VILNIUS – CAPITAL OF LITHUANIA
The capital of the Republic of Lithuania is Vilnius. It is the largest city in the country: has a population of 600,000. Current area of Vilnius is 392 square kilometres. The County of Vilnius covers the regions of Vilnius, Elektrenai, Salcininkai, Sirvintos, Svencionys, Trakai, and Ukmerge totalling to 965,000 ha. The Old Town, historical centre of Vilnius, is one of the largest in Eastern Europe. The most valuable historic and cultural heritage is concentrated here. The buildings in the old town – there are about 1.5 thousand of them – were built in a number of different centuries, therefore, it is a mixture of all European architectural styles. Although Vilnius is often called a baroque city, here you will find some buildings of gothic, renaissance and other styles. The main sights of the city are the Gediminas Castle and the Cathedral Square, symbols of the capital. Their combination is also a gateway to the historic centre of the capital. Because of its uniqueness, the Old Town of Vilnius was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994. Vilnius is also the largest administrative centre in Lithuania with all major political, economic, social and cultural centres.
MAIN SIGHTSEEING PLACES AND ATTRACTION IN VILNIUS
The castle is the only major remnant of the 13″‘ century Upper Castle still standing there. Nowadays the castle houses a museum of history of Vilnius city and an observation terrace on the top.
Founded on ancient pagan temple grounds, the original church was built by Mindaugas, the first Lithuanian King converted to Christianity. It is the main church in Lithuania. The silver coffin with the relics of St. Casimir, the Patron Saint of Lithuania, is kept here. The Bell Tower has old bells brought from the country churches to Vilnius in 1967.
This last remaining part of the old city defensive wall was converted into a chapel in 1671. The main draw of the chapel is the gold and silver icon of the Virgin Mary, which is believed to have miraculous powers.
Crosses are said to have stood here since the 17″, century in memory of three monks who were martyred by crucifixion on this spot. During Stalin’s rule the crosses were removed and buried. A new memorial was rebuilt according to the original plans on June 14″‘, 1989.
St Casimir, the patron saint of Lithuania, was born in 1458, the second son of Casimir IV, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. Intensely spiritual, he devoted himself to study and prayer and seemed singularly ill suited to the dynastic role marked out for him. His reputation for purity and holiness blossomed into a full-blown popular cult after his death from illness at the age of 26. Fuelled by court propagandists eager to ensure local support for the ruling dynasty, the cult grew quickly in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Casimir had been designated viceroy of Lithuania just before his death), and he was worshipped as a saint here long before his official canonization by Pope Clement VIII in 1602. It was in the second half of the nineteenth-century that St Casimir’s Day (March 4), traditionally the occasion of ceremonial masses and processions, began metamorphosing into the Kaziukas Fair (“Kaziukas” being the diminutive form of Casimir in Lithuanian). Peasants from the surrounding villages would throng the square, selling handicrafts – particularly wicker boxes and baskets. The tradition continued under the communists, although it was shorn of its religious significance, and the basketsellers were shifted north of the River Neris to the Kalvariju market. The fair moved back to the centre in the 1990s, and every year since then craft stalls have taken over Pilies gatve and Rotuses aikste on the days leading up to and including St Casimir’s Day itself.