Vilnius - baroque capital of Lithuania, adorned with the unique old town. Spectacular and rich old town is included in the UNESCO list of world cultural heritage. It is the most important city of Lithuania - here stands the House of President, the Parliament, other important institutions. And it was important for ages - the remaining part of the Higher castle reminds about the political history of Lithuanian, the Vilnius University tells about the important culture and education center, and entire old town - about the rich and noble history of this multicultural city.
Vilnius is the most alive city in Lithuania, full of cultural live, night live, festivals and events. In the year 2009 Vilnius will become the European capital of culture.
The exact date, then Vilnius settlement was established, is unknown. The first mention of Vilnius is the letter from Lithuanian duke Gediminas to German towns in the year 1323. In this letter Gediminas invited Germans and Jews to move to Vilnius. In the 11th of March, 1387 Jogaila granted the Magdeburg rights to Vilnius. Vilnius became the capital of Lithuania.
In the year 1503-1522 city was surrounded by defensive wall with 3 towers and 9 gates. Today only some parts of the wall are still standing.
In 1522 Pranciškus Skoryna founded the first printing house in Vilnius. Vilnius became one of the most known book publishing centers in Europe.
In 1569 Warsaw became the center of the confederate state of Lithuania and Poland and Vilnius lost its power as a capital.
In 1579 the duke of Lithuania and the king of Poland Stephan Bator founded the university in Vilnius (before it was a Jesuit school). Vilnius University soon became the most important science and culture center in the region.
Vilnius was first seized by Russian army in 1655. The army robed the town, burned a part of it and killed many inhabitants.
During the North war Vilnius was twice occupied by Swedish army in 1702 and in 1707.
In the XVII century there were a few big fires in the city, but in the beginning of XIX century there were already 20 thousand inhabitants living in Vilnius. Vilnius was one of the biggest towns in North Europe.
From 1795 to the First World War Vilnius (together with all Lithuania) was a part of Russian empire. After the revolt of 1831, Russian government closed the Vilnius University. In the 19th century Vilnius was a center of Belarusian national movement. Most important Belarusian poets and writers published they works in Vilnius.
In the year 1869 The Railroad St. Petersburg - Vilnius - Warsaw was constructed, the iron foundry and the tobacco factory was established. Also the first brewery was opened.
When the Poland occupied and annexed Vilnius, Lithuanian capital was moved to Kaunas. Then the Second World War started (in 1939), Vilnius became a part of Lithuania again, but soon was occupied and annexed by Soviet Union together with all Lithuania. Kaunas remained the capital of Lithuania until the second occupy by Soviet Union.
From 1944 to 1990 Vilnius was the capital of Soviet Lithuania and after 1990 - the capital of restored Lithuanian Republic.
In the year 1994 unique Vilnius old town was included into UNESCO World culture heritage list.
Legend about the Vilnius foundation:
One of the most famous legends in Lithuania is the legend about the Vilnius foundation.
The Great Duke Gediminas was hunting in the valley of Šventaragis (Holly horn). Tired after the hunt, duke settled for the night here in the valley. At night he had a dream: iron wolf is standing on the hill and its howl is heard everywhere around. In the morning the duke told his dream to the pagan wizard Lizdeika. Lizdeika explained him the dream: "The iron wolf is the sight of invincible castle and the town, and the howl means that the rumor about this town will spread far far away." So the duke Gediminas decided to build a castle on the hill and to found a city.
The monument for the Duke Gediminas, which reminds also about this legend, stands in the Cathedral Square.
Origin of the city name:
The name of Vilnius comes from the river, floating through the town. The river now is called Vilnelė, but before it was called Vilnia and comes from the word, meaning the wave. The river got this name from its rapids.
Why the name Vilnia changed to the name Vilnius is unknown. The new name is mentioned from the XVI century.
Coat of arms:
The coat of arms was granted to Vilnius in 1330. The Saint Christopher, wading the river and bringing the baby Jesus, is depicted in the coat of arms. First time it was used by Žygimantas Augustas in 1568.
Vilnius is sometimes called The Town of Seven hills. It is because the city is situated between the hills. The most important hills are the Gediminas castle hill, the Three crosses hill and Tauras hill. Gediminas castle hill and Three crosses hill stands next to each other (though separated by Vilnelė river), and there are more hills around.
Two rivers float through Vilnius - the second biggest river in Lithuania Nėris and a small river Vilnelė, which gave the name to the city. There are a few lakes in the outskirts of Vilnius, the most popular group of lakes is called Žalieji.
Also there are a few parks and forests in Vilnius.