Baroque city on the verge of two worlds
Vilnius is the only capital in Europe situated on the boundary of two ancient—Latin and Byzantine—civilisations. In this city of ancient and versatile cultures, the spirit of tolerance for different nations and religions has been vivid for some time. Vilnius was first mentioned in written sources in 1323, and by the 15th century it had turned into a beautiful medieval city, the heritage of which is still charming today.
The Old Town architecture is the feather in the cap of the city. The buildings of the largest Baroque Old Town in Central and Eastern Europe (360 ha), which has managed to preserve the medieval network of streets and typical spaces, remind us of the beautiful old Italian towns where Baroque was born. Gracious slender towers supporting the sky are the works of the Lithuanian Baroque School. The Old Town of Vilnius, located in an amphitheatre of breathtaking nature, has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1994.
A city established on the boundary of two cultures, Vilnius has always been a city of modernity open to the dialogues of different cultures. Profound traditions and experiences of ethnic culture are creatively incorporated into modern art forms—theatre, music, visual arts, and dance—and yield a new quality of art. Our artists are known throughout Europe and worldwide, and Vilnius has been awarded the title of European Capital of Culture 2009.
The capital of Lithuania is one of the most beautiful cities of the Old Continent, where the heritage of the past and achievements of the present, science and culture all co-exist in harmony. The residents of Vilnius are hospitable and cheerful people.
Old Vilnius is not only about Baroque. The most impressive landmark of the Old Town is the gracious Gothic masterpiece of St. Anne’s Church. The monumental Bernardine Temple is located right next to it. The Grand Courtyard of the Vilnius University, the seminary—Alumnatas, the Gate of Dawn, and the resurgent Royal Palace represent the beautiful Renaissance heritage.
The dignified Classical architecture of Lithuania is represented in the Vilnius Cathedral, the Town Hall and the Verkiai Palace complexes. The Chodkevičiai (Chodkiewicz) Palace is the most stylish and the largest Classical building in Lithuania.
Vilnius is the leader of political and economic initiatives in the Baltic States: it has hosted numerous significant meetings, and it has been visited by heads and monarchs of the most influential countries in the world, including the U.S.A., the United Kingdom, and Japan.
The multi-storey business centre on the northern bank of the Neris River is a symbol of the dynamic development of the city. The capital of Lithuania is the leading city in the region by the sheer volume of construction of business offices and residential houses; it boasts a high level of infrastructure and services and a rapidly improving quality of life. Vilnius is the city where the future becomes the present.
Vilnius acquired the name of Northern Jerusalem due to the work of the Vilnia Gaon Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman (1720–1797). The expositions presenting the years of prosperity of the Jewish community and the holocaust period can be found in the Vilnia Gaon Jewish State Museum; reminders of the former ghetto can be seen in the Jewish Quarters of the city. Here you will find a monument to the Japanese Consul Chiune Sugihara (1900–1986), who rescued many Jews during World War II, and a playful sculpture of Doctor Dolittle dedicated to the popular doctor Zemach Shabad (1864–1935).
The former headquarters of the KGB is a symbol of Soviet occupation and repression. It now houses the Museum of Genocide Victims, which presents frightening deportation statistics and expositions dedicated to resistance fighters, and invites visitors to the terrifying cells where freedom fighters were kept and tortured.
Among the heritage of the Soviet times is the Green Bridge (Žaliasis Tiltas) built in 1952 and decorated by four sculptures typical of the Soviet times. The residential building of 1951 near the Neris River on the corner of J. Tumo-Vaižganto and Goštauto streets is a clear example of the Stalinist style.
The first university in Eastern Europe, Vilnius University was established in 1579 and soon crossed the region’s borders with its progressive scientific ideas. Many of its teachers and alumni are the brightest personalities of Lithuanian science, culture and art history.
The city block occupied by the old buildings of the University is a true treasury of science and art: collections of old editions are preserved here together with a rich collection of atlases, while the interior of the University is an impressive art gallery in itself. The library of Vilnius University retains the only copy of the first Lithuanian book in the country—Catechesis by Martynas Mažvydas.
Užupis Republic—THE MonTmartre of Vilnius
Užupis, an artists’ district located on a bend of the Vilnelė River and going many centuries back in history, is also known as the Republic of Užupis. The creative community of the district organises original celebrations and actions and contributes to adorning their republic. Such personalities as the founder of U.S. avant-garde cinema, Jonas Mekas; the spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama; and the President of Lithuania, Valdas Adamkus, alongside others are honorary citizens of the republic. Užupis’ residents take part in the annual Montmartre Fair in Paris.
The district hosts many art galleries, craft workshops and coffee-shops. A guardian angel looks after Užupis from one of its squares, and the Užupis Mermaid can be seen on the river bank.