The city of Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania and its largest city. It is located in the southern part of Lithuania and counts as the second biggest city of the Baltic States. The origins of the city date back to 1323. It’s Old Town has lots of interesting architecture and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Vilnius was the European Capital of Culture along with the Austrian city of Linz in 2009.
When visiting Vilnius you’ll want to see the Austros Vartai or Dawn Gate. This is the only gate that remains from the city’s original defensive walls and was completed in 1522. Upon the Dawn Gate you’ll see an image known as The Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of Mercy which was painted on eight pieces of oak at about 1630 by an unknown artist. The image of the Virgin Mary was place upon gates to protect the city. Forty years after it was first painted this image was embellished with gold and silver and then housed inside a purpose-built chapel above the gate in 1706. It is believed to have magical healing powers. As people walk beneath the gate they tend to say a silent prayer. The chapel is open to the public.
A fascinating place to visit is the Gediminas Castle and Museum that dates back to the 13th century and was rebuilt in 1419 by Grand Duke Vytautas. Inside the tower you can find models of the castle as it looked in the 14th and 18th centuries as well as other bits and pieces involving the history of the castle and the knights. You can walk to the top of the castle from where you can get fantastic views of Vilnius or you can take the funicular-type train that runs up and down the hill’s northern slope.
A real nice place to take a stroll is Kalnu Parkas or Hill Park stretching out for 25 hectares. The park lies northeast of Old Town at the confluence of the Neris and Vilnia Rivers. During the summer you can hear concerts performed on a Soviet-era outdoor stage. This is the amazing Hill of Three Crosses and this area of the park has been shrouded in some mysteries. Another interesting hill of the four hills in the park is Gedimino Kapo Kalnas or Gediminas’ Grave Hill. At this site the country’s pagan Romuva organization followers come together for spiritual gatherings.
Another lovely park Vingio Park can be found to the west of the city along the Neris River. Here you can find a wooded park that covers 160 hectares of pine trees. The park dates back to the 16th century. Supposedly at this site Alexander I was attending a ball when he got the news of Napoleon’s invasion in 1812. This event was mentioned in the novel “War and Peace” by Tolstoy. The park is a popular place for rock concerts, firework displays, jogging and in the summers the launching place for hot-air balloons. In the park you can also enjoy the botanical gardens and a small children’s zoo.
Tourists enjoy visiting the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania which is today a reproduction of the original building that once stood here in the 15th century. The newly renovated palace opened in 2009 as part of the country’s thousandth anniversary. Exhibitions in the museum include a history of the development of the original building. The palace’s website offers information about other exhibitions and events which are offered in English and seven other European languages.
An amazing place is Europos Parkas or the Open Air Museum of the Center of Europe founded in 1991 by Lithuanian sculptor Gintaras Karosas. This park offers local and international sculptures by artists from countries as diverse as Japan, Armenia and Venezuela. There are around 100 sculptures. One of the attractions in the park is static and interactive art like the infamous Info Tree. This is Karosas’ crumbling shrine to propaganda and consists of about 3000 TVs. The park spreads out for more than 55 hectares of lovely rolling hills and woodland. You can stroll and relax here and you’ll also find a restaurant and a gift shop. It’s located outside of the city so you can get away from all the hustle and bustle.
There is a lot more to enjoy in Vilnius so come visit a most beautiful city.