Clockwise from top right: Gediminas' Tower, Vilnius business district, Presidential Palace, Pilies Street, Gate of Dawn, Vilnius Cathedral and its bell tower
Jerusalem of Lithuania, [1] Rome of the North, [2] Athens of the North, [3] New Babylon, [4] The city/capital of Palemon [5]
Unitas, Justitia, Spes
( Latin: Unity, Justice, Hope)
Interactive map of Vilnius
Vilnius is located in Lithuania
Location within Lithuania
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Vilnius is located in Baltic states
Location within the Baltics
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Vilnius is located in Europe
Location within Europe
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Coordinates: 54°41′N 25°17′E / 54.683°N 25.283°E / 54.683; 25.283Coordinates: 54°41′N 25°17′E / 54.683°N 25.283°E / 54.683; 25.283
Country Lithuania
County Vilnius County
Municipality Vilnius City Municipality
Capital of Lithuania
First mentioned 1323
Granted city rights 1387
 • Type City council
 • Mayor Remigijus Šimašius
 • Capital city 401 km2 (155 sq mi)
 • Metro
9,731 km2 (3,757 sq mi)
112 m (367 ft)
 (2020) [8]
 • Capital city 589,056
 • Rank (31st in EU)
 • Density 1,392/km2 (3,610/sq mi)
 • Urban
 • Metro
 • Metro density 83/km2 (210/sq mi)
Demonym(s) Vilnian
Time zone UTC+2 (EET)
 • Summer (DST) UTC+3 (EEST)
Postal code
Area code(s) (+370) 5
GMP (nominal)[9] 2019
 – Total €20.7 billion
 – Per capita €25,400
HDI (2018) 0.907[10]very high
Official name Historic Centre of Vilnius
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iv
Designated 1994 (18th session)
Reference no. [2]
UNESCO region Europe

Vilnius (Lithuanian pronunciation: [ˈvʲɪlʲnʲʊs] (About this soundlisten), see also other names) is the capital of Lithuania and its largest city, with a population of 587,581 as of 2019.[8] The population of Vilnius's functional urban area, which stretches beyond the city limits, is estimated at 706,832 (as of 2019),[11] while according to the Vilnius territorial health insurance fund, there were 732,421 permanent inhabitants as of October 2020 in Vilnius city and Vilnius district municipalities combined.[12] Vilnius is in southeastern Lithuania and is the second-largest city in the Baltic states. It is the seat of Lithuania's national government and the Vilnius District Municipality.

Vilnius is classified as a Gamma global city according to GaWC studies,[13] and is known for the architecture in its Old Town, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.[14] Before World War II, Vilnius was one of the largest Jewish centres in Europe. Its Jewish influence has led to its nickname "the Jerusalem of Lithuania". Napoleon called it "the Jerusalem of the North"[15] as he was passing through in 1812. In 2009, Vilnius was the European Capital of Culture, together with Linz, Austria.[16]

Etymology and other names

The name of the city originates from the Vilnia River, from the Lithuanian for ripple.[17] The city has also had many derivative spellings in various languages throughout its history: Vilna was once common in English. The most notable non-Lithuanian names for the city include Polish: Wilno, Belarusian: Вiльня (Vilnya), German: Wilna, Latvian: Viļņa, Ukrainian: Вільно (Vilno), Yiddish: ווילנע‎ (Vilne). A Russian name from the time of the Russian Empire was Вильна (Vilna),[18][19] although Вильнюс (Vilnyus) is now used. The names Wilno, Wilna and Vilna were also used in older English, German, French and Italian language publications when the city was one of the capitals of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and an important city in the Second Polish Republic. The name Vilna is still used in Finnish, Portuguese, Spanish, and Hebrew. Wilna is still used in German, along with Vilnius.

The neighborhoods of Vilnius also have names in other languages, which represent the languages spoken by various ethnic groups in the area.

According to legend, Grand Duke Gediminas (c. 1275–1341) was hunting in the sacred forest near the Valley of Šventaragis, near where Vilnia River flows into the Neris River. Tired after the successful hunt of a wisent, the Grand Duke settled in for the night. He fell soundly asleep and dreamed of a huge Iron Wolf standing on top a hill and howling as strong and loud as a hundred wolves. Upon awakening, the Duke asked the krivis (pagan priest) Lizdeika to interpret the dream. The priest told him, "What is destined for the ruler and the State of Lithuania, is thus: the Iron Wolf represents a castle and a city which will be established by you on this site. This city will be the capital of the Lithuanian lands and the dwelling of their rulers, and the glory of their deeds shall echo throughout the world." Therefore, Gediminas, obeying the will of the gods, built the city, and gave it the name Vilnius, from the Vilnia River.[20]


Early history and Grand Duchy of Lithuania

King Mindaugas Monument

Historian Romas Batūra identifies the city with Voruta, one of the castles of Mindaugas, crowned in 1253 as King of Lithuania. During the reign of Grand Dukes Butvydas and Vytenis a city started to emerge from a trading settlement and the first Franciscan Catholic church was built.[21]

Vilnius is a historic and a present-day capital of Lithuania. Archeological findings indicate that this city was the capital of Lithuanian kingdom and later remained the capital of Lithuanian Grand Duchy continuously. Also later when Lithuania formed a dual confederation with Poland, Vilnius remained the capital of Lithuania.[22]

The city was first mentioned in written sources in 1323 as Vilna,[23] when the Letters of Grand Duke Gediminas were sent to German cities inviting Germans (including German Jews) to settle in the capital city, as well as to Pope John XXII. These letters contain the first unambiguous reference to Vilnius as the capital;[22] Old Trakai Castle had been the earlier seat of the court of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Grand Duke Algirdas (left) consolidated Lithuania as a superpower of the region and multiple times devastated Moscow as a response to the Muscovy attacks on the Lithuanian lands. [24] Under the reign of Vytautas the Great (right), Vilnius emerged as the capital of Europe's largest state.

The location of Vilnius offered practical advantages: it lay in the Lithuanian heartland at the confluence of two navigable rivers, surrounded by forests and wetlands that were difficult to penetrate. The duchy was continuously invaded by the Teutonic Knights.[25] The future King of England Henry IV (then Henry Bolingbroke) spent a full year of 1390 supporting the unsuccessful siege of Vilnius by Teutonic Knights with his 300 fellow knights. During this campaign he bought captured Lithuanian women and children and took them back to Königsberg to be converted.[26] King Henry's second expedition to Lithuania in 1392 illustrates the financial benefits to the Order of these guest crusaders. His small army consisted of over 100 men, including longbow archers and six minstrels, at a total cost to the Lancastrian purse of £4,360. Despite the efforts of Bolingbroke and his English crusaders, two years of attacks on Vilnius proved fruitless.[27]

Vilnius was the flourishing capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the residence of the Grand Duke. Gediminas expanded the Grand Duchy through warfare along with strategic alliances and marriages.[22] At its height it covered the territory of modern-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Transnistria, and portions of modern-day Poland and Russia. His grandchildren Vytautas the Great and Jogaila, however, fought civil wars. During the Lithuanian Civil War of 1389–1392, Vytautas besieged and razed the city in an attempt to wrest control from Jogaila.[22] The two Gediminids cousins later settled their differences; after a series of treaties culminating in the 1569 Union of Lublin, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was formed. The rulers of this federation held either or both of two titles: Grand Duke of Lithuania or King of Poland. In 1387, Jogaila acting as a Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Władysław II Jagiełło, granted Magdeburg rights to the city.[22]

Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth

Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and Grand Duke Gediminas Monument with the howling iron wolf

The city underwent a period of expansion. The Vilnius city walls were built for protection between 1503 and 1522, comprising nine city gates and three towers,[22] and Sigismund August moved his court there in 1544.

Its growth was due in part to the establishment of Alma Academia et Universitas Vilnensis Societatis Iesu by the Polish King and Grand Duke of Lithuania Stefan Bathory in 1579. The university soon developed into one of the most important scientific and cultural centres of the region and the most notable scientific centre of the Commonwealth.[30]

During its rapid development, the city was open to migrants from the territories of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland, Grand Duchy and further. A variety of languages were spoken: Polish, German, Yiddish, Ruthenian, Lithuanian, Russian, Old Church Slavonic, Latin, Hebrew, and Turkic languages; the city was compared to Babylon.[25] Each group made its unique contribution to the life of the city, and crafts, trade, and science prospered.

The 17th century brought a number of setbacks. The Commonwealth was involved in a series of wars, collectively known as The Deluge. During the Russo-Polish War (1654–1667), Vilnius was occupied by Russian forces; it was pillaged and burned, and its population was massacred. During the Great Northern War it was looted by the Swedish army. An outbreak of bubonic plague in 1710 killed about 35,000 residents; devastating fires occurred in 1715, 1737, 1741, 1748, and 1749.[25] The city's growth lost its momentum for many years, but even despite this fact, at the end of the 18th century and before the Napoleon wars, Vilnius, with 56,000 inhabitants, entered the Russian Empire as its 3rd largest city.

In the Russian Empire

La Grande Armée in Vilnius during its retreat (near the Vilnius Town Hall). In the beginning of invasion of Russia, Napoleon established the Lithuanian Provisional Governing Commission and the nobility seen him as a liberator.

The fortunes of the Commonwealth declined during the 18th century. Three partitions took place, dividing its territory among the Russian Empire, the Habsburg Empire, and the Kingdom of Prussia. Forces led by Jakub Jasiński expelled Russians from Vilnius during the uprising in 1794.[31] Although, after the third partition of April 1795, Vilnius was annexed by the Russian Empire and became the capital of the Vilna Governorate. During Russian rule, the city walls were destroyed, and by 1805 only the Gate of Dawn remained. In 1812, the city was taken by Napoleon on his push towards Moscow, and again during the disastrous retreat. The Grande Armée was welcomed in Vilnius. Thousands of soldiers died in the city during the eventual retreat; the mass graves were uncovered in 2002.[25] Inhabitants expected Tsar Alexander I to grant them autonomy in response to Napoleon's promises to restore the Commonwealth, but Vilnius did not become autonomous, neither by itself nor as a part of Congress Poland.

In 1905, the Great Seimas of Vilnius took place in the current Lithuanian National Philharmonic Society building

Following the November uprising in 1831, Vilnius University was closed and Russian repressions halted the further development of the city. Civil unrest in 1861 was suppressed by the Imperial Russian Army.[32]

During the January uprising in 1863, heavy fighting occurred within the city, but was brutally pacified by Mikhail Muravyov, nicknamed The Hangman by the population because of the number of executions he organized. After the uprising, all civil liberties were withdrawn, and use of the Polish[33] and Lithuanian languages was banned.[34] Vilnius had a vibrant Jewish population: according to Russian census of 1897, out of the total population of 154,500, Jews constituted 64,000 (approximately 40%).[35] During the early 20th century, the Lithuanian-speaking population of Vilnius constituted only a small minority, with Polish, Yiddish, and Russian speakers comprising the majority of the city's population.[36]

On 4–5 December 1905, the Great Seimas of Vilnius was held in the current Lithuanian National Philharmonic Society building with over 2000 participants. It was the first modern national congress in Lithuania.[37] The assembly made the decision to demand wide political autonomy within the Russian Empire and achieve this by peaceful means. It is considered an important step towards the Act of Independence of Lithuania, adopted on 16 February 1918 by the Council of Lithuania, as the Seimas laid the groundwork for the establishment of an independent Lithuanian state.[38]

In Poland

During World War I, Vilnius and the rest of Lithuania was occupied by the German Army from 1915 until 1918.[39] The Act of Independence of Lithuania, declaring Lithuanian independence from any affiliation to any other nation, was issued in the city on 16 February 1918 with Vilnius as its capital.[40] At the end of 1918 Soviet Russia invaded Lithuania with massive forces, and the Lithuanian Army withdrew from Vilnius to the center of the country in order to form a defense line. The German Army withdrew together with a Lithuanian government. Thus the city was briefly controlled by Polish self-defence units, to protect the city from the invaders, who were driven out by advancing Soviet forces. Vilnius changed hands again during the Polish–Soviet War and the Lithuanian Wars of Independence: it was taken by the Polish Army, only to fall to Soviet forces again. Shortly after its defeat in the 1920 Battle of Warsaw, the retreating Red Army, in order to delay the Polish advance, ceded the city to Lithuania after signing the Soviet–Lithuanian Peace Treaty on 12 July 1920.[41]

Celebration of incorporation of Vilnius Region to Poland in 1922. The event sparked vast Lithuanians anger with a popular interwar chant: "Mes be Vilniaus nenurimsim!" (English: We will not calm down without Vilnius!) [42]

The League of Nations became involved in the subsequent Lithuanian self defense from Poland after it attacked Lithuanian army positions in the south west part of Lithuania. The League brokered the ceasefire called the Suwałki Agreement on 7 October 1920. Lithuanians believed that it stopped a Polish aggression. Although neither Vilnius or the surrounding region was explicitly addressed in the agreement, numerous historians have described the agreement as allotting Vilnius to Lithuania.[43][44][45][46][47][48][49][50][51] On 9 October 1920, the Polish Army surreptitiously, under General Lucjan Żeligowski, seized Vilnius during an operation known as Żeligowski's Mutiny. The city and its surroundings were designated as a separate state, called the Republic of Central Lithuania. On 20 February 1922 after the highly contested election in Central Lithuania, the entire area was annexed by Poland, with the city becoming the capital of the Wilno Voivodeship (Wilno being the name of Vilnius in Polish). Kaunas then became the temporary capital of Lithuania. Lithuania vigorously contested the Polish annexation of Vilnius, and refused diplomatic relations with Poland. The predominant languages of the city were still Polish and, to a lesser extent, Yiddish. The Lithuanian-speaking population at the time was a small minority, at about 6% of the city's population according even to contemporary Lithuanian sources.[52] The Council of Ambassadors and the international community (with the exception of Lithuania) recognized Polish sovereignty over Vilnius Region in 1923.[53]

Vilnius University was reopened in 1919 under the name of Stefan Batory University.[54] By 1931, the city had 195,000 inhabitants, making it the fifth largest city in Poland with varied industries, such as Elektrit, a factory that produced radio receivers.

Nazi Germany had invited Lithuania to join the Invasion of Poland and retake the historical capital Vilnius by force; however, President Antanas Smetona and most of the Lithuanian politicians declined this offer because they had doubts about Adolf Hitler's eventual victory and were outraged by the 1939 German ultimatum to Lithuania. Instead, they supported the neutrality policy and after being encouraged by the French and British diplomats – Lithuania had adopted the Neutrality Act, which was supported by all the political forces.[55]

World War II

Lithuanian Army tanks in Vilnius after establishing control of the capital

World War II began with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. The secret protocols of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact had partitioned Lithuania and Poland into German and Soviet spheres of interest. On 19 September 1939, Vilnius was seized by the Soviet Union (which invaded Poland on 17 September). The Soviets repressed the local population and devastated city, moving values and factories to the USSR territory, including the major Polish radio factory Elektrit, along with a part of its labour force, to Minsk in Belarus SSR.[56] The Soviets and Lithuania concluded a mutual assistance treaty on 10 October 1939, with which the Lithuanian government accepted the presence of Soviet military bases in various parts of the country. On 28 October 1939, the Red Army withdrew from the city to its suburbs (to Naujoji Vilnia) and Vilnius was given over to Lithuania. A Lithuanian Army parade took place on 29 October 1939 through the city centre. The Lithuanians immediately attempted to Lithuanize the city, for example by Lithuanizing Polish schools.[57]

Just after the beginning of the World War II, on 2 September 1939, the Lithuanian Consulate was opened in Vilnius. The consulate was the first in the world to grant Visas For Life for the Jews and also saved many Polish war refugees.[58]

The whole of Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union on 3 August 1940 following a June ultimatum from the Soviets demanding, among other things, that unspecified numbers of Red Army soldiers be allowed to enter the country for the purpose of helping to form a more pro-Soviet government. After the ultimatum was issued and Lithuania further occupied, a Soviet government was installed with Vilnius as the capital of the newly created Lithuanian SSR. Between 20,000 and 30,000 of the city's inhabitants were subsequently arrested by the NKVD and sent to gulags in the far eastern areas of the Soviet Union.[59]

Povilas Plechavičius, commander of the LTDF

On 22 June 1941, the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union, while at the same time Lithuanians began the anti-Soviet June Uprising, organized by the Lithuanian Activist Front. Lithuanians proclaimed independence and organized the Provisional Government of Lithuania. This government quickly self-disbanded.[60] Nazis captured Vilnius on 24 June 1941.[61] Lithuania became part of the Reichskommissariat Ostland, German civil administration.[62] Two ghettos were set up in the old town centre for the large Jewish population – the smaller one of which was "liquidated" by October.[63] The larger ghetto lasted until 1943, though its population was regularly deported in roundups known as "Aktionen".[64] A forced labour camp (Kailis) was also set up behind the Vilnius Town Hall as a factory to produce winter clothing for the Wehrmacht and another one later for vehicle repair (HKP 562) on 47 & 49 Subačiaus Street. A failed ghetto uprising on 1 September 1943 organized by the Fareinigte Partizaner Organizacje (the United Partisan Organization, the first Jewish partisan unit in German-occupied Europe),[65] was followed by the final destruction of the ghetto. During the Holocaust, about 95% of the 265,000-strong Jewish population of Lithuania was murdered by the German units and Lithuanian Nazi collaborators, many of them in Paneriai, about 10 km (6.2 mi) west of the old town centre (see the Ponary massacre).

In 1944, after the Nazis suffered losses in the Eastern Front and the Red Army was approaching, the Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force (LTDF) was established under the command of general Povilas Plechavičius. The LTDF mission was to defend the country within its borders against the Red Army and the Soviet partisans.[66] On 1 April 1944, the LTDF battalions entered Vilnius and confronted the Armia Krajowa (AK), which attempted to capture the city before the Soviets (see Operation Ostra Brama).[67] The AK tried to negotiate a non-aggression pact with Plechavičius, but the Lithuanian side demanded the Poles to abandon the Vilnius Region or subordinate themselves to Lithuanians.[68] The 19 500 men LTDF disbanded itself after refusing to transcend the Lithuanian border and to aid the Nazis in the Eastern Front. Many of the former LTDF members later formed the core of the Lithuanian partisans (e.g. Jonas Žemaitis).[69]

In the Lithuanian SSR (Soviet Union)

The former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, now the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights

In July 1944, Vilnius was captured from the Germans by the Soviet Army (see Vilnius Offensive) and the town was once again incorporated into the Soviet Union as the capital of the Lithuanian SSR.[70] The NKVD began repressions against the leaders of the Armia Krajowa and Lithuanians.[71][72]

The war had irreversibly altered the town – most of the predominantly Polish and Jewish population had been repatriated and exterminated respectively, during and after the German occupation. Some members of the intelligentsia and partisan members hiding in the forest were now targeted and deported to Siberia after the war. The majority of the remaining population was compelled to move to Communist Poland by 1946, and Sovietization began in earnest.

From the late 1940s on Vilnius began to grow again, following an influx of Lithuanians, Poles and Belarusians from neighbouring regions and throughout Lithuania as well as neighbouring region of Grodno and from other more remote areas of the Soviet Union (particularly Russia, Belarus and Ukraine). On the previously rural outskirts as well as in the very vicinity of the Old town (industrial zones in Paupys, Markučiai, Naujamiestis), industrial areas were designed and large Soviet plants were built, following a program of industrialization.

In November 1980 the number of inhabitants of Vilnius exceeded 500,000. Because of shortage of housing for a growing population of the city, large scale Microdistricts (so-called sleeping districts) were built in the elderates of Antakalnis, Žirmūnai, Lazdynai, Karoliniškės, Viršuliškės, Baltupiai, Justiniškės, Pašilaičiai, Fabijoniškės and on a smaller scale in other parts of Vilnius.[22] These were connected with the central part as well as with industrial areas via expressway-like streets (so-called fast traffic streets) and by public transport, noticeably extensive network of trolleybuses (from 1956).

Independent Lithuania

Skyline of the New City Center from Karoliniškės outcrop, with the majority of high-rise buildings constructed in the last two decades after the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania was declared
Annual commemoration of January Events in the Independence Square near the Seimas Palace with bonfires

On 11 March 1990, the Supreme Council of the Lithuanian SSR announced its secession from the Soviet Union and intention to restore an independent Republic of Lithuania.[73] As a result of these declarations, on 9 January 1991, the Soviet Union sent in troops. This culminated in the 13 January attack on the State Radio and Television Building and the Vilnius TV Tower, killing at least fourteen civilians and seriously injuring 700 more.[74] The Soviet Union finally recognised Lithuanian independence in September 1991.[75] The Constitution, as did the earlier Lithuanian Constitution of 1922, mentions that "the capital of the State of Lithuania shall be the city of Vilnius, the long-standing historical capital of Lithuania".

Gediminas Avenue in autumn

Vilnius has been rapidly transforming, emerging as a modern European city. The majority of its historical buildings during the last 25 years had been renovated, and a business and commercial area is being developed into the New City Centre, that is expected to become the city's main administrative and business district on the north side of the Neris river. This area includes modern residential and retail space, with the municipality building and the 148.3-metre (487 ft) Europa Tower as its most prominent buildings. The construction of Swedbank's headquarters is symbolic of the importance of Scandinavian banks in Vilnius. The building complex Vilnius Business Harbour was built in 2008, and one of its towers is now the 6th tallest building in Lithuania. More buildings are scheduled for construction in the area. More than 75,000 new flats were built between 1995 and 2018 (including almost 50,000 new flats between 2003 and 2018), making Vilnius an absolute leader in construction sector in the Baltics of the last two decades. On average, 298,000-square-metre (3,210,000 sq ft) or 3,246 flats are built each year. In 2015, there were 225,871 units in multi-storey houses and 20,578 flats in single-family or duplex apartment houses, the share of such housing increasing from 6.9% in 2006 to 8.3% in 2015.[76][77][78] The record numbers of flats were built in 2019 – 4,322 flats in multi-family residentials were built in Vilnius city municipality and 817 flats were built in Vilnius urban zone (the city and the closest surroundings) in single-family houses – the later being the highest number in history.[79]

Vilnius was selected as a 2009 European Capital of Culture, along with Linz, the capital of Upper Austria. Its 2009 New Year's Eve celebration, marking the event, featured a light show said to be "visible from outer space".[80] In preparation, the historical centre of the city was restored, and its main monuments were renovated.[81]

The global economic crisis led to a drop in tourism which prevented many of the projects from reaching their planned extent, and allegations of corruption and incompetence were made against the organisers,[82][83] while tax increases for cultural activity led to public protests[84] and the general economic conditions sparked riots.[85] In 2015 Remigijus Šimašius became the first directly elected mayor of the city.[86]

On 28–29 November 2013, Vilnius hosted the Eastern Partnership Summit in the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. Many European presidents, prime ministers and other high-ranking officials participated in the event.[87] On 29 November 2013, Georgia and Moldova signed association and free trade agreements with the European Union.[88] Previously, Ukraine and Armenia were also expected to sign the agreements but postponed the decision, sparking large protests in Ukraine.


Neris River at Mindaugas Bridge with Vilnius Upper Castle in the distance. A favorable geographic location made the Upper Castle on the Gediminas' Hill unconquerable for hundreds of years. [22]

Vilnius is situated in south-eastern Lithuania ( 54°41′N 25°17′E / 54.683°N 25.283°E / 54.683; 25.283) at the confluence of the Vilnia and Neris Rivers.

Multiple countries claims that the Geographical Centre of Europe is located in their territories, however the only location with recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records is located near Vilnius.[89] After a re-estimation of the boundaries of the continent of Europe in 1989, Jean-George Affholder, a scientist at the Institut Géographique National (French National Geographic Institute) determined that the geographic centre of Europe is located at 54°54′N 25°19′E / 54.900°N 25.317°E / 54.900; 25.317 (Purnuškės (centre of gravity)).[90] The method used for calculating this point was that of the centre of gravity of the geometrical figure of Europe. This point is located in Lithuania, near the village of Girija (26 kilometres from Vilnius). A monument, composed by the sculptor Gediminas Jokūbonis and consisting of a column of white granite surmounted by a crown of stars, was erected at the location in 2004.[89]

Vilnius lies 312 km (194 mi) from the Baltic Sea and Klaipėda, the chief Lithuanian seaport. Vilnius is connected by highways to other major Lithuanian cities, such as Kaunas (102 km or 63 mi away), Šiauliai (214 km or 133 mi away) and Panevėžys (135 km or 84 mi away).

The area of Vilnius is 402 square kilometres (155 sq mi). Buildings occupy 29.1% of the city; green spaces occupy 68.8%; and waters occupy 2.1%.[91]

Nature reserves

Vilnius has eight protected nature reserves: Vokės Senslėnio Slopes Geomorphological Reserve, Aukštagiris Geomorphological Reserve, Valakupių Klonio Geomorphological Reserve, Veržuva Hydrographic Reserve, Vokė Hydrographic Reserve, Cedronas Upstream Landscape Reserve, Tapeliai Landscape Reserve and Šeškinė Slopes Geomorphological Reserve.[92]


Foggy winter sunrise in Vilnius

The climate of Vilnius is humid continental (Köppen climate classification Dfb).[93] Temperature records have been kept since 1777.[94] The average annual temperature is 7.3 °C (45 °F); in January the average temperature is −3.9 °C (25 °F), in July it is 18.7 °C (66 °F). The average precipitation is about 691 millimetres (27.20 in) per year. Average annual temperatures in the city have increased significantly during the last 30 years, a change which the Lithuanian Hydrometeorological Service attributes to global warming induced by human activities.[95]

Summer days are pleasantly warm and sometimes hot, especially in July and August, with temperatures above 30 °C (86 °F) throughout the day during periodic heat waves. Night-life in Vilnius is in full swing at this time of year, and outdoor bars, restaurants and cafés become very popular during the daytime.

Winters can be very cold, with temperatures rarely reaching above freezing – temperatures below −25 °C (−13 °F) are not unheard-of in January and February. Vilnius's rivers freeze over in particularly cold winters, and the lakes surrounding the city are almost always permanently frozen during this time of year. A popular pastime is ice-fishing.

The Lithuanian Hydrometeorological Service is headquartered in Vilnius and monitors climate of Vilnius and Lithuania.[96]


Painting and sculpture

Gothic wall frescoes of the Church of St. Francis and St. Bernard (16th century)
Tombstone of Lew Sapieha, ca. 1633, at Church of St. Michael

For centuries, Vilnius as a capital city was an art centre of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and has attracted artists from all across Europe. The oldest works of art which remained from the early Gothic period (14th century) are paintings dedicated to churches and liturgy (e.g. frescoes in the Crypts of Vilnius Cathedral, decorated hymns books). Walls paintings from the 16th centuries were also discovered in Vilnius (e.g. painting of the Church of St. Francis and St. Bernard vaults or in the Church of Saint Nicholas).[101] Gothic wooden, mostly polychrome sculptures were used to decorate the altars of the churches of Vilnius. Some Gothic seals from the 14–15th centuries remained till the nowadays (Kęstutis, Vytautas the Great, Sigismund II Augustus).[102]

In the early 16th century, the Renaissance sculptures appeared, which were mostly created by Italian sculptors: Bernardinus Zanobi da Gianotti, Giovani Cini, Giovanni Maria Padovano. In the Renaissance period, portrait tombstones and medals were highly valued (e.g. marle tomb of Albertas Goštautas, 1548, by B. Z. da Gianotti, tomb of Povilas Alšėniškis, 1555, by G. Cini, both located in the Vilnius Cathedral). The works of Italian sculptors are characterized by a naturalistic treatment of forms, precise proportions, tectonicity, a realistic representation of the deceased. The local sculptors took over only the iconographic scheme of the Renaissance tomb; their works (e.g. tomb of Lew Sapieha, ca. 1633, at Church of St. Michael) are characterized by conditionality of forms, stylization.[102] During this period local and Western European painters created religious, mythologic compositions, portraits, which were intertwined with late Gothic and Baroque features. Illustrated prayer books illustrations and miniatures have survived.[101]

The Baroque period which began in the late 16th century was exceptional for Vilnius as wall painting blossomed in the city. Most of the palaces and churches were decorated with frescoes characterized by bright colors, sophisticated angles and dramatism style. Also during this period the secular painting spread – representational, imaginative, epitaph portraits, scenes of battles, politically important events. It is characterized by detailed realistic style.[101] This period sculptures dominated in the sacred architecture (tombstones with sculptural portraits, exterior and interior decorative sculptures), made of wood, marble and stucco. Italian sculptors (e.g. G. P. Perti, G. M. Galli, A. S. Capone) were exceptionally important in the 17th century Grand Duchy's sculptures development and were invited there by the Lithuanian nobility. Their works are characterized by the features of mature baroque: expressiveness of forms, sensuality, atectonic composition (e.g. sculptural decor of the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul). The local sculptors emphasized the decorative features of the baroque, and the expressiveness and emotionality of the baroque was less characteristic in their works.[102]

At the late 18th and 19th centuries, the Lithuanian painting was largely influenced by the Vilnius Art School which introduced manifestations of Classicism art and later of Romanticism art. The painters had internships abroad, mainly in Italy. Painting of allegorical, mythological compositions, landscapes, portraits of representatives of various circles of society was begun; historical themes prevailed. The most famous Classicism painters from this time are Pranciškus Smuglevičius, Jan Rustem, Juozapas Oleškevičius, Danielius Kondratavičius, Juozapas Peška, Vincentas Smakauskas. While the Romanticism art is characterized by Jan Rustem, Jonas Damelis, Vincentas Dmachauskas, Kanutas Ruseckas works.[101] After the closure of Vilnius University in 1832, the artistic direction formed by the representatives of the Vilnius Art School influenced the further development of Lithuanian art.[103]

Development of art in the first half of the 20th century was promoted by activities and exhibitions of the Lithuanian Art Society, established in 1907 by Petras Rimša, Antanas Žmuidzinavičius, Antanas Jaroševičius, and Vilnius Art Society, established in 1908.[104][105] This period is characterized by Jonas Šileika, Justinas Vienožinskis, Jonas Mackevičius, Vytautas Kairiūkštis, Vytautas Pranas Bičiūnas works. They continued the traditions of Western European styles (symbolism, realism, art nouveau) and followed the modernism art directions.[101] Although, after the World War II the method of socialist realism was introduced – propaganda paintings, compositions of historical, household genre, still lifes, landscapes, portraits and sculptures.[101][102]

The most notable late 20th and 21st centuries Vilnian painters are Žygimantas Augustinas, Eglė Ridikaitė, Eglė Gineitytė, Patricija Jurkšaitytė, Jurga Barilaitė, Solomonas Teitelbaumas.[101]

Vilnius Picture Gallery in the old town (former Chodkiewicz Palace)

Many prominent art galleries are located in Vilnius. Lithuania's largest art collection is housed in the Lithuanian Art Museum.[106] One branch of it, the Vilnius Picture Gallery in the Old Town, houses a collection of Lithuanian art from the 16th to the beginning of the 20th century.[107] On the other side of the Neris, the National Art Gallery holds a permanent exhibition on Lithuanian 20th-century art, as well as numerous exhibitions on modern art.[108] The Contemporary Art Centre is the largest venue for contemporary art in the Baltic States, with an exhibition space of 2400 square meters. The centre is a non-collection based institution committed to developing a broad range of international and Lithuanian exhibition projects as well as presenting a wide range of public programmes including lectures, seminars, performances, film and video screenings, and live new music events.[109] On 10 November 2007, the Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center was opened by avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas with its premiere exhibition entitled The Avant-Garde: From Futurism to Fluxus.[110] In 2018, the MO Museum was opened and is a personal initiative of Lithuanian scientists and philanthropists Danguolė and Viktoras Butkus. Its collection of 5000 modern and contemporary pieces contains major Lithuanian artworks from the 1950s to this day.[111]

The Užupis district near the Old Town, which used to be one of the more run-down districts of Vilnius during the Soviet era, is home to a movement of bohemian artists, who operate numerous art galleries and workshops. Užupis declared itself an independent republic on April Fool's Day in 1997.[112] In the main square, the statue of an angel blowing a trumpet stands as a symbol of artistic freedom.

In 1995, the world's first bronze cast of Frank Zappa[113] was installed in the Naujamiestis district with the permission of the government. The Frank Zappa sculpture confirmed the newly found freedom of expression and marked the beginning of a new era for Lithuanian society.

In 2015, the project of Vilnius Talking Statues was realized. Eighteen statues around Vilnius interact with visitors in multiple languages by a telephone call to a smartphone.[114]


Zawadzki bookstore on the present-day Pilies Street. The store banners are printed in five languages: Russian, Polish, Lithuanian, French, German.

About 1520, Francysk Skaryna, who is the author of the first Ruthenian Bible, established a printing house in Vilnius – the first in Eastern Europe. In 1522, he prepared and published the first printed book of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, titled the Little Traveller's Book (Ruthenian language: Малая подорожная книжка). In 1525, he printed the Acts and Epistles of the Apostles (the Apostle).[115]

The Vilnius Academy Press was established in 1575 by the Lithuanian noble Mikołaj Krzysztof "the Orphan" Radziwiłł as the printing house of the Vilnius Academy. He delegated the management of the printing house to the Jesuits. In May 1576, it published its first book Pro Sacratissima Eucharistia contra haeresim Zwinglianam by Piotr Skarga. The Vilnius Academy Press situation was exceptional because its activities were funded by the secular society, the Lithuanian nobility and the Church.[116] In 1805, Józef Zawadzki bought the Vilnius Academy Press and founded the Józef Zawadzki printing shop which continuously worked till 1939 and published books in multiple languages.[117] The first poetry book of Adam Mickiewicz was published there in 1822.[118]

Gate of the Basilian Monastery where poet Adam Mickiewicz was imprisoned for fighting the Russian rule

One of the creators of Lithuanian writing, Mikalojus Daukša, translated and published the Catechism by Spanish Jesuit theologist Jacobo Ledesma in 1595 – this was the first printed Lithuanian language book in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. He also translated and published the Jakub Wujek's Postilla Catholica in 1599 (both in Vilnius).[119]

The Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore ( Vileišis Palace)

Many famous writers were born, lived in Vilnius or are alumnus of the Vilnius University (e.g. Konstantinas Sirvydas, Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski, Antoni Gorecki, Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, Antoni Edward Odyniec, Michał Józef Römer, Adam Mickiewicz, Władysław Syrokomla, Józef Mackiewicz, Romain Gary, Juliusz Słowacki, Simonas Daukantas, Mykolas Biržiška, Petras Cvirka (who was killed in Vilnius by soviet secret police), Kazys Bradūnas, Nobel prize-winner Czesław Miłosz, Jurga Ivanauskaitė).[120]

The first consideration of the First Statute of Lithuania took place in 1522 at the Seimas of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in Vilnius. The Statute of Lithuania has been drafted under the guidance of Grand Chancellor of Lithuania Albertas Goštautas and in accordance with the courts' jurisprudence formed by customary law, Heads of State legislation on certain matters and by the provisions of the canon law and Roman law regulations. It is the first official codification of this kind of secular law in Europe.[121]

Lithuanian nationalist Albertas Goštautas actively supported the Lithuanian language usage in the Lithuanian literature and protected Lithuanian authors, including Abraomas Kulvietis and Michael the Lithuanian, who criticised the usage of Old Slavonic church language and called refugees Old Believers as the Muscovian spies in his book De moribus tartarorum, lituanorum et moscorum.[122]

Since the 16th century, the Lithuanian Metrica was kept at the Lower Castle and safeguarded by the State Chancellor. Due to the deterioration of the books, the State Grand Chancellor, Lew Sapieha, ordered the volumes of the Metrica to be recopied in 1594. The recopying process continued until 1607. The newly recopied books were inventoried, rechecked, and transferred to a separate building in Vilnius, with the older books remaining in the Castle of Vilnius. According to the 1983 data, 665 books have remained till the nowadays and their microfilms are preserved at the Lithuanian State Historical Archives in Vilnius.[123]

Over 200 tiles and commemorative plaques to writers, who have lived and worked in Vilnius, and foreign authors, who have shared a connection with Vilnius and Lithuania, adorn walls on Literatų Street (Lithuanian: Literatų gatvė) in the Old Town, presenting a broad overview of the history of Lithuanian literature.[124]

The Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore and the Lithuanian Writers' Union are located in Vilnius.[125][126]

The biggest book fair in Baltic states is annually held in Vilnius at LITEXPO, the Baltic's biggest exhibition centre.[127]


Billboard above the Botanical Garden (now Bernardinai Garden) main gates of the first cinema screening in Vilnius (1897)

The very first public film session in Vilnius was held in the Botanical Garden (now Bernardinai Garden) in the summer of 1897. It is notable that such an event was held in Vilnius soon after the very first film sessions in the world by Auguste and Louis Lumière, who held it in Paris in 1895. Vilnius film session also showed the Lumière brothers documentary movies. Firstly shown movies were educational and were filmed in exotic locations (e.g. India, Africa) and introduced different cultures to Vilnians, who enjoyed the movies because very few were able to visit such far places. Georges Méliès's movie A Trip to the Moon was first shown in the non-stationary Lukiškės Square movie theater in 1902 and was the first feature film shown in Vilnius.[128]

First stationary movie theater in Vilnius named Iliuzija (English: Illusion) was opened in 1905 and was located in Didžioji Street 60.[129] First movie theaters reminded theatres buildings and had boxes with more expensive tickets. Also, because there was no sound in the first movies, the sessions had a live orchestral or musicians performances. On stage, cinema screening was sometimes mixed with theatrical performances, illusion shows.[128]

On 4 June 1924, Vilnius Magistrate established a popular 1,200-seat movie theater in the city hall, which in Polish was called Miejski kinematograf (English: City Movie Theater). The purpose of this cinema was to provide cultural education for students and adults. The popularity of this cinema is evidenced by the numbers of viewers in 1926: 502 261 tickets were sold, 24 242 tickets were given free to boarding children, 778 to Vilnius guests and 8385 to soldiers. In 1939, the Lithuanian authorities renamed it to Milda. In 1940, the last city government handed over the premises to the People's Commissariat of Education, which established a Lithuanian National Philharmonic Society there.[129]

In 1965, the most modern movie theater in Lithuania called Lietuva was opened in Vilnius, which annually had over 1.84 million visitors and profit of over 1 million Soviet rubles. After the reconstruction, it had one of the largest screens in Europe (200 square metres).[129] Though, it was closed in 2002, demolished in 2017 and the MO Museum was built instead of it.[130]

Vilnius Film Festival Kino Pavasaris is the biggest and most important cinema event in Lithuania with international guests and thousands of visitors.[131]

Lithuanian Film Centre (Lithuanian: Lietuvos kino centras), which main task is to promote the development and competitiveness of the Lithuanian film industry, headquarters are in Vilnius.[132]


Libretto of the first opera staged in Vilnius (1636), which overtook the first operas in Paris (1645) and London (1656) [133]

Musicians were presented at Ducal court in Vilnius as early as the 14th century as Grand Duke Gediminas daughter Aldona of Lithuania already was a large sympathizer of music and took court musicians, singers with her to Kraków after marrying King Casimir III the Great.[134] In the 16th century Vilnius for some time in their lives was a hometown of composer Wacław of Szamotuły, lutenist virtuoso Bálint Bakfark, composer Jan Brant. The first textbook of music in Lithuania – The Art and Practice of Music (Latin: Ars et praxis musica) was issued in Vilnius by Žygimantas Liauksminas in 1667.[135]

Italian artists organized the first opera in Lithuania on 4 September 1636 at the Palace of the Grand Dukes by the order of Grand Duke Władysław IV Vasa.[136] Operas are staged at the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre and also by independent troupe Vilnius City Opera.[137]

The Lithuanian National Philharmonic Society is the largest and oldest state owned concert organization in Lithuania, whose main activity is to organise and coordinate live concerts, diverse classical/classical contemporary/jazz music events and tours throughout Lithuania and abroad.[138] The Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra, founded by Gintaras Rinkevičius, every year builds up a wide-ranging repertoire, introduces exceptional programs, and invites young talent to perform along with recognized soloists.[139]

In Lithuania, choral music is very important. Vilnius is the only city with three choirs laureates (Brevis, Jauna Muzika and Chamber Choir of the Conservatoire) at the European Grand Prix for Choral Singing.[140] There is a long-standing tradition of the Dainų šventė (Lithuanian Song and Dance Festival). Since 1990, the festival has been organised every four years and summons roughly 30,000 singers and folk dancers of various professional levels and age groups from across the country in Vingis Park.[141] In 2008, Lithuanian Song and Dance Festival together with its Latvian and Estonian versions was inscribed as UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.[142]

Andrius Mamontovas, leader of Foje and founder of the annual Gatvės muzikos diena (Street Music Day)

Jazz scene was active even during the years of Soviet occupation. The real breakthrough would occur in 1970–71 with the coming together of the Ganelin/Tarasov/Chekasin trio, the alleged instigators of the Vilnius Jazz School.[143] Most known annual event of jazz in the city is the Vilnius Jazz Festival.

Gatvės muzikos diena (Street Music Day) gathers musicians of various genres annually in the streets of Vilnius.[144]

Vilnius is the birthplace of many prominent music personalities: singers (e.g. Mariana Korvelytė – Moravskienė, Paulina Rivoli, Danielius Dolskis, Vytautas Kernagis, Algirdas Kaušpėdas, Andrius Mamontovas, Nomeda Kazlaus, Asmik Grigorian), composers (e.g. César Cui, Felix Yaniewicz, Maximilian Steinberg, Vytautas Miškinis, Onutė Narbutaitė), conductors (e.g. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla), musicians (e.g. Antoni Radziwiłł, Jascha Heifetz, Clara Rockmore, Romas Lileikis).

Vilnius was a hometown of such 18th century composers as Michał Kazimierz Ogiński, Johann David Holland (colleague of C. Bach), Maciej Radziwiłł, Michał Kleofas Ogiński. 19th century Vilnius was famous for such European scale performers as singer Kristina Gerhardi Frank – a close friend of Mozart and Haydn (performed the main part at the premiere of The Creation by the latter), guitarist-virtuoso Marek Konrad Sokołowski, recognized as the best guitarist in Europe in the mid-19th century, composer Stanisław Moniuszko – "the father of Polish national opera". The wealthiest woman in the early 19th century Vilnius was singer Maria de Neri. In the early 20th century, Vilnius was a hometown of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis. Musicians of late 20th and early 21st centuries include Vyacheslav Ganelin, Petras Vyšniauskas, Petras Geniušas, Mūza Rubackytė, Alanas Chošnau, Marijonas Mikutavičius.

Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre is headquartered in Gediminas Avenue and also has its department at the Slushko Palace in Antakalnis. Many accomplished singers lectured at the Academy, including internationally famous tenors Kipras Petrauskas and Virgilijus Noreika.[145]


Page in Latin of theatre program dedicated to Algirdas (1687), once performed in Vilnius

Lithuanian Grand Dukes' entertainment at the castle, ruler's visits abroad and the honorable guests' arrival meetings etiquette had theatrical elements already since the 14th century (e.g. musicians' chapels of Gediminas and Władysław II Jagiełło). During the period of Sigismund III Vasa's residence in Vilnius (first half of the 17th century), English professional drama actors' troupes played in the royal manor. In 1635, Władysław IV Vasa established a professional opera theatre in the Lower Castle, where dramma per musica genre productions were performed with operas' librettos being written by Italian Virgilio Puccitelli. The performances were characterized by fundamental, luxurious scenography.[146]

Between the 16th and 18th centuries there was a Jesuit's School Theatre in Lithuania. In 1570, the first performance was shown in Vilnius (comedy Hercules by S. Tucci). Baroque aesthetics prevailed in the Jesuit's School Theatre, but it also had Middle Ages retrospectives, Renaissance elements, Rococo motifs, and served an educational function. The performances were played in Latin, however elements of the Lithuanian language were also included in intermediates and prologues, and some of the works were Lithuanian themed (e.g. plays dedicated to Algirdas, Mindaugas, Vytautas and other rulers of Lithuania).[147][148]

In 1785, Wojciech Bogusławski established the city's first public theatre Vilnius City Theatre. The theatre was initially located in the Oskierka Palace, but later moved to the Radziwiłł Palace and the Vilnius Town Hall. Until 1845 the plays were performed in Polish, from 1845 in Polish and Russian and from 1864 only in Russian. After the ban on the Lithuanian language was lifted, the plays were also performed in Lithuanian. The theatre ceased to exist in 1914.[149]

During the interwar, then part of Poland, Vilnius was famous for the most modern in the region experimental Reduta troupe and institute, led by Juliusz Osterwa.[150] In Vilnius and the Vilnius Region, the performances by the Vilnius Lithuanian Stage Amateur Company (Lithuanian: Vilniaus lietuvių scenos mėgėjų kuopa), established in 1930 (later it was renamed to Vilnius's Lithuanian Theatre; professional theatre Vaidila), were shown. In 1945, it was merged to the Lithuanian National Drama Theatre.[148]

After the USSR occupation of Lithuania in 1940, theatre became one of the means of disseminating the Soviet ideology and censorship of repertoires was introduced. The performances incorporated the principles of socialist realism and a number of revolutionary plays were staged by the Russian authors. A Repertory Commission was established under the Ministry of Culture to direct theatres, control their repertoires, grant permissions to perform or ban performances. Socialist realism was the only recognized direction.[148]

After the restoration of independence of Lithuania, theatre changed cardinally and sought to recreate a broken dialogue with spectators.[148] Vilnius City Opera, an independent opera theatre in Vilnius, blends classical with contemporary art. While the Lithuanian National Drama Theatre, State Small Theatre of Vilnius, State Youth Theatre and a number of private theatre companies, including OKT / Vilnius City Theatre, Anželika Cholina Dance Theatre and others, show classical, modern and Lithuanian playwriting directed by world-known Lithuanian and foreign directors. There also is a Russian language theatre Russian Drama Theatre of Lithuania.[151]


Coronal mass ejection, captured in 1867 with Vilnius' photoheliograph, which was only the second such device in the entire world

The beginning of Lithuanian photography is considered to be the daguerreotyping of the reconstructed Verkiai Palace, which was performed in the summer of 1839 by François Marcillac, the governor of the children of Duke Ludwig Wittgenstein, this fact is mentioned in the memoirs of architect Bolesław Podczaszyński published in January 1853 in the Gazeta Warszawska newspaper.[152] The unfavorable political situation in the country led to the slow development of new technology and cultural activities. The first known daguerreotype portrait atelier in Vilnius was opened in 1843 by C. Ziegler; such ateliers operated in Lithuania until 1859. One of the most famous photographers was K. Neupert, who came from Norway (since 1851 he worked in Vilnius and Druskininkai).[152]

In the 1860s with the spread of negative and positive collodion technology, glass negatives and albumen paper were used instead of daguerreotype plates, photo portraits of standardized formats became widespread and commercial photography ateliers were established in Vilnius and other Lithuanian cities. The first landscape and architectural photographs were created by Vilnius photographers Abdonas Korzonas and Albert Swieykowski, who compiled the first set of photographs in Lithuania – the Vilnius Album (32 images). In 1862, the Provisional Censorship Regulations were adopted, which determined the activities of photographic institutions; they were supervised by the Central Press Board of the Ministry of the Interior. Photographers ateliers (4 of 9) who participated in the January Uprising and photographed the rebels were closed, their images were annihilated and the authors were punished (e.g. A. Korzonas was deported to Siberia). Other prominent photographers of the 19th century were Aleksander Władysław Strauss, Józef Czechowicz, Stanisław Filibert Fleury.[152]

One of the most important facts about the use of photography for scientific purposes is the second photoheliograph in the world (after London) installed in 1865 at the Vilnius University Astronomical Observatory, which was used to observe and photograph the sunspots.[152] Since 1868, for the first time in the world, a systematic photographic service of sunspots dynamics was launched in Vilnius.[153]

In 1927, Jan Bułhak in Vilnius established the first photography club in the present territory of Lithuania.[154]

In 1952, the editorial office of Švyturys magazine organized the first photography exhibition in Vilnius, the main object of which was photography itself (16 photographers participated).[152]


The Great Monstrance (made in Vilnius, 1535, ordered by Albertas Goštautas) is one of the largest in Central Europe. [155]
Reverse of Sigismund III Vasa's gold coin of 10 Lithuanian Ducat, struck in the Vilnius Mint in 1616, with the Coat of arms of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and bearing the privy marks of Hieronim Wołłowicz, Grand Treasurer of Lithuania.

Iron tools, weapons, brass, glass and silver jewelry have been produced in the present territory of Lithuania since the 1st century.[156] Later pottery and production of wood products became widespread, and weaving in the 2nd and 4th centuries. During the period of feudalism, home crafts were the most significant in the conditions of subsistence economy. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the separation of crafts from agriculture accelerated; crafts have become an independent branch of the economy. The Grand Dukes of Lithuania promoted the development of crafts in cities. Weaving, shoemaking, fur-making and other crafts predominated. With the introduction of foreign artisans (early 14th century), the development of crafts accelerated even further. The development of crafts and trade stimulated the growth of Vilnius and other Lithuanian cities. In the 14th and 15th centuries, crafts were already highly specialized (especially in the production of tools, household items, fabrics, clothing, weapons, and jewelry) and at the same time workshops were established, which trained and defended the interests of craftsmen. In the 16th century, the production of fine glassware began, goldsmithing was developed, and the level of pottery and weaving crafts rose. The Statutes of Lithuania (1529 and 1588 editions) mention 25 crafts.[156] Prominent European goldsmiths worked in the Vilnius Goldsmiths' Workshop (established in 1495), which controlled the trade of precious metals, gemstones and stood out for its wealth as it serviced the territory up to Daugava and Dnieper Rivers, as well as the Catholic Church in Lithuania, the manor of the Grand Duke, nobility, townspeople.[157] No less important was the Vilnius Mint, which was the main mint of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and minted the Lithuanian denarius, shillings, groschens, thalers, ducats, and other coins from 1387 to 1666.[158]

In the second half of the 17th century, due to the economic turmoil caused by the wars, crafts declined, most of the goods were imported from abroad duty-free by Lithuanian and Polish nobles and sold on their holdings. Crafts began to rise again in the second half of the 18th century to the first half of the 19th century and Vilnius was the largest Lithuanian craft center. After the abolition of serfdom, craft schools were established in the Lithuanian cities. The growing industry begun to push crafts from some areas of food processing, textiles and metalworking. However, crafts have long prevailed in clothing manufacturing, goldsmithing, wood, food processing, and other fields. During the years of Soviet occupation, craftsmen worked in artels (until 1960), after their abolition - in household service combines. After the restoration of Lithuania's independence, crafts complemented small and medium-sized businesses.[156]


Privilege to Vilnius Cathedral issued by Vytautas the Great in Vilnius on 16 February 1410 in Latin language

As a historically multicultural capital, many languages statuses changed over the centuries in the history of Vilnius. The predominant language of public life in medieval Lithuania was Lithuanian language. It was spoken by people living in the ethnopolitical center of the state – ethnic Lithuania, including the ruler's manor and the most prominent Lithuanian nobility. However, the Lithuanian language had no literary traditions and was not used in writing, except for the most important religious texts (e.g. the Lord's and the Hail Mary prayers).[160][122] Although, the importance of the spoken Lithuanian language remained for centuries because it is known that even Vytautas the Great himself knew and spoke in the Lithuanian language with Władysław II Jagiełło, whose son Casimir IV Jagiellon also spoke in the Lithuanian language.[161][162] The word about the Lithuanian language spread wide, as even the Byzantine Greek historian Laonikos Chalkokondyles in the 15th century knew that the Lithuanians had their own distinct language.[163]

Ruthenian language was used in Lithuania and its capital Vilnius due to the incorporation of the Kievan Rus' lands. In colloquial form, these dialects formed the basis of the Ukrainian and Byelorussian languages in the 19th century. The written form of the Ruthenian language formed from the interaction of the ancient Slavic language with the local elements of the Ruthenian language. Such a Ruthenian language became the main language of the Chancery of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 14th and 15th centuries and maintained its dominant position until the middle of the 17th century.[160][164]

Latin and Polish languages were also widely used in the Chancery of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In the second part of the 17th century, the Polish language ousted the Ruthenian language from the written sources and the Lithuanian language from most areas of the public life. The first state documents in the Lithuanian language appeared in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania only at the very end of its existence (e.g. Constitution of 3 May 1791 and the Great Sejm Lithuanian manuscripts, Kościuszko Uprising Lithuanian notes).[160]

Minorities (e.g. Lithuanian Jews, Lipka Tatars, Crimean Karaites) were under guardianship of the Grand Duke of Lithuania, but their languages were only used among themselves and never gained a significant role. The 2nd and 3rd Statutes of Lithuania consolidated Lithuanian Jews status as non-Christian and "common human" (non-noble).[165]

According to the 14th article of the modern Constitution of Lithuania, the Lithuanian language is the only official language in the state. Therefore, all the official procedures in Vilnius must be proceeded in the Lithuanian language, however the interpreter assistance is guaranteed by the state in some cases.[166]

Lithuanians speak on average of 2.7 languages, and 97.3% of the population speaks at least one foreign language.[167]


Janusz Radziwiłł (left), wearing żupan and kontush belt (these, along with kontusz, were main attributes of the Lithuanian nobles and wealthy Vilnians). Emerencjanna Pociej (right) in 1718, wife of Ludwik Pociej, wearing the Western European style women's clothing, which were popular in Vilnius already since the 18th century.

It is known that the Vilnians enjoyed to expensively dress up already since the Middle Ages. According to historian Antanas Čaplinskas, even the merchants and craftsmen wives were wearing multiple rings decorated with gemstones (e.g. with ruby and fourteen diamonds). Those who did not dress up and did not followed the fashion trends were even ridiculed (e.g. for wearing sheepskins, for not wearing luxurious belts, gloves, or for not using handkerchiefs). Property inventories of 16th–17th centuries often mention expensive clothing, such as long, wide-sleeved jackets of precious materials, known as kontusz, and żupans decorated with lynx's or other animal fur, also kontush belts.[168] Special attention was paid to the buttons as in the list of one nobleman's property Čaplinskas found 12 buttons with pearls and corals, about 100 large buttons with diamonds, plum-shaped buttons decorated with enamel, as well as buttons made from brilliants, emeralds.[168] Delias and dolmans were also popular among the townspeople and nobles.[169]

Wealthy townspeople, decorated with luxurious clothing, raised envy of the Lithuanian nobility, therefore the nobles began demanding to adopt laws limiting the clothing of the townspeople. For the first time such restrictions were recorded in the Statute of Lithuania of 1588, according to which the townspeople were allowed to wear only two rings (one of them was the seal) while the Jews were forbidden to adorn with gold chains and brooches (though, the Jewish women had more rights).[168] Even wider restrictions were put in place by the Sejm of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth which adopted the Act of Thrift in 1613, according to which the non-noble townspeople were forbidden to appear in public places dressed in expensive furs (violators of the law were fined and the clothes were given to the complainants).[168] The wealthy townspeople were not satisfied with such limitations, therefore a subscription fee was introduced later which removed all limitations.[168]

The clothing trends changed in the late 18th century when almost all men already had shaved beards, short-haired hairstyles and began to wear trendy, blue, green or black tailcoats with open-fronts and waistcoats matched with white or yellowish trousers,[169] while the 18th century women's clothing fashion had almost no differences from the Western European fashion trends. In the early 20th century the clothes were already in line with the Western European fashion trends, and in 1961 clothing designers studies were launched in the State Art Institute of Lithuania, also in the same year the Vilnius Model House was established which created and popularized unique and industrial apparel and footwear models, made clothing presentations.[170]

Mados infekcija (English: Fashion Infection) was launched in 1999 and is the biggest Lithuanian fashion show, held every spring in Vilnius.[171] Prominent Lithuanian clothing designer Juozas Statkevičius usually organizes his collections presentations in Vilnius.[172]

Holidays and festivals

Kaziuko mugė is held annually in the city in honor of Saint Casimir

As a result of centuries long Catholic traditions in Vilnius and Lithuania, the Catholic holidays (e.g. Christmas, Easter, Saint John's Eve) are widely celebrated and employees have a days off.[173]

Every year on 16 February (day of the Act of Independence of Lithuania) and on 11 March (day of the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania) festive events are organized in Vilnius with official ceremonies conducted by the heads of state and the holy masses of the Lithuanian Catholic Church in the Vilnius Cathedral.[174][175] While in the evening of 12 January bonfires are ignited to mark the bloody January Events.[176]

Saint Casimir's Fair (Lithuanian: Kaziuko mugė) is held annually for hundreds of years in city's markets and streets on the Sunday nearest to 4 March (Feast of St. Casimir), the anniversary of Saint Casimir's death. It attracts tens of thousands of visitors and many Lithuanian and foreign craftsmen. Easter palms (Lithuanian: Verbos) are one of the most recognizable symbols of the fair.[177]

Capital's Days (Lithuanian: Sostinės dienos) is the biggest festival of music and culture held in the city annually for three days (from 30 August to 1 September).[178]

Although it is not a national holiday, the Vilnia River is dyed green every year for Saint Patrick's Day.[179]


City government

Krzysztof Mikołaj "Perkūnas" Radziwiłł ( Voivode of Vilnius from 1584 to 1603). Due to his prominent victories versus Ivan the Terrible's troops during the Livonian War, he was nicknamed "the Thunderbolt" (Perkūnas).

Before the Magdeburg rights were granted to Vilnius in 1378, the city was overseen by the ruler's vicegerents. Later these duties were granted to a magistrate or a City Council, subordinate only to the ruler himself. During wars, when the city was in a danger, the city was led by a Voivode of Vilnius.[180] The magisterial authority was headquartered at the Vilnius Town Hall.[181]

Vilnius Town Hall, reconstructed in neoclassical style according to the design by Laurynas Gucevičius in 1799

Vilnius Magistrate was responsible for the city economy, was collecting taxes, taking care of the city treasury, was accumulating stocks of grain in order to avoid residents starvation in case of famine or wars. He also acted as a notary in transactions, testaments and as a judge during the city residents conflicts that involved new buildings constructions and reconstructions. His other function was taking care of the city craftsmen. From the beginning, statutes of workshops were approved by the ruler himself. Later, Sigismund II Augustus granted this privilege to the city magistrates in 1552. Since the 1522 privilege by Sigismund I the Old, Vilnius Magistrates had the responsibility to protect the city and its resident's tranquility by having 24 armed guards. During war times, the night watch was performed by three jurisdictions – magistrate, bishop and castle men.[180][182]

Chief City Administrator was vaitas (a Grand Duke of Lithuania vicegerent in the city).[183] Most of them were beginning their careers in the magistracy before obtaining such a position. All vaitai were Catholics. Vaitas was chairing during the City Council meetings. His competence also included criminal cases and he had the right to impose a death penalty. At first, he examined the cases alone, however since the 16th century two suolininkai also examined important cases (if the lawsuit was over 10 groschen) together with the vaitas. In the 16th century, Vilnius City Council consisted of 12 burgomasters and 24 councilors (half of them were Catholics, the other half were orthodoxes). There were no direct elections to the City Council and members to the council were chosen by the wealthy townspeople, merchants, workshops seniors. Burgomasters were being chosen until their deaths. In case of death, another member of the council was being chosen of the same religion. In 1536, Sigismund I the Old signed a privilege which regulated the magistracy formation principles that prohibited to choose close relatives to the council and all the new taxes, obligations and regulations required the prior agreement of the townspeople.[180]

Under the Russian Empire control, the City Council was replaced with City Duma. After the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, Vilnius became a republican subordinate city. The current Vilnius City Municipal Council was established in 1990.[184]

Municipal council of the city

Seat distribution in the Vilnius City Council as of 10 July 2019.

Vilnius City Municipality is one of 60 municipalities of Lithuania and includes the nearby town of Grigiškės, three villages, and some rural areas. The town of Grigiškės was separated from the Trakai District Municipality and attached to the Vilnius City Municipality in 2000.

A 51-member council is elected to four-year terms; the candidates are nominated by registered political parties. As of the 2011 elections, independent candidates also were permitted. The last election was held in March 2019. The results are:


Former municipality building in Gediminas Avenue, used until 2004, now is a shopping mall GO9

Before 2015, mayors were appointed by the council. Starting with the elections in 2015, the mayors are elected directly by the residents. Remigijus Šimašius became the first directly elected mayor of the city.

  • 1990 – Arūnas Grumadas (the president of council)
  • 1993 – Valentinas Šapalas (the president of council)
  • 1995 – Alis Vidūnas
  • 1997 - Algirdas Čiučelis
  • 1997 – Rolandas Paksas
  • 1999 – Juozas Imbrasas
  • 2000 – Rolandas Paksas (second time)
  • 2001 – Artūras Zuokas
  • 2003 – Gediminas Paviržis
  • 2003 – Artūras Zuokas (second time)
  • 2007 – Juozas Imbrasas (second time)
  • 2009 – Vilius Navickas
  • 2010 – Raimundas Alekna
  • 2011 – Artūras Zuokas (third time)
  • 2015 – Remigijus Šimašius
  • 2019 – Remigijus Šimašius (second time)[186]


Elderships, a statewide administrative division, function as municipal districts. The 21 elderships are based on neighbourhoods:

Map of Vilnius elderships. Numbers on the map correspond with numbers in the list
  1. Verkiai – includes Baltupiai, Jeruzalė, Santariškės, Balsiai, Visoriai
  2. Antakalnis – includes Valakampiai, Turniškės, Dvarčionys
  3. Pašilaičiai – includes Tarandė
  4. Fabijoniškės – includes Bajorai
  5. Pilaitė
  6. Justiniškės
  7. Viršuliškės
  8. Šeškinė
  9. Šnipiškės
  10. Žirmūnai – includes Šiaurės miestelis
  11. Karoliniškės
  12. Žvėrynas
  13. Grigiškės – a separate town
  14. Lazdynai
  15. Vilkpėdė – includes Vingis Park
  16. Naujamiestis – includes bus and train stations
  17. Senamiestis (Old Town) – includes Užupis
  18. Naujoji Vilnia – includes Pavilnys, Pūčkoriai
  19. Paneriai – includes Trakų Vokė, Gariūnai
  20. Naujininkai – includes Kirtimai, Salininkai, Vilnius International Airport
  21. Rasos – includes Belmontas, Markučiai[187]

District municipality

Medininkai Castle, built in the first half of the 14th century. It is the largest enclosure type defensive castle in Lithuania and one of the primary landmarks of the Vilnius district. [188]

Vilnius District Municipality (Lithuanian: Vilniaus rajono savivaldybė) is one of the largest municipalities in Lithuania. It occupies 2129 square kilometres and has 23 civil parishes. There are 1163 villages and 5 towns (Nemenčinė, Bezdonys, Maišiagala, Mickūnai and Šumskas) in the district. Vilnius district surrounds the Lithuania's capital and has developed public, business rural infrastructure and offers high standard of living with clean environment. Vilnius district borders with the Republic of Belarus and neighbours with Švenčionys, Moletai, Širvintos, Elektrėnai, Trakai and Šalčininkai districts.[189]

Vilnius district has a multinational population, of which 52% are Poles, 33% are Lithuanians and the rest of 16% are Russians, Belarusians and other nationalities residents (e.g. Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews). Vilnius district has over 100,000 residents. Most of the population (95%) live in villages and 5% live in towns.[189]

Vilnius district has the highest terrains of Lithuania – Aukštojas, Juozapinė and Kruopinė Hills, which are raised over 290 metres above sea level and are considered very high in the country's flatlands.[189]

Palm Sunday is widely celebrated in the district and the unique and colorful Vilnius' Easter palms (verbos) are made there from dried flowers and herbs.[190] The tradition of making Vilnius palms is dated to the times of St. Casimir, who is a patron saint of Lithuania and Lithuanian youth.[189]

Medininkai Castle, Liubavas Manor mill and Bareikiškės Manor are the most famous historical landmarks of the district.[189]

Vilnius Voivodeship from 1769 surrounded a completely independent microstate Republic of Paulava, known for its Age of Enlightenment values, with its own president, peasants parliament, army and laws.[191]

As a result of its large Polish population, Vilnius District Municipality Council mostly consists from members of the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania.[192] Lithuanian Pole Marija Rekst is a long-term mayor of the district.[193]

National government

Seimas Palace in Vilnius, where the parliamentarians of Lithuania convenes

As the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius is the seat of Lithuania's national government. For the executive, the two chief officers of Lithuania have their offices in Vilnius. The President of the Republic of Lithuania resides at the Presidential Palace in Daukanto Square,[194] while the Prime Minister's seat is at the Government of Lithuania office in the Gediminas Avenue.[195] According to the Law of the President of the Republic of Lithuania, the President of the Republic has a residence in Vilnius that is located in Turniškės district near Neris river.[196][197] Prime Minister also has a right to a residence in Turniškės district during term in office.[198] Government ministries are located in various parts of the city; many are located in the Vilnius Old Town.[199]

Historically, the Seimas of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania mostly gathered in Vilnius.[200] The present-day Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania is also located in Vilnius and meets at the Seimas Palace in Gediminas Avenue.[201]

Lithuania's highest courts are located in Vilnius. The Supreme Court of Lithuania (Lithuanian: Lietuvos Aukščiausiasis Teismas), the highest court in the judicial order, which reviews criminal and civil cases, is located in the Gynėjų Street,[202] while the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania (Lithuanian: Lietuvos vyriausiasis administracinis teismas), which acts as the highest court in the administrative order, judging litigation against public bodies, is located in the Žygimantų Street.[203] The Constitutional Court of Lithuania (Lithuanian: Lietuvos Respublikos Konstitucinis Teismas), an advisory body with ultimate authority on the constitutionality of laws meets in the Constitutional Court's Palace in Gediminas Avenue.[204]

The Lithuanian Tribunal, the highest appeal court for the nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, was established by Stephen Báthory, Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland, in 1581. It was located in Vilnius till 1795.[205]

Special services

Lithuanian Police officer, patrolling with a Segway.
Emergency Response Center in Antakalnis, which deals with the emergency calls in Vilnius.

The security of Vilnius is mainly the responsibility of the Vilniaus apskrities vyriausiasis policijos komisariatas, the highest police office in the city, and local police offices. Its main responsibilities are ensuring public order and public safety, disclosure and investigation of criminal offenses and traffic safety supervision.[206] In 2016, there were 1500 police officers in Vilnius.[207] Viešojo saugumo tarnyba prie Vidaus reikalų ministerijos is responsible for t