Vilnius has one of the largest old towns in Eastern Europe. It combines the influences of different epochs, ranging from Gothic to Classicism. The most important building is the St. Stanislaw Cathedral, which resembles a classical temple. Also worth seeing are the house of the Polish writer Adam Mickiewicz (1798 –1855), as well as numerous churches, the classicist town hall and the Gate of Dawn.
Vilnius Old Town: Facts
|Official title:||Vilnius Old Town (Wilna)|
|Cultural monument:||Old town with castle hill and cathedral square; Architectural monuments such as the St. Stanislaus Cathedral with the grave of Alexander Jagiello, the only Grand Duke of the Jagiellonian dynasty to be buried in Vilnius, the Mickiewicz House, home of Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855), the Goethe of Poland, the Gothic ensemble with the Anne – and St. Bernard Church from the 16th century, the Baroque Michael Church, the former University Church of St. Johannis, the Classicist Town Hall, the Baroque Kasimir Church and the only surviving city gate, Aušros vartai|
|Location:||Vilnius, today Vilnius|
|Meaning:||far-reaching influence on the cultural and architectural development of Eastern Europe with an impressive architecture from Gothic to Baroque|
Vilnius Old Town: History
|1323||first documented mention in a letter from Gediminas|
|1386-1572||Rule of the Jagiellonian dynasty|
|1522||Completion of the 3 km long city wall|
|1569||as a result of the Union of Lublin, the city lost its importance in favor of Krakow and Warsaw|
|1594-1625||Construction of the Michael Church|
|1604-18||Construction of the Kasimir Church for the Jesuit order|
|1720-97||under the greatest Talmudic thinker of his time, Elijah ben Salomon Zalman, Vilne as the center of Judaism|
|1783-1801||Construction of the current cathedral|
|02/16/1918||Declaration of Independence of Lithuania|
|1920-39||Annexation by Poland and economic discrimination against Jews|
|1924||Visit of the German writer Alfred Döblin and publication “Reise in Polen”|
|1941-44||German occupation, murder of 200,000 Lithuanian Jews|
|1949||The oldest synagogue in Vilna is demolished|
|1993||Mass of Pope John Paul II in the chapel in the Aušros Gate|
Yerusholayim de Lite – the “Lithuanian Jerusalem”
On an autumn day in 1323, according to extrareference, the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas hunted bears and deer in the woods between the Vilnia and Neris rivers. When night came, he had a tent erected, fell asleep exhausted and dreamed of an armored, snarling wolf. The high priest of the god Perkunas interpreted the dream: “Grand Duke, power and fame are waiting for you. The gods want you to build a castle here from which you will rule a great empire. The armor of the wolf shows the strength of your troops, its howling stands for the prestige that you will enjoy beyond the borders of your realm. ”Then Gediminas ordered a mighty castle to be built on the hill between the rivers Vilnia and Neris.
The settlement at the foot of the castle was named after the small river “Vilnius” and developed into the capital of an empire that a few generations later would extend from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Gediminas was not baptized, but he promoted the Roman Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Church. He brought German merchants, craftsmen and farmers into the country. Under Gediminas’ grandson Jagiello, Lithuania merged with neighboring Poland, thus beginning the powerful Jagiellonian dynasty, which established their residence in Krakow and thus took on great importance from Vilnius, called “Wilna” by the Germans, “Wilno” by the Poles.
The historical center of the old town is the archbishop’s cathedral at the foot of the castle hill, the most beautiful classical building in Lithuania. The gleaming white church, which rises above pre-Christian sacrificial altars, was given the appearance of a Greek temple at the end of the 18th century. The separate, massive bell tower of the cathedral emerged from a defensive tower of the grand princely castle complex.
From the castle on the 48-meter-high Pilies kálnas, the castle hill, little more has been preserved than just the Gedimina Tower, the symbol of the Lithuanian capital. The old arsenal, now a museum of applied arts, and the new arsenal with the Lithuanian National Museum still bear witness to the old lower castle. The Pilies gatve, Burgstrasse, runs through the old town and touches the Gothic St. John’s Church, which has been in late Baroque style since the early 18th century and belongs to the university, the oldest university in the Baltic States. The so-called “Gothic ensemble” with the Church of St. Anne and St. Bernard is a special gem. At the sight of the graceful Church of St. Anne, Napoleon is said to have exclaimed on his campaign to Moscow in 1812: “I would like to carry this church on my hands to Paris!”
The picturesque Jewish town, of which today only remains in the vicinity of the Žydu gatve, the Judengasse, testify, lay on both sides of the Vokieciu gatve, the Deutsche Straße. In the 17th century, Vilnius, which the Jews called “Vilne” in Yiddish, was a place of rabbinical learning. A century later, Rabbi Elijah Ben Salomon Zalman made the city the spiritual center of Judaism all over the world. Since then the “Litwakes”, the Lithuanian Jews, have called them the “Yerusholayim de Lite”, the “Lithuanian Jerusalem”. At the turn of the 20th century, almost every second citizen of the city was a Jew. But when swastikas and SS runes covered the country, the Jewish quarter turned into a ghetto, the residents of which were deported to various death camps; only a few were able to avoid systematic annihilation.
The southern end of historic Vilna is formed by the Aušros Gate, the »Gate of Dawn«, part of the once mighty city wall. A tiny chapel on the upper floor of the gate tower preserves a miraculous image of Our Lady, which is venerated primarily by Polish Christians who make a pilgrimage from neighboring countries to their “Madonna of Wilno” and see Vilnius as a Polish city.