and anti-Nazi resistance, information about participants of struggles for freedom and victims of genocide are accumulated.
THE PRESIDENTAL PALACE
This building is of the late Classical – the empire style (the 19th century). From the time of Lithuania’s conversion to Christianity, in 1387, to the country’s annexation by the Russian Empire in 1795, this was the site of the Bishop of Vilnius’s palace. It was taken over as a residence by the Russian governor; and in 1812, when the French army marched through, Emperor Napoleon of France stayed here. In 1997 it was converted for use as the President’s Office.
THE REPUBLIC OF UZUPIS
Užupis is one of the oldest districts of Vilnius, mentioned in the historical sources as far back as the 16th century. Once it was called the “salt road” to Polock. In olden times it was the suburb where the poor and mainly craftsmen, lived. There were many mills and at one time it was even the brothel district.
Today Užupis is a “unique republic”! A colourful and alive island, separated from the city by the Vilnia River. Užupis is a recognised district for artists and won the name of the most mysterious and romantic district of Vilnius. Užupis is the artists’ “republic”, which has its own constitution, national anthem, calendar and map. It also has its President, Prime Minister, Ambassadors from many countries of the world, military force (consisting of 12 people), a bishop, two churches, the Bernardino cemetery, which is the oldest cemetery in Vilnius, seven bridges and a wonderful patron saint– the bronze Užupis Angel erected in its main square.
THE TELEVISION TOWER
The Television Tower is one of the tallest buildings in Eastern Europe. It is 326,5 metres high. A photographic exhibition devoted to fourteen unarmed civilians who were killed during the tragic events of 13 January 1991 is mounted on the ground floor. Crosses and monuments near the entrance perpetuate one of the country’s biggest fights for independence. The tower is open to visitors: a lift takes them in 45 seconds up to an observation platform. This is a circular room (at the height of 165 metres), which revolves slowly, taking about one hour to complete one revolution. There is a café, and viewers can appreciate a spectacular view of Vilnius and even of the panorama of the surrounding countryside within the radius of 50 kilometres.
THE TOWN HALL
The first Town Hall was built in this place as far back as the 15th century. In its time the magistrate was housed here, the court held its sittings, the treasury, the archives, and arms were kept here. The present Town Hall was constructed at the end of the 18th century by the Classical architect Laurynas Stuoka-Gucevičius. The Town Hall Square has always been the economic, administrative and social centre of the city. Important trade roads led to the Square, which in turn became the streets of the city.
Vilnius University is situated to the West of Daukanto aikštė and takes up a whole block in the Old Town between Šv. Jono, Skapo and Universiteto streets. The buildings are a collection of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical styles. The campus is arranged around twelve closed courtyards. The most prominent features of the Great Courtyard are the tallest Church of St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist (the 14th – 18th centuries) and the tallest bell tower. Vilnius University is one of the oldest universities in Eastern Europe. The University started from a Collegium, which was established by the Order of the Jesuits who came to Lithuania to fight against the spreading Reformation. In 1579, Stephen Bathory, the elected King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, conferred on it the status of university. The Library of the University, established in 1570, stores especially rich collections of old and rare publications, the first printed books and maps.
VILNIUS PICTURE GALLERY
The Vilnius Picture Gallery was founded in 1956. The first exposition was on display at Vilnius Cathedral from 1956 to 1989. In 1994 the Gallery was transferred into the Chodkevičius (noblemen of Lithuania) Mansion, which, at the present time, is one of the most interesting ensembles of the style of Classicism in Lithuania. The exposition of the Gallery consists of historical interiors (six introductory halls) and 17 exhibition halls, where Lithuanian art of the 16th- the beginning of the 20th century is on display. The introductory halls of the first floor show what the interior of the mansion looked like, and the development of Lithuanian art is given its fullest showing in the main part of the exposition. The Centre for Art Education of the Lithuanian Art Museum, which prepares special educational art programmes for children and students is also located at the Vilnius Picture Gallery.
MUSEUM OF APPLIED ARTS
At present, the ever increasing majority of the exhibition is taken up by unique treasures of old art donated by various countries or acquired specifically for the interior of the reconstructed Royal Palace.