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Vilnius is the capital of the Republic of Lithuania. Naturally, it is the largest city in the country. Current area of Vilnius is 392 square kilometres. Buildings cover 20.2% of the city and the remaining area is prevailed with the greenery (43.9%) and waters (2.1%).
The Old Town, historical centre of Vilnius, is one of the largest in Eastern Europe (360 ha). 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 Worls Heritage List.
Whoever you are – a businessman who has arrived in Vilnius to sign an agreement, a tourist on vacation or an experienced traveller looking for new adventures – several days stay in Vilnius will be sufficient to make you fall in love with this city. It is worth staying in Vilnius longer. However, even if you came only for a weekend, the city will leave a lasting impression on you. Theatre or opera goers, lovers of all-night parties or street carnivals, people who are interested in architecture or those who just like to relax and commune with nature will find something close to their heart in this city.
In 2009, Lithuania will celebrate a millennium anniversary of the first mention of Lithuania’s name. Many events are being organised for that occasion, the city will be decorated, and it is planned to complete the restoration of the Grand Ducal Castle in the square of the capital. The Upper (on Gediminas Hill) Castle belonged to the complex of the Grand Ducal Castle and today can be reached by funicular railway.
Almost all styles of architecture can be found in Vilnius, from Gothic to Classical. However, Vilnius is the largest Baroque city, north of the Alps, and is often referred to as “Little Rome”.
Due to its unique historical and architectural features, the Old Town of Vilnius was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994. Like all other medieval cities, Vilnius developed around the Town Hall. The main street, called Pilies Street, connected the Grand Ducal Castle and the Town Hall. Other winding streets of the city led to the mansions of the nobility and landlords, churches, small shops and craftsmen shops. Narrow winding streets and small cosy courtyards formed a radial plan of medieval Vilnius. The remains of the impressive medieval construction – a city wall of Vilnius (next to the Bastion, the Gates of Dawn) – can be still seen in several places.
The Cathedral, famous as a masterpiece of Classical architecture, dates back to the times of King Mindaugas. The style of architecture of the building changed with time – from a pagan temple to the main church of Lithuania. In 1985 a treasure was discovered in the wall of the Cathedral, which consisted of ecclesiastic cups, a monstrance, relics and other liturgical items. The treasure of Vilnius Cathedral is the most valuable collection of religious art, part of which can be seen at the exhibition “Christianity in Lithuanian Art”.
In terms of architecture, Vilnius is a city of churches. There are about 40 churches of different architectural styles in the Old Town. The so-called ‘corner of blazing Gothic’ – the Churches of St Bernardino and St Anne - attract the most visitors. As many as 33 different shapes of bricks have been used in the construction of the Church of St Anne. It is the subject of a much-quoted remark, said to have been made by Napoleon, the famous French military leader, when his army occupied Vilnius in 1812, that he would like to be able to place it in the palm of his hand and take it back with him to Paris.
Multicultural, multinational Vilnius was referred to as the Jerusalem of Lithuania (Yerushalaiyme de Lita). People of different nationalities and creeds peacefully co-exited here, unfortunately, with the passing of time, only one Synagogue has survived out of Vilnius’ 105 synagogues.
In the 16th century Vilnius became an important educational and cultural centre. Vilnius University established by the Jesuits is one of the oldest universities in Eastern Europe. The Old Town campus is arranged around thirteen courtyards, where you can, not only see impressive architectural elements, but also visit the Church of St John the Baptist and the Observatory.
Užupis, a district of Vilnius that enjoys huge popularity among the artists, has been declared an independent republic with its separate authorities and the constitution. Original festivals of the republic of Užupis are held annually there.
The geographical centre of Europe is located not far from Vilnius. According to the French National Geographical Institute, the geographical centre of Europe lies 26 kilometres north of Vilnius, going along the Moletai highway.
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