Vilnius is often considered one of the most beautiful yet hidden tourist destinations. We would like to make sure that MRW 2020 guests take the most of their time spent in our lovely capital.
That is why we have prepared this small list of Vilnius’s must-sees for you.
Gediminas Castle Tower
Former political centre of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Gediminas hill fortress is a living symbol of the first inhabitants of Vilnius, the Teutonic crusades against Lithuania, as well as more recent crucial historical events.
on the 1st January 1919, the Lithuanian tricolour was hoisted on the tower for the first time. And it is the Gediminas tower that marks the starting point of the Baltic Way in Lithuania.
While climbing the narrow stairs of the tower, one gets the opportunity to learn more about its long history, the development of the city and the territory of the Vilnius castles, admire Baltic jewellery as well as the main attributes of Lithuanian warfare.
Gediminas Hill fortress withstood multiple attacks during the crusades. To honour this, there is historical period, an entire exhibition was built. It contains projectiles and a unique lance with a head (only two lances of this type have been found in Lithuania) from that time period, excavated in the territory of the Vilnius castles.
There is also a new interactive exhibition “Timeline Views from the Windows of the Gediminas Castle”.
During this retrospective trip, looking thought the windows one is given a chance to witness the territory of the Vilnius castles during different time periods, experience an attack of Teutonic knights, see the developing city in the Renaissance times, as well as comparing it with a view of Castle Hill in 1785, when it had already lost its political importance.
The exhibition pays tribute to the very recent discovery of the remains of the participants of the uprising of 1863–1864 who were killed in Lukiškių Square and were buried on the grounds of the hill fort.
The uprising itself and its leaders, the ongoing excavations and their finds are available to look at.
Republic of Užupis
On April Fool’s Day, 1997, the district proclaimed itself an independent republic (The Republic of Užupis), replete with an army of 12 personnel.
Užupis which literary translates as “on the other side of the river” is the most bohemian place of Vilnius. The Republic is mostly located in Vilnius’ old town and is extremely popular among artists and other free spirits. The area is full of art galleries, artists’ workshops, and cafés.
Užupis celebrates its independence annually on Užupis Day, which falls on April 1st. Artistic endeavours are the main preoccupation of the Republic while President of the Republic of Užupis, himself a poet, musician, and film director, Romas Lileikis leads the way.
The first major initiative undertaken by the Republic after its foundation was to build a monument for Frank Zappa, in Vilnius.
Just like any other republic, Užupis has its own constitution.
Copies of the 41 articles of the Republic’s constitution, translated to various languages, can be found affixed to a wall on Paupio street in the area.
Some of these articles would be unremarkable in a constitution; for instance, Article 5 states “Man has the right to individuality.” Others are more creative. Articles 1 (“People have the right to live by the River Vilnelė, while the River Vilnelė has the right to flow past people.”), 12 (“A dog has the right to be a dog.”) and 37 (“People have the right to have no rights.”), each of which makes an unusual apportionment of rights. There are several paired articles, such as Articles 16 (“People have the right to be happy.”) and 17 (“People have the right to be unhappy.”)
On April 4, 2002, a statue of an angle blowing a trumpet was unveiled in the main square. It was intended to symbolize the revival and artistic freedom of the district.
Church of St. Anne
The first church at this site, constructed of wood, was built for Anna, Grand Duchess of Lithuania, the first wife of Vytautas the Great.
Originally intended for the use of Catholic Germans and other visiting Catholics, it was destroyed by a fire in 1419. The present brick church was constructed on the initiative of the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania Alexander I Jagiellon in 1495–1500.
The exterior of the church has remained almost unchanged since then. A reconstruction of the church, funded by Mikołaj “the Black” Radziwiłł and Jerzy Radziwiłł, was carried out following severe fire damage, in 1582.
Abraomas Kulvietis preached in the church between 1538 and 1541. In 1747, the church underwent a repair under supervision of Johann Christoph Glaubitz. In 1762, side arches of the main portal were hidden in order to strengthen the support for the facade.
According to a well-known legend, Emperor Napoleon, after seeing the church during the Franco-Russian War in 1812, expressed a wish to carry the church home with him to Paris ‘in the palm of his hand’.
The church was renovated in 1902–1909 when the side arches were uncovered and the walls were strengthened with iron and again in 1960–1970 when the towers in bad shape were restored.
On August 23, 1987 the Lithuanian Freedom League held a rally in a square near the church and the monument of Adam Mickiewicz to protest the ongoing Soviet occupation, which was broken up by the militia. Most recent reconstruction followed in 2009: the roofing was replaced, facade elements were reinforced and long-missing side spires were rebuilt.
On June 13, 2018 St. Anne’s Church was dedicated by The Archbishop of Vilnius, Gintaras Grušas, to be used exclusively to celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
The cathedral square was founded as late as 19th century, during the reconstruction and refurbishment of the cathedral.
The area was originally densely populated and built up with medieval and renaissance houses. Parts of the area were also occupied by the Lower Castle.
Following the creation of a new square it became the main open space of the city’s centre. It was there that the Russian military parades were held and where the annual St. Casimir’s Fair was held.
In 1905 a monument to Catherine the Great (by Mark Antokolski) was erected.
After the city was occupied by Germany in 1915 and the local Polish administration was allowed to govern the city, the monument was destroyed and the St. Casimir’s Fair was moved to the Łukiszki Square (Lukiškės Square).
In modern times, fairs and festivities are regularly held at the site. It is there that the tallest Christmas tree in the city is erected, as well as a number of other Christmas decorations, including outdoor nativity scenes. It is also the place where that the yearly public celebrations of New Year’s Eve are held.
One of the most distinctive features of the square is the Cathedral’s bell tower, situated several yards from the cathedral itself, a thing uncommon outside of Italy.
According to many scholars, the tower was in fact one of the towers of the ancient city walls of the mediaeval Lower Castle that once stood near the modern square.
According to another version, not supported by modern historians, the base of the tower was in fact a small pagan temple, demolished and then turned into the bell tower.
Regardless of its origins, the lower parts of the tower are mediaeval, with several small loop-holes preserved. Its oldest underground square section was built in the 13th century on the bottom of the old riverbed. Upper parts of the tower were added in the 18th century while the neo-classical finish was added in the 19th century, during the reconstruction of the cathedral.