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Special Vilnius route: History of Vilnius Palaces

History of Vilnius Palaces

The palaces of Vilnius date back to the historical times of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (hereinafter referred to as the GDL) and represent prominent families of those times—namely Pacai (Pac), Radvilos (Radziwiłł), Sapiegos (Sapieha), Chodkevičiai (Chodkiewicz); and their works and epochs. Here the elite of the Lithuanian nobility was settled.
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History of Vilnius Palaces
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1. Radvila (Radziwiłł) Palace
In place of the wooden palace of Mikalojus Radvila the Black (Mikołaj “the Black” Radziwiłł), that used to be here in the 16th century, Vilnius Voivode Jonušas Radvila (Janusz Radziwiłł) erected the first early Baroque residence. The palazzo-style building was constructed according to the example of Palais Luxembourg in Paris and had five three-storey pavilions and wonderful halls. It was also famous for its collection of works by Flemish and Dutch painters. In 1984, the Western pavilion of the palace was reconstructed and now houses exhibitions of the Lithuanian Arts Museum.

2. Theatre, Music and Cinema Museum
This is the 16th century palace of the Radvila (Radziwiłł) family, where three buildings were united into one during reconstruction. The palace was owned by various Catholic family branches in turn. Mykolas Kazimieras Radvila (Michał Kazimierz Radziwiłł), an influential magnate and marshal of the GDL, who took an active part in internal policies and was capable of clearly demonstrating his political ambitions, loved luxury and lived in elegant palaces. It is believed that the reconstruction of the palace into a Renaissance-style building was largely influenced by this nobleman. Between 1796 and 1810, the building was occupied by Vilnius City Theatre. At present, it houses the Theatre, Music and Cinema Museum.

3. Tyzenhauzai (Tyzenhaus) Palace
In the second half of the 18th century the GDL nobleman Antanas Tyzenhauzas (Antoni Tyzenhaus) restored the building that used to be in here. Later, the Wittinghoffs dukes bought the palace and it was reconstructed by architect M. Knackfuss. At the beginning of the 19th century, the silver hall of the palace was turned into a popular centre for salon culture and also for gatherings in Vilnius, a university town.

4. Pociejai (Pociej), Zavišos (Zawisza) and Gureckiai Palaces
Dominikonų Street is one of the oldest and most flamboyant streets of Vilnius where famous noble families of the GDL. Pociejai Palace was expanded after the 1748 fire. The façade of the palace demonstrates elements of early Baroque: the knights’ bas-reliefs, the two-storey arch gallery and the colour configuration are characteristic of the early Baroque period. Zavišos (Zawisza) Palace was built at the end of the 18th century. It is predominated by early Classicism with a stringent symmetrical façade and its renaissance cellars have been preserved. Gureckiai Palace. A Gothic two-storey building that was situated here from the 15–16th centuries was reconstructed at the end of the 18th century according to the early Classical style.

5. Pacai (Pac) Palace
The history of this building dates back to the 16th century; however, the palace only became well-known after the Pac family bought it in the 17th century. The palace acquired a special visual value at the end of the 18th century, when it was owned by the Chancellor of the GDL Aleksandras Mykolas Sapiega. In 1831, after the uprising was subdued, the Tsarist authorities confiscated the palace and established the Governor’s Board therein.

6. Bžostauskai Palace
The houses that stood here in the 16th century should be mentioned for the remaining Gothic walls. At the end of the 17th century, Trakai Voivode and diplomat K. P. Bžostauskas integrated the houses into a solid palace complex which was decorated by M. Knackfuss.

7. Presidential Palace
This palace was mentioned in the 14th century as the residence of Goštautai noblemen. Following annexation of Lithuania by Russia, the palace turned into a temporary residence for the Russian Emperor, dukes and other nobility. Tsar Pavel I lived in the most ornate and sturdy palace of the time; it was also visited by the future King of France Louis XVIII. In the 19th century the palace became the official residence of the Russian Governor General. In 1812, Russian Tsar Alexander I and French Emperor Napoleon stayed here. The palace has been serving as the Presidential residence since 1997.

8. De Reus Palace
This palace was reconstructed at the end of the 18th century. It is believed that the four-column portico was built by architect M. Knackfuss. The palace was owned by dukes de Reus, Plateriai and others.

9. Lopacinskiai Palace
This palace was reconstructed into a Classical building according to a project by M. Knackfuss at the end of the 18th century and belonged to the families of Lopacinskiai and Sulistrovskiai.

10. Olizar Palace
In the second half of the 18th century the house on this site was bought by M. Lopacinskis. On his order, architect Jonas Kristupas Glaubicas (Johann Christoph Glaubitz) reconstructed the building into an ornate palace. Later, the palace was owned by the family of Count Olizar.

11. Vilnius Picture Gallery
The history of this palace started at the beginning of the 17th century, when the Chodkevičiai (Chodkiewicz) bought the buildings that occupied the site and turned them into their residence. At present, Vilnius Picture Gallery is housed here and various events take place in the palace.

12. Pacai (Pac) Palace
In the second half of the 17th century, Hetman Mykolas Kazimieras Pacas (Michał Kazimierz Pac) built an ornate palace that was visited by King J. Sobieski, Tsar Alexander I and Emperor Napoleon.

13. Town Hall
The Town Hall was established by the privilege granted by King Jogaila (Jagiełło) at the end of the 14th century, as a symbol of investiture of self-government (Magdeburg) rights to the city. At the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century, the Town Hall was a Gothic building. In the middle of the 18th century the building was reconstructed by Jonas Kristupas Glaubicas (Johann Christoph Glaubitz) and Russeli Tommaso. Later, the Town Hall was reconstructed into a Classical building according to the design of architect L. Gucevičius. It served as weaponry storage and had a prison in the basement. The Grand Hall and other halls as well as Gothic vaults and basements dating back to later periods have been preserved inside the Town Hall. At present, official events, concerts and exhibitions are organised in the Town Hall. Honourable guests of Lithuania—US President George Bush and the Queen of the United Kingdom, Elizabeth II—have addressed the residents of Vilnius from the portico of the Town Hall.

14. Tiškevičiai (Tyszkiewicz) Palace
This building, erected in the 15th century, was reconstructed by Laurynas Gucevičius and later by T. Tišeckis. In the middle of the 19th century N. Tchagin built a portal with columns sculptured in the form of Atlas. Following the closure of Vilnius University by the Tsarist authorities, the palace served as an education centre.

15. Umiastovskiai Palace
The building dates back to the second half of the 18th century. The Trakai Gate of the city wall used to be located here. The niche facing Pylimo Street is occupied by a statue of a sentry (sculptor S. Kuzma).

16. Kęsgaila (Kieżgajło) Palace
The house of Stanislovas Jonaitis Kęsgaila (Stanisław Janowicz Kieżgajło) is one of the oldest palaces of nobility in Vilnius. The Kęsgaila house recovered its original design after the Gothic walls had been revealed.

17. Vileišiai Palace
At the beginning of the 20th century this palace was built by a prominent Lithuanian public and cultural figure, engineer Petras Vileišis. Concrete, cement and ferroconcrete floors—materials very rare in Lithuania at that time—were used in constructing the palace.
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