Vilnius Historic Centre
Politics, culture and religion.
Location and site
Vilnius, an inland Baltic city, is in the midst of a region of wooded hills and ravines. It is at the junction of the Neris and the Vilnia Rivers and occupies their shared terraces.
The area of the three castles of Vilnius (upper, lower and curved) is the heart of the historic city, which also includes the zone once enclosed within its walls as well as the older, contiguous suburban blocks. Narrow medieval streets radiate outwards from the central node, and more recent squares, dating to the 16th century, have been integrated into the ensemble.
The city is dense with monuments. In addition to the Midininkai Gate, which is the only surviving gate, the urban fabric is made up of palaces, the city hall, the new arsenal, and numerous religious buildings, including 20 Catholic churches, 4 Orthodox churches, a Lutheran church, a Reformed Evangelist church, an Oriental Catholic church, numerous synagogues and monasteries. The combination of styles – Gothic, Renaissance, Classical, Modern and, especially, Baroque – gives this reconstructed landscape a rich sense of harmony.
Vilnius is an exceptional example of a medieval establishment that exercised a profound influence on the cultural and architectural development of a large part of Eastern Europe over several centuries. (II) The urban landscape and the rich diversity of buildings within Vilnius make it an exceptional illustration of a Central European city which evolved in an organic manner over a period of five centuries. (IV)
- Around 1000 A.D, a wooden castle was erected on a hill which had been fortified in the 5th and 6th centuries. Castles and dwellings were constructed on the surrounding hills.
- Vilnius, which was founded by Prince Gediminas (1316-1341), became the capital of the Grand Principality of Lithuania in 1323. The Church of Saint Nicholas and the Franciscan church were constructed.
- The christianisation of the country and the attribution of the Magdeburg City Rights to the city led to the opening of Vilnius to the West in 1387. It became the seat of the first Bishop of Lithuania. A new cathedral was erected on the site of the 13th-century cathedral and the pagan temple.
- The victory over the Teutonic Knights at Tannenberg in 1410 put an end to their destructive attacks, particularly in 1377. The urban growth that followed entailed the construction of the lower castle, Gothic churches and monasteries. New streets were laid out after the fire of 1471. A fortification wall with five gates was erected between 1503 and 1522 to protect the city from the Mongol threat.
- The influence of Vilnius spread throughout both Western and Eastern Europe. A university was constructed in 1579, and the city became a major cultural centre for the Jews of Eastern Europe.
- Vilnius suffered during the Russian occupation (1655-1660), the Swedish occupation (1702-1706) and various fires. It was annexed to Russia in 1795, and its wall and lower castle were demolished. The majority of its major monuments survived despite destruction caused by the Second World War.
Mr. Remigijus Simasius
Vilnius City Council
Konstitucijos pr. 3
+370 5 211 2889
Ms. Jurga Pociute-Mikutiene
Chief Officer of International Affairs and Tourism Division
The City of Vilnius
Konstitucijos pr. 3
+370 5 211 2732
Ms. Jurate Raugaliene
Vilnius Old Town Renewal Agency
Stikliu g. 4
+370 5 212 7723