Art Nouveau - Riga, Latvia forward look here Unspoiled nature - Keila Waterfall, Estonia forward look here UNESCO World Heritage Site - The Curonian Spit, Lithuania forward look here

Vilnius City Tour

Vilnius City Tour
Vilnius City Tour
Vilnius City Tour
Vilnius - the capital of Lithuania, situated on the bank of the Neris River, was founded in 1323 when Grand Duke Gediminas built a castle there. The splendid architectural blend of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles makes this wonderful city to explore.
The historical heart of Vilnius is located in the surroundings of the Cathedral Square: the Upper Castle on the hill, the Lower Castle and the reconstructed Royal Palace at its foot, the Old and New Arsenals, the Cathedral, monuments and Šventaragio Park around the Cathedral Square.
Between the Cathedral and the Bell Tower there is a “magic” quarry tile. In 1989, the so-called Baltic Road – a live chain of people – stretched from this point in Vilnius to Riga and Tallinn (595 km long) in an attempt to initiate the battle for independence. Your secret dreams will come true if you stand on the tile, make a wish, and turn around.
A symbol of Vilnius – rising high above the Old Town – is the tower of the Castle of Grand Duke Gediminas, the founder of Vilnius (also known as Gediminas Hill or Gediminas Castle, which dates back to the 14th century). A picturesque panorama of Vilnius opens up from the top of the Gediminas Tower.
On the other bank of the Vilnelė River is the Hill of Three Crosses. There are several stories told about the appearance of crosses on the hill. However, the panorama of the Old Town opening from this hill is simply fantastic. A wonderful panorama of Vilnius and Užupis can be seen from a special viewing platform in Subačiaus Street.
horizontal line
Vilnius Highlights:

The Cathedral of St. Stanislav and St. Vladislav is the most important place of worship for the country’s Catholics and the venue for the main Christian, folk and national festivities. In 1922, the Cathedral was granted the title basilica (meaning “royal”). This is the highest church category awarded by the Pope only to very special churches. Many prominent people of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy – noblemen, bishops and dukes – are buried in the vaults of the Cathedral. The Sovereigns Mausoleum located beneath the Chapel of St. Casimir contains the remains of the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Alexander. He is the only ruler of Poland and Lithuania buried in Vilnius. Vytautas the Great, a grandson of Duke Gediminas and the most powerful Lithuanian ruler, is buried in the vaults of the Cathedral together with his wife Ona. Two wives of Žygimantas Augustas, Queen Elisabeth of Austria (Habsburg) and Queen Barbora Radvilaitė (said to have been the most beautiful woman of her time), are also buried here. The walls of the Cathedral also provide shelter for the urn with the heart of King Vladislovas Vaza (Wladyslaw Vasa). The ancient walls of the temple dating back to the 13th–15th centuries, and the oldest Lithuanian fresco painted in the 14th century, have survived in the vaults of the Cathedral.

Bell Tower
The Bell Tower situated opposite the Cathedral is the extant tower of the former Vilnius defence wall. It is 57 metres high. The Bell Tower acquired its present look after its reconstruction 200 years ago. It is believed that the quadrangular underground part of the tower was built in the 13th or 14th century. The round part with narrow windows, i.e. embrasures, dates back to the 14th–16th centuries. Later, the tower was turned into a bell tower and its upper part was constructed in a semi-Baroque and semi-Classical style. In spite of the mixture of various architectural styles, the Bell Tower appears very graceful and harmonious. A clock was installed in the tower in the 17th century. It is unique because of the absence of the minute hand; the bell strikes announce the time every 15 minutes. For centuries, the clock supervisors had to climb 92 steps to the top of the Bell Tower once every week to wind up the clock mechanism. Several years ago an automatic mechanism replaced humans.

Cathedral Square
The Cathedral Square is the historical heart of the city. Here, in the confluence of the Neris and Vilnia rivers at the crossroads of trade routes, the city of Vilnius was formed. Everything looked different in the Middle Ages: the Vilnia River flowed around the present square. At present, a street is situated nearby. Barboros Radvilatės, Šventaragio, and Tado Vrublevskio streets have been laid along the path where the waters of the Vilnia River once flowed and fish lived. It is here, in the Cathedral Square and its environs, that all the Lithuanian military, political, administrative and spiritual authorities were concentrated for several centuries. The central decoration of the Cathedral Square is the principal place of worship in Lithuania – the Cathedral (Basilica) of Vilnius. Three castles were built nearby to defend the land: the Upper, Lower and Curved Castles. Pink tiles of granite installed into the surface of the square indicate the place where the defence wall with its Western Gate, towers and the Bishop Palace use to be situated. By the time of Gediminas, the Vilnia River had already been moved away from the Cathedral Square; the new river bed, which it follows now, was dug for that purpose. In this way, the Upper and Lower Castles ended up on an island. Between the 18th and 19th centuries, the larger part of the Lower Castle was destroyed and the old river bed of the Vilnia was filled up. This is how the present Cathedral Square appeared.

The Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania
This is a prominent element of the ensemble of Vilnius Lower Castle and a symbol of longlasting statehood. The territory of the palace was inhabited back in the 4th–8th centuries. The wooden settlement eventually became a castle. From the 13th to 14th century, the first stone buildings were built. Vilnius castle became the political, cultural, and military centre of the state. In the Gothic period, the castle was rebuilt several times; in the 15th–16th centuries it was reconstructed into a luxurious palace which acquired Renaissance features in the 16th century, and features of Early Baroque in the first half of the 17th century. The palace was known throughout Europe for its art collections; the first operas (predating London or Paris) were staged here; and the fate of the entire European region was decided here. The palace was destroyed by enemies in the mid-17th century and demolished at the beginning of the 19th century. The restoration of the palace – a symbol of statehood and national identity – relates to Lithuania’s liberation at the end of the 20th century. The palace, which has been under restoration from 2002 until 2009 to mark the millennium anniversary of the state, has become a centre of permanent museum expositions: exhibitions, representative events of the state, cultural education, and dissemination of tourism information.

Monument to Gediminas
The monument to Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas was created by the Lithuanian American Vytautas Kašuba. Besides being the founder of Vilnius and Trakai, Gediminas was also one of the most famous rulers of Lithuania. His fame can only be compared to the fame of his grandson Vytautas the Great. Gediminas lived between 1275 and 1341 and ruled the Grand Duchy of Lithuania for 25 years. He moved the capital of Lithuania from Trakai to Vilnius. He was better known as a diplomat who attracted the attention of Europe to Lithuania than as a military chief. It was in the letters of Gediminas to Western Europe that the name of Vilnius was mentioned for the first time in 1323. This year is considered to be the year of foundation of Vilnius. Gediminas succeeded in expanding the state borders and the sphere of influence of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania far to the east and south. Under the rule of Gediminas, Vitebsk and Volyn were annexed while the lands of Kievan Rus fell into a vassal dependence of the Duchy. On their trip west, the army of Gediminas even approached Berlin. The area of the Lithuanian state doubled during the times of Gediminas.
Upper Castle and Gediminas Tower
The Castle of Vilnius was mentioned for the first time in 1323 in the treaty of Gediminas with the city of Riga. At that time the Upper Castle was still made of wood. The exact date when the stone castle was built is unknown. The Upper Castle was built to protect the city from crusaders. At that time, there were few trees and several drinking water springs on the Gediminas Hill. In the 14th century crusaders came to the capital of Lithuania and attacked it eight times in total with the last attack dating back to 1402. In spite of support received by the crusaders from English, French, Italian and Flemish knights, they could never occupy the Castle of Vilnius. At the end of the 15th century the Upper Castle was reconstructed by Vytautas the Great. Vilnius did not see any foreign army at its walls for 250 long years. In the middle of the 17th century, during the war with Moscow, the Upper Castle was almost destroyed and was abandoned for a long time. More recently, a part of the castle was reconstructed. The western tower, most often called the Gediminas Tower, has been best preserved. It was reconstructed in the 19th century because it housed a telegraph station for a telegraph line between St. Petersburg, Vilnius and Warsaw. In the second half of the 20th century, the tower was restored. At present, it houses a museum. Gediminas Tower is also a symbol of Vilnius.

Monument to Mindaugas
Mindaugas was the first Grand Duke of Lithuania and the first and only Lithuanian King. Crowned in 1253, Mindaugas joined all Lithuanian lands into a unified state and won the international recognition of Lithuania. The monument to King Mindaugas opposite the National Museum of Lithuania was opened on 6 July 2003 on the occasion of the 750th anniversary of his coronation. The creator of the monument was sculptor Regimantas Midvikis. The plinth of the monument is covered with symbols from the ancient Baltic calendar often encountered in ancient scripts.

Church of St. Anne
The Church of St. Anne is a masterpiece of the late Gothic period. There is no consensus about its originator or its construction period. Popular legend has it that Napoleon Bonaparte, who was fascinated by the beauty of the church, wanted to take it back to Paris in the palm of his hand. Unfortunately, the reality is not that romantic: during the march of the Napoleonic army through Lithuania, the church was consigned to the French cavalry forces. However, Napoleon did mention in a letter to his wife that “Vilnius is a very beautiful city”. St. Anne’s Church, which has survived to the present day without changing for over 500 years, has become a symbol of Vilnius. At a closer look, one can see the letters A and M in the main façade of St. Anne’s. The letters A and M could stand for the Latin Ana Mater Maria or Ave Maria, i.e. “Saint Anne – Mother of Mary” or “Hail Mary”. Some experts claim that the Pillars of Gediminas have been highlighted in the composition of the façade with the three towers of the church corresponding to the three pillars. Next to the church there is a bell tower imitating the Gothic style and built in the 19th century.

Bernardine Church
The full name of the Bernardine Church is the Church of St. Francis and St. Bernardine. The construction is massive and thickset and, if necessary, it could be used not only for prayers, but for defence. This possibility is also supported by the 19 embrasures in the northern façade. Admire the peaked windows, the ladder buttresses, the peaceful plane composition of the façade and the 17th century Renaissance pediment bearing a 19th century fresco matching the Gothic part of the church. In Soviet times, the Bernardine Church was closed and turned into a warehouse. After the restoration of independence, Franciscan monks who had been working underground returned to the church. The project “Adaptation of Vilnius Bernardine Historical–Architectural Ensemble to the Needs of Public Tourism” financed by EU Structural Funds was implemented in November 2008; reconstruction work was carried out, and tourist paths were laid. The Bernardine ensemble has been acknowledged as a monument of Lithuanian cultural heritage, and in 2008, it was granted the status of a cultural project of national significance.

Church of the Holy Mother of God
The Church of the Holy Mother of God became the main temple of the Lithuanian Orthodox Church some six hundred years ago. It is believed that the Church of the Holy Mother of God was founded by Uliana – the wife of the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Algirdas, and the mother of Jogaila. According to legend, the first church in this location was built by Grand Duke Algirdas around 1346. The oldest remaining walls of the church date back to the 15th century. In the 16th century, the church was totally reconstructed by Duke Konstanty Ostrogski. In 1609, the church devolved to Uniates – Eastern Orthodox believers who supported a union with the Roman Catholic Church. For a long time the church was abandoned. Two hundred years ago, it was transferred to Vilnius University and housed a library, classrooms, a museum, and dissection rooms. The current appearance of the church is a result of its reconstruction in the middle of the 19th century, when it was returned to the Orthodox Church.

Užupis is sometimes compared to Monmartre in Paris or Christiania in Copenhagen. Užupis is a “republic” of artists. It has its own anthem, constitution, president, bishop, two churches, one of the oldest graveyards in Vilnius (Bernardine Graveyard), seven bridges, and a guardian (the bronze angel of Užupis). The constitution of the Republic of Užupis is displayed on a fence at the beginning of Paupio Street. This is one of the oldest districts in Vilnius and is mentioned in historic documents as early as the 16th century. In earlier times, vanes of numerous mills could be seen turning here. It was the poorest suburb of the city and was inhabited mostly by craftsmen. At some point in its history, a red-light district was located nearby. In Soviet times, Užupis was badly neglected and had the notoriety of being the most dangerous district of Vilnius. In time, artists came to settle in the cheap accommodation in Užupis; moreover the Art Academy was situated right across the bridge. Alternative fashion festivals, concerts, exhibitions, poetry evenings, performances, and original Užupis festivities are now organised here. Užupis is presently one of the most prestigious and expensive districts in Vilnius. The name Užupis means “place beyond the river”. The Vilnia River, often called Vilnelė, is an integral part of Užupis. It is therefore quite natural that one of the symbols of Užupis is a bronze mermaid, also known as the Užupis Mermaid, created by sculptor Romas Vilčiauskas. The mermaid occupies a special niche on the embankment of the Vilnia. It is said that it is the mermaid who lures people from all over the world to Užupis. Those who surrender to her charm remain in Užupis forever. A sculpture of an angel was placed in the central square of Užupis in 2002. The bronze angel, also created by sculptor Romas Vilčiauskas, has become the symbol of Užupis.

Chodkevičiai Palace (Chodkiewicz Palace)
Chodkevičiai Palace is one of the most interesting classical buildings in Lithuania. Its ornate classical interiors are especially valuable. The family of the Chodkevičiai (Chodkiewicz) counts was one of the richest and most influential families in Lithuania. Among the family members were voivodes, elders, bishops, and other prominent figures. The most prominent representative of the Chodkevičiai family was the military commander Jonas Karolis Chodkevičius (Jan Karol Chodkiewicz). The Chodkevičiai family acquired the buildings located here at the beginning of the 17th century and turned them into a Renaissance residence. The present appearance of the palace is the result of a reconstruction in the first half of the 19th century. In 1919, the palace was transferred to Vilnius University for the accommodation of university professors. Concerts, poetry events, and representational events are currently organised in Chodkevičiai Palace. Since 1994, Vilnius Picture Gallery and the administration of the Lithuanian Art Museum have been housed in the palace. The gallery offers the only permanent exposition in the world presenting Lithuanian history of art from the 16th century until the beginning of the 20th century. National and international exhibitions are also organised here.

House of Signatories
It is here that the National Council signed the Act of Independence of Lithuania on 16 February 1918. At present, the House of Signatories is a museum. Here you can visit the restored office in which the Act of Independence of Lithuania was signed and see an actual copy of the document. A hundred years ago, the building belonged to Kazimieras Štralis and the ground floor of the building was occupied by the then famous restaurant Baltasis Štralis. The name of the restaurant was borrowed for the building itself, which was later called Štralis House. Signatories of the Act of Independence used to pop into the Baltasis Štralis for a coffee or a hot chocolate.

Pilies Street
Pilies Street is the oldest and most flamboyant street in the Old Town of Vilnius. The street appeared in place of the former road from Vilnius Castle to the south, towards Poland and Russia. This was the main road to the castle, with its branches finally turning into side streets. The name of Pilies Street was mentioned in historical annals as early as 1530. Kings, legates of the Pope, and envoys from other countries passed this street on their way to the castle. Noblemen and rich citizens built their houses in Pilies Street. Vilnius University occupied a whole quarter of the city beside Pilies Street, and university professors used to live there. The Botanical Garden of Vilnius University was established in one of the courtyards at the end of the 18th century. Church processions also went along Pilies Street. The broadest parts of the street were occupied by markets: the socalled Great Market near the Town Hall and the fish market next to St. Paraskeva’s Church (Pyatnickaya). The street is distinguished for its architectural variety: Pilies 12 and 14 are Gothic, Pilies 4 is a Renaissance building of an episcopate college; and the pediment of Sts. Johns’ Church is Baroque. A beautiful view of Gediminas Tower can be seen from Pilies Street.

Presidential Palace
The Presidential Palace, called “Prezidentūra” (President’s Office) in everyday life, was built in the square of Simonas Daukantas (a graduate of Vilnius University and the author of the first history of Lithuania published in the Lithuanian language in the 19th century). Whichever way you chose to approach Daukanto Square, a narrow street will suddenly broaden and blend into the square predominated by a Classical building from the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries: a former nobleman’s house and the present day Office of the President. The grandeur of the square is somewhat allayed by the Baroque towers above the roof of the palace. Here follows some information about the Presidential Palace. From the 16th century it served as a residence for Vilnius bishops. In the 18th century, when Lithuania was occupied and annexed to the Russian Empire, the palace served as a residence for the governor general of Vilnius. Russian Tsar Alexander I, French King Louis XVIII, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, and Polish Marshall and statesman Jozef Pilsudski visited the palace. In 1997 the building was renovated. Presently, the President of Lithuania and his Chancellery occupy the building, and leaders of other countries are received here. The flag of the President of Lithuania, which flies above the building, is lowered when the President leaves the country. Three national flags are hoisted in front of the building; two of them can be replaced by the flags of high-level foreign visitors. Every day at 18:00 you can see the changing of the guards at the Presidential Palace.

Vilnius University
Vilnius University is one of the oldest universities in Eastern Europe. It was founded at a time when the reformation movement was active in Lithuania and Jesuit monks were invited to help fight the mood of reformation. Jesuit monks were quick to take over education. In 1569 they established a college and in 1579 the University of Vilnius was born. The complexes of Vilnius University were formed over several centuries and, as a result, consist of buildings built in Gothic, Baroque and Classical styles. The medieval architecture of the premises contrasts with the vibrant student atmosphere. Thirteen internal courtyards, arcades and galleries inject even more colour into the buildings. The courtyards are named after famous graduates and professors of the university; commemorative plaques in their honour can be seen in the Grand Courtyard. At present, there are 12 faculties and about 23,000 students at Vilnius University. The old building of the university is occupied by university administration and three faculties: history, philology and philosophy. There is also a library that was established in 1570. It contains over five million publications and old manuscripts. One of the two known originals of the first Lithuanian book – Catechesis by Martynas Mažvydas – is kept here. The library of Vilnius University has been visited by the Belgian royal family; Charles the Prince of Wales, the first lady of the United States of America, Laura Bush; Pope John Paul II; the Dalai Lama; and other prominent guests.

Church of Sts. Johns
One of the picturesque parts of the Vilnius University building is the Church of Sts. Johns and its bell tower. The full name of the church is the Church of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. The construction of this church lasted for almost 40 years and was completed in 1426. At that time it was a Gothic building. In 1571 the church was transferred to the Order of Jesuits and became a part of the university complexes. Besides masses, the Church of Sts. Johns has also witnessed student protests, theatre performances, and welcoming ceremonies for kings. In Soviet times, it was turned into a warehouse. Later, the University Museum was established here. Today, the Church of Sts. Johns performs its main functions once again. It was visited by Pope John Paul II in 1993. The bell tower of the church, which is 68 metres high, is among the highest buildings in the Old Town. The present façade was designed in the 18th century by the most prominent Vilnius Baroque architect, Jonas Kristupas Glaubicas (Johan Christoph Glaubitz). The Church of Sts. Johns organises the cycle of concerts “Alma Mater Musicalis”.

Gaono Street
Gaono Street was named in honour of Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman, a Jewish thinker and Talmud scholar, known under the name of Vilnia Gaon, i.e. wise man. The Jews were first mentioned in Vilnius in the 16th century, although some sources claim that they were already here in the 15th century. They were invited to Vilnius and granted privileges by Grand Duke Gediminas of Lithuania because the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – one of the most powerful states of those times – needed craftsmen, merchants and financiers. Most Jews came to Vilnius from the cities of the Hanseatic League, as did merchants and craftsmen of other nationalities. In the 16th century, a Jewish ghetto appeared in Vilnius in the area of the present Stiklių, Žydų, Gaono, and Mėsinių streets in the Old Town. Although various restrictions were imposed on Jews against procurement of buildings and living outside the ghetto, they actually lived in many locations. They dealt in crafts and trade and constructed houses of worship and schools. Narrow streets with diagonal arches are a typical feature of the Jewish quarter. One of such arches has survived in Marko Antokolskio Street. According to the 1897 census, Jews constituted 39% of Vilnius residents. In Vilnius before World War II, there were approximately 100 Jewish synagogues and 10 religious schools (yeshivas), including the Ramailė Yeshiva, which is still known worldwide. The Grand Synagogue – one of the prominent masterpieces of Vilnius architecture of the 16th century – was situated close by. The Grand Synagogue, together with this part of the ghetto, was severely damaged during Hitler’s occupation and destroyed during Soviet times.

Town Hall Square
The Town Hall Square has been the central square of Vilnius for the past six centuries. In 1387 Lithuania became a Christian state and Vilnius was granted Magdeburg rights. Thus, there appeared a need for headquarters for the city authorities. As the main square of the city was located here, it was decided to build the Town Hall in the same place. The building housed the magistrate (in other words, the city councilors) as well as court rooms, the treasury, archives, an arms and ammunition warehouse, and rooms for preserving standards of measurement. A prison was established in the basement. Important trade routes, which later turned into streets, led to the Town Hall Square. Merchants from Moscow, Riga, Gdansk and Krakow came to Vilnius; thus, a merchants’ guild was built in the square. Markets and fairs were held in the old Town Hall Square; a pillory used to be in its centre and punishments still took place there several centuries ago. At that time, the Town Hall Square was much smaller and occupied the space between the present Town Hall, St.Casimir’s Church, and the beginning of Arklių Street. Merchants and craftsmen lived around the square, and many shops, workshops and inns were situated nearby. The building that belonged to the Small Merchants’ Guild has survived and now houses the museum of Kazys Varnelis. People in search of employment – and employers in search of workers – gathered in the square early in the morning. Often, performances by travelling acrobats, bears, mountebanks and artists were held in the square along with religious mystery-plays.

Vilnius Town Hall
The Town Hall building was Gothic to begin with and changed with time. The Town Hall was reconstructed for the last time by the architect Laurynas Stuoka-Gucevičius at the end of the 18th century. During that reconstruction, the Town Hall turned into a Classical building. In the 19th century, the Town Hall was transformed into a city theatre where a famous personality – Polish composer Stanisław Moniuszko – conducted the premier of his opera. Out of all the Polish composers, only Frederic Chopin could be considered more prominent than Moniuszko. In the 20th century, an art museum was housed in the Town Hall. Today, the Vilnius Town Hall is home to the Artists’ House. Over 200 events are held in the Town Hall every year, including concerts, literary evenings, book presentations, exhibitions, and festivals. The President of the United States of America, George W. Bush, gave a speech here and this is reflected in a special commemorative plaque. The pediment of the Town Hall is decorated with the coat of arms of Vilnius – St.Christopher carrying baby Jesus on his shoulders.

St. Casimir’s Church
St. Casimir’s Church was the first Lithuanian Baroque church. Jesuit monks built this church with the support of the Grand Chancellor of Lithuania, Leonas Sapiega, in honour of Saint Casimir, the divine guardian of Lithuania. The church was designed in line with the plan of the first Baroque church – Il Gesu (Church of the Gesu) in Rome. St. Casimir’s Church was the main Jesuit church in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The temple persevered through many hardships: it was badly damaged by fire in the 18th century, but was reconstructed; it served as a grain warehouse during the march of Napoleon to Russia; and it was reconstructed and turned into an Orthodox church in the 19th century. It is said that the prominent Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky came to pray in this church during his short visit to Vilnius. During World War I, it served as a church for German soldiers, and in the Soviet period it housed a museum of atheism. Following the restoration of independence, St.Casimir’s Church was returned to believers. Jesuits, who had worked underground during the Soviet regime, returned to the building, which belonged to their monastery, and a Jesuit gymnasium was opened. A commemorative plaque reminds visitors that St. Andrew Bobola served God and people in this church.

The Bastion
Firstly, what does the word “bastion” stand for? This term is used to define a semicircular stone structure used for defending the longitudinal walls of a fortress. Construction of bastions started in the 16th century. Why did Vilnius need this defensive construction? At the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th century, Lithuania felt threatened by the Tatars and the centralised Russian state, which was in the process of formation. In response to a request from Vilnius residents, in 1503 Grand Duke Alexander of Lithuania ordered the construction of a wall for the defence of the city. All city residents had to participate in the construction; those who could not lay stone had to help build a palisade. The construction of the defensive wall was completed in 1522. It had ten gates and five towers. The fear of Moscow and Sweden in the 17th century raised concerns about the defence of the city once again. After the beginning of the reconstruction of the Vilnius defensive wall, a bastion was built not far from Subačiaus Gate. It was designed to repel the enemy from the city by use of artillery fire. With time, the significance of the bastion for city defence diminished. The tsarist administration managed to destroy almost all city fortifications in the 19th century and the territory of the bastion was transformed into a city rubbish dump; its moats and walls were levelled. Research and reconstruction work at this site only started in 1966, when the tower was rebuilt and the interior of the cannon rooms and the connecting tunnel were restored. In 1987, a museum displaying stone cannon balls, cannons, and armour of the 15th–19th centuries was opened in the bastion. The Bastion is currently being restored.

St. Therese’s Church
This is one of the early Baroque buildings in Lithuania. The façade of the St. Therese’s Church is attributed to Constantino Tencalla, the court architect of Wladyslaw Vasa. The example of Maria Della Scala – a church of the Discalced (Barefoot) Carmelites located in Rome – was used for this project. Expensive construction materials – Swedish sandstone, marble, and granite – were used in the façade of St. Therese’s Church. The Church of St. Therese belonged to the Monastery of the Discalced Carmelites. The Carmelites are a religious order with eight hundred years of history. The name of the order comes from Mount Carmel in Palestine. In the 16th century, a reformed branch of the order – the Discalced Carmelites, famous for their mystical theology – separated from the mainstream order. The present interior of the church was created in the second half of the 18th century and has been preserved. The impressive main altar is among the most amazing in Lithuania.

Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit
This is the main Orthodox church in Lithuania. The male and female monasteries next to the church are the only working Orthodox monasteries in Lithuania. The privilege of constructing the Orthodox Church of the Holy Spirit from stone was granted by the Lithuanian-Polish King, Wladyslaw Vasa. The interior of the church is decorated with stucco mouldings and sculptures, which is not typical of Orthodox churches in other countries. Stucco is a mixture of high-quality plaster and marble, most often white or yellowish. A decorated reliquary in the centre of the Church of the Holy Spirit contains the remains of three Orthodox saints: St. Anthony, St. Eustatius and St. John. The Church of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius is the only Orthodox church in Lithuania built as a Baroque church in the shape of the Latin cross. By the end of the 16th century, a monastery, a school and a printing shop were situated next to the church. In the 18th century, the Monastery of the Holy Spirit could not avoid the major shocks that shook the city: the Great Northern War, the plague, the Kosciuszko uprising, and later the French invasion. In 1749 the church was badly damaged by fire. It was reconstructed by one of the prominent Baroque architects of Vilnius, Jonas Kristupas Gaubicas (Johan Christoph Glaubitz). The church was again reconstructed in the 19th century.

Aušros Vartai (Gate of Dawn)
The first mention of the Gate of Dawn, one of the symbols of Vilnius, dates back to 1514. Today, many people associate the Gate of Dawn with a house of worship. However, several centuries ago, upon hearing the name of the Gate of Dawn, Vilnius residents would first of all think about the defensive wall of the city. At that time, the defensive wall of Vilnius had ten gates, but the Gate of Dawn is the only one that has survived. The embrasures in the outside part of the gate remind us of the defensive function of the construction. To begin with, this gate was called the Medininkai Gate since the road to Medininkai passed through it. The present name may have originated from the title Aštrieji Vartai (Sharp Gate) because the gate used to be in the part of the city called “aštrusis” (sharp) at that time. The other version of the origin of the name is that the gate is situated in the east, where the dawn breaks. In addition, Mother Mary used to be called the Star of Dawn. In the 17th century, a separate wooden chapel was built near the Gate of Dawn and the miraculous painting of Mother Mary was moved into the chapel. After a fire, a stone chapel was built. The chapel was changed to the late Classical style after its reconstruction in the 19th century. The magic painting of Holy Mother Mary, Mother of Compassion contained in the chapel of the Gate of Dawn is one of the most prominent Renaissance paintings in Lithuania. It is also called the Madonna of the Gate of Dawn or Vilnius Madonna. It was painted specifically for this chapel in the 17th century according to an example by the Flemish artist Marten de Vos. Catholics, Orthodox and Uniates (i.e. Greek Catholics) all worshipped the painting and considered it to be miraculous. It is known worldwide and copies are preserved in churches in many other countries. For example, a copy can be seen in the St. Severin’s Church in Paris and in most Polish churches.

St. Nicolas’ Church
St. Nicolas’ Church is the oldest church in Lithuania. Its Gothic features have been preserved almost unchanged. During the last years of paganism in Lithuania, the Church of St. Nicolas was built by a German community living in Vilnius. Although Gothic, St. Nicolas’ Church acquired some Baroque features in the 18th and 19th centuries. New windows were cut out, a tower, a vestry and Baroque altars were added, and organs and a Rococo-style organ choir were installed. From 1901 to 1939, St. Nicolas’ was the only church in Vilnius in which mass was held in Lithuanian. It also served as a Lithuanian cultural centre. During the Soviet occupation, a sculpture of the guardian of Vilnius, St.Christopher, by Antanas Kmieliauskas was erected next to the church. It was an act of resistance since the city’s coat of arms picturing St. Christopher was banned under the Soviet regime.

St. Catherine’s Church
St. Catherine’s Church was the first church in Vilnius to undergo comprehensive renovation after the restoration of Lithuania’s independence. The Church of St. Catherine, which used to belong to a Benedictine convent, is one of the most beautiful churches of the late Baroque period. The architectural ensemble of the convent was formed between the 17th and the 19th centuries. St. Catherine’s Church acquired its present appearance after its reconstruction following the great fire of Vilnius in 1737. The reconstruction was supervised by the architect Jonas Kristupas Gaubicas (Johan Christoph Glaubitz), who was the creator of the graceful towers and elaborate façade pediments. In Soviet times, St. Catherine’s Church was closed and turned into a warehouse, which resulted in substantial damage. The church opened its doors to visitors in 2006 and has become the new cultural centre of Vilnius. The main nave of St. Catherine’s Church has been adapted for concerts and its vaults house various exhibitions. Musical and theatre groups supported by Vilnius City Municipality rehearse in St. Catherine’s, and chamber concerts are held there as well. A monument to the Polish composer, Stanislaw Moniuszko, is situated opposite St. Catherine’s Church.

Radvila Palace
For three centuries, the Radvila (Radziwill) family was among the most powerful and influential families in Lithuania. Polish Queen and Grand Duchess of Lithuania Barbora Radvilaitė, Cardinal Jurgis Radvila (Grzegorz Radziwill), three bishops, 37 voivodes of large territories, and 22 high state officials were members of the Radvila dynasty. One of the most important positions in Vilnius – city voivode – belonged to the Radvila family for 166 years. Mikalojus Radvila (Mikolaj Radziwill) the Red led Lithuania’s delegation in the historical Sejm of Lublin. In the 16th–17th centuries, the Radvila family owned at least nine palaces in Vilnius. This palace is a luxurious Manneristic style residence that was built in the first half of the 17th century by Jonušas Radvila (Januzh Radziwill), the hetman, i.e. the military chief, of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. After the war with Moscow and the Northern War, the military palace fell into decline and the Radvila family transferred it to the Vilnius Charitable Foundation, which owned the palace for over a century. After renovation and restoration of part of the palace in 1990, the building housed a gallery of foreign art (from Western and Central Europe, and Russia). The largest thematic exhibitions of the Lithuanian Art Museum are currently on display, and there is a gallery of 18th century graphic portraits of the Radvila noblemen. An Art Cognition Centre of the Lithuanian Art Museum is also located here.
horizontal line
To book a guided Vilnius City Tour please contact us
Baltic Catalogues
   Baltic Tours 2019
   Baltic New Year Tour    Baltic Winter Tours    Riga Christmas Tour    Riga New Year Tour    Copenhagen Winter Tour
   Moscow Winter Tour    Stockholm Winter Tour    St. Petersburg Tour    Tallinn Christmas Market    Tallinn New Year Tour