Vilnius

nds:Vilnius

Vilnius is the capital city of Lithuania.

Table of contents
1 Geographic and Population Data
2 History
3 Vilnius Coat of Arms
4 The Origin of the Vilnius Name
5 Tourism Information
6 Climate
7 Transport

Geographic and Population Data

City situated in South-Eastern Lithuania (54°41" north latitude and 25°17" east longitude) at the confluence of the River Vilnele and the River Neris. This non-central location can be attributed to the changing shape of the nation through the past centuries; Vilnius was once not only culturally, but geographically the center of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

The distance from Vilnius to the Baltic Sea and Klaipeda, main Lithuania seaport, is about 312 km. The distance is rather large, but other cities such as Kaunas, Siauliai, and Panevezys can be reached quickly and easily. They are 102, 214 and 135 km from the capital respectively.

The current area of Vilnius is 392 square kilometres. Buildings cover 20.2 % of the city and in the remaining areas, greenery (43.9 %) and waters (2.1 %) prevail.

According to official 2001 statistics, there were about 574,000 inhabitants in Vilnius, including 52.8% Lithuanian, 19.8% Polish, 19.2% Russian, 4.8% Belorussian, 3.3% of other nationalities.

Vilnius is also the largest administrative centre in Lithuania with all major political, economic, social and cultural centres. The County of Vilnius covers the regions of Vilnius, Salcininkai, Sirvintos, Svencionys, Trakai, and Ukmerge; totalling up to 965,000 ha.

History

Vilnius has been inhabited for a long time, as proven by numerous archeological findings in different parts of Vilnius.

Lithuanians have a tale about Vilnius' founding. According to the story, Vilnius was founded and built after ruling Grand duke Gediminas had a prophetic dream about a iron wolf standing on a hill, and he asked a priest for an explanation. He was told that he must to build a castle and a grand city on the top of that hill.

The capital was first mentioned in written sources of the 12th century. It become famous after the invitation letter written by Gediminas, the grand Duke from 1316, to German merchants. And in 1323 Vilnius was named as a city and was given Magdeburg Rights. Throughout a couple of centuries, Vilnius became a constantly growing and developing city, due in large part to the establishment of Vilnius University. The first university of this type in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, it soon developed into an important scientific and cultural center of Europe.

Of course, political, economic and social life was also in full swing here. This is proved by statutes issued in the 16th century, the last of which was still in force until the 19th century.

Rapidly developing Vilnius was open for foreigners coming both from the east and the west. Because of that, strong communities of Poles, Russians, Jews, Germans, Karaimes, and others began to settle here. Each of them made their contribution to the formation of the city: At that time crafts, trade and science were prospering in Vilnius. The city was developing rapidly, and, at the beginning of the 19th century, it was the third largest city in the region of Eastern Europe. Only Moscow and St. Petersburg were larger.

Between 1920 and 1939, the city was disputed between Poland and independent Lithuania (see Central Lithuania for description): In this period Vilnius de facto belonged to the former, with the political support of French and British governments of that time - because of fear, that the Soviets would attack western Europe, and expectation, that Poland, having interests in Vilnius, will stop possible strike. The Soviets occupied Vilnius in September 1939, followed by nazi-Germany. Of the significant Jewish population of Vilnius about 95% was murdered during the nazi occupation. After World War II Vilnius remained in soviet hands, until 1991. Starting from 1987 there were massive demonstrations against Soviet rule in the city. On March 11, 1990 Supreme Council of Lithuanian SSR announced Independence and restored Republic of Lithuania anexed by Soviet Union in 1940. The Soviets responded on January 9,1991 by sending in troops, and on January 13 during the Soviet Army attack on the State Radio and Television building and Vilnius TV retranslation tower 14 people were killed and more than 700 seriously injured.

Vilnius Coat of Arms

The Vilnius coat of arms is St. Christopher (Kristupas) wading in the water and carrying the Infant Jesus on his shoulders. The coat of arms was given to the city in the seventh year of its existence, i.e. in 1330.

In pagan times, i.e. until the end of the 14th century, the Vilnius coat of arms featured Titan Alkis, hero of Lithuanian ancient tales, carrying his wife Janteryte on his shoulders across the river.

The Origin of the Vilnius Name

It is believed that the name of Vilnius originated from the river at which it is situated, i.e. from the name of the River Vilnele, which had an original name Vilnia.

Tourism Information

After Lithuania's Independence was agreed by Soviet Union in August 1991, Vilnius was rapidly evolving and improving, transforming from a soviet into a western city in less then 10 years.

Today, Vilnius is a modern, cosmopolitan city reminiscent of Copenhagen or Paris. There are more than 40 churches in Vilnius to see. Restaurants, hotels and museums have sprouted since Lithuania declared independence.

Just like all medieval towns, Vilnius was developing around the Town Hall. The central Pilies Street linked the governors’ palace and the Town Hall. Other streets, winding like rivulets in the spring, made their way between the palaces of feudal lords and landlords, churches, shops and craftsmen workrooms. Narrow, curved streets and small cosy courtyards developed to the radial layout of the medieval Vilnius.

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 World Heritage List in 1994. In 1995 the only known cast of Frank Zappa was installed in the center of Vilnius with the permission of the government. Konstantinas Bogdanas, the renowned Lithuanian sculptor who had previously been casting portraits of Vladimir Lenin, immortalized Zappa.

Climate

The climate of Vilnius is transitional between continental and maritime. The average annual temperature is + 6.1 degrees Celsius, in January being – 4.9 and +17.0 degrees Celsius in July. The average precipitation is about 661 mm per year.

There happens extremely hot summers when the thermometer column shows above thirty degrees of Celsium throughout the whole day. It is a real joy for owners of bars, cafés and night clubs as well as for people preferring entertainment: night life in Vilnius is in full swing on such days.

Transport

Vilnius is starting point of Vilnius-Kaunas-Klaipeda and Vilnius-Panevezys highways. Though, river Neris may be navigable, no regular water routes exist. Vilnius International Airport serves most Lithuanian international flights to all main European destinations. Vilnius Railway station is an important hub as well.

There is trolleybus network for main public transport routes, city train is in future plans. More information can be found in Vilnius Transport website.


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