The capital of Lithuania, Vilnius is the biggest and most beautiful city in the country. Vilnius was first mentioned in 1323 in the letters of Lithuania’s great ruler Grand Duke Gediminas, who invited craftsmen and merchants from all over Europe to settle here. Today it is a modern city with 542,000 citizens. The city has a stunning array of Baroque and Gothic architecture and one of the largest Old Towns in Central and Eastern Europe, which takes up 360 hectares and is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Vilnius University was founded in 1579 and is one of the oldest universities in Eastern Europe. The library holds over 180,000 old manuscripts, rare editions and other publications and holds one of Europe’s biggest collections of maps.
The symbols of Vilnius are the Upper Castle on Gediminas Hill, built many centuries ago, and the Cathedral on the city’s main square. The Cathedral is the main sanctuary for Catholics in Lithuania, but it is also a graceful piece of Classical architecture. By 2009, Lithuania’s millennium, the Lower Castle, built originally in the 16th century, will have been re-erected next to the Cathedral after extensive renovation.
St. Anne’s Church (16 cent.) is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture famous for its intricate and beautiful facade ornamented with red-brick twists and turns and three graceful towers. Next to St. Anne’s stands the ensemble of St. Francis’ and Bernadine Church, the latest discovery at which are several frescoes hidden from view for several centuries under a layer of plaster. They are now being restored.
The Gates of Dawn on the edge of the Old Town is one of the most renowned sacred places for Catholics around the world. The focus is the Chapel in the Gates of Dawn and its miraculous 17th century icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In the 20th century, the image of Mary was named the Mother of Mercy, and inside the Cathedral Basilica of St. Peter and Paul in Rome a chapel was created in her honour.
The Church of St. Peter and Paul is a masterpiece of Vilnius Baroque. It was built in the 17th century and regularly stuns visitors with its wondrous interior decorations of more than 2,000 sculptures and bas-reliefs.
Vilnius charms every visitor with its romantic atmosphere and stylish cafés, which spill out in summer onto the Old Town’s narrow lanes and pavements. The Old Town and its historical buildings make a perfect scene, especially when seen from Vilnius’ skyscrapers in the bustling new business centre. The Lithuanian capital has several extremely modern and highly popular shopping centres, each of which sells the latest in world fashion.
Lithuanian beer is considered to be the national drink and you shouldn’t miss a chance to try it together with a dish from a distinctive range of national cuisine. Nighttime Vilnius is simply irresistible and can offer any number of adventures in its clubs and bars.
Modern Vilnius is a fast-growing city with a well-developed infrastructure and ambitious future plans. It is the centre of the country’s politics, business, science and culture and attracts an increasingly varied assortment of local and international events. Vilnius is the first among the new members of the EU to become the European Capital of Culture, a title it shares in 2009 together with the Austrian town of Linz.