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Sodų str. 13, LT - 03211 Vilnius
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About the City

Whoever you are – a businessman who has arrived in Vilnius to sign an agreement, a tourist on vacation or an experienced traveller looking for new adventures – several days stay in Vilnius will be sufficient to make you fall in love with this city. It is worth staying in Vilnius longer.  However, even if you came only for a weekend, the city will leave a lasting impression on you. Theatre or opera goers, lovers of all-night parties or street carnivals, people who are interested in architecture or those who just like to relax and commune with nature will find something close to their heart in this city. A walk around the Old Town, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994, is an unforgettable experience and really worth taking.

Vilnius, as the capital of Lithuania, is the home of the President, the Seimas, the Government and the Supreme Court. Diplomatic missions, educational, cultural, financial, research, and health care institutions are based there. It is also the largest city of the country. According to the 2001 census, the population of Vilnius is approximately 580,000 people, which accounts for 17 per cent of the total population of the country. Vilnius is home to people of different ethnic backgrounds. Ethnic Lithuanians - 57.8%, Poles - 18.7%, Russians - 14%, Belarusians - 4%, Jews - 0.5%, and representatives of other ethnic backgrounds account for the remaining 5%.

Vilnius occupies an area of about 400 square kilometres of which 20.2% approximately is developed and the remainder is green belt (43.9% approx.) and water (2.1% approx.). The historical centre of Vilnius, the Old Town, (Senamiestis) is one of the largest old town centres in Eastern Europe (covering almost 360 hectares). The district of Vilnius includes Vilnius, Elektrėnai, Šalčininkai, Širvintos, Švenčionys, Trakai and Ukmergė regions. The geographical centre of Europe, Trakai, the old capital of Lithuania and the legendary capital of Kernavė are located in the Vilnius district.

Places of Interest

The Old Town is the heart of the capital, its historical centre. In the early part of the 16th century, it was surrounded by a city wall thus defending the limits of the Old Town. There was a large complex of castles consisting of the Upper (on Gediminas Hill), the Lower (at the foot of the hill) and the Crooked Castle (on the adjacent hill), the Grand Ducal Castle, the Cathedral, the House of Bishops and other buildings. Life of the city was in full swing in the Town Square and the surroundings streets. Craftsmen’s shops, small shops, merchants’ houses, mansions of the nobility were situated there. Buildings and streets beyond the wall formed the suburbs.
Today it is only in our imagination that we can reproduce such a picture… While wandering along the narrow winding streets and squares of the Old Town we can feel the spirit of the old town, seeing the authentic buildings or their fragments.

Tourist Information Centres, which will provide you with a free map of the Old Town and a brochure about places of interest, along with guides will help you become better acquainted with the old Vilnius. If you want to explore Vilnius on your own, it is recommended that you to try the following route.

The Cathedral

The first Christian church is thought to have been built in the place of a pagan temple to commemorate the baptism of Mindaugas, King of Lithuania, in 1251. Later the Cathedral was rebuilt several times, and fragments of different styles have survived up to the present time. The Classical features of the Church is a result of the design by the Lithuanian architect Laurynas Stuoka-Gucevičius at the end of the 18th century. The interior of the building contains many valuable frescos, pictures, sculptures, and tombstones. The crypt contains an early fresco, The Crucsifixion, the oldest wall painting in Lithuania (the end of the 14th century). St Casimir’s Chapel abounds with numerous frescos, decorative stucco works and sculptures – this is one of the most valuable examples of mature Baroque architecture in Lithuania. A silver coffin, made in the 18th century, holds the remains of St Casimir, Grand Duke and patron saint of Lithuania.

The Bell Tower of the Cathedral

The bell tower stands on the remains of the fortifications of the Lower Castle. It is thought that the lowest round tier of the bell tower dates back to the second part of the 14th century, later the bell tower became a belfry. The next tier was built in the 17th century with the installation of the clock made in Germany by Joseph Bergman. The belfry acquired its present appearance at the beginning of the 19th century, and stands at a height of 57 metres.

Gediminas’ Tower of the Upper Castle

The Tower standing on the 48-metre high hill has been named after Grand Duke Gediminas, the founder of the city (though it was constructed long after the time of Gediminas). Gediminas’ Tower has become a symbol of Vilnius. People lived on the hill of the castle as far back as the 5th-6th century. A castle, which was last rebuilt at the time of Vytautas the Great, Grand Duke of Lithuanian, stood there at the end of the 14th century. The castle used to consist of a keep surrounded by a wall with three separate towers and the entrance gate. Of the once powerful castle, the western (Gediminas’) tower that has been restored is the only surviving one, as well as the ruins of defensive wall that surrounded the palace and the castle. The first-floor room exhibition containing two models of the three castles, one as they were in the 14th century, the other in the early 17th century. They provide an interesting comparison, and show how the site developed, reflecting the history of Vilnius’ castles. However, the main attraction of the Gediminas’ Tower is the view from the roof. A narrow staircase leads visitors up to a parapet that overlooks the entire city centre. This is the best place from which to appreciate the breathtaking panorama of the city.

The National Museum

Another building, known as the Arsenal, whose north/south wall coincides with the former defensive wall of the Castle, houses the National Museum. Fragments of many styles of architecture can be found in this building, beginning with Gothic basements and ending with the classical façade. Since the year 2000 the updated archaeological exposition Lietuvos proistorė (Prehistory of Lithuania) has been on display in one of the buildings of the Museum.

The Ensemble of the Church of St Anne and the Church of St Francis and St Bernardino

This is one of the most impressive architectural treasures of the Old Town of Vilnius. The Church of St Anne was built at the turn of the 15th – 16th centuries and is the most admired and beloved churches of late Gothic period in Lithuania. Built from ordinary clay bricks of 33 different shapes it amazes everyone by the courage and ingenuity of the masters who built it. It is the subject of a much-quoted remark, which is said to have been made by Napoleon when his army occupied Vilnius in 1812, that he would like to be able to place it in the palm of his hand and take it back to Paris.

The Church of St Francis and St Bernardino was built at the end of the 15th century and is one of the largest Gothic religious buildings in Lithuania. Due to the fact that it was built at the same time as the city wall and is situated on the edge of the Old Town close to the River Vilnia, it is believed to have been later incorporated into the city’s defences. It also contains battlements and loopholes. Following the changes that were made in the 16th-17th century, the Church acquired Renaissance and Baroque architectural features rendering it into a curious hybrid of styles. At the present time, the Church is undergoing restoration and archaeological examinations are being carried out there.

Vilnius University

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.

The Gates of Dawn

The Gates of Dawn is the only surviving gate of the original ten gates in the city wall that was built in 1514. This is a three-storied Renaissance building. The entry, with a draw bridge over the defensive moat, was in its first storey. From the side of the town, on the upper premises of the gate, a wooden chapel was erected. Following the reconstruction in 1829 the Chapel of the Gates of Dawn acquired the shape of the later Classical period. The picture of the Holy Mother of God, which is thought to have miracle-working powers and which is one of the most significant Renaissance paintings in Lithuania, is stored in the Chapel. The picture was painted at the beginning of the 17th century by an unknown painter.

The Bastion of Vilnius City Wall

The Bastion is an original Renaissance fortification. It consists of a tower installed in the city wall, the underground gun ports and a corridor connecting them, which becomes a 48-metre long tunnel. The Bastion was built in the first half of the 17th century, and you are rewarded with a stunning view of the Old Town from its terrace.