Vilnius HighLights

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Vilnius tourism highlights

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Gediminas Tower

It is possible to climb to the top of the hill on foot or by taking a funicular.

The best place for great view and an idea of the layout of the city, the Gediminas' Tower (Lithuanian: Gedimino pilies boktas) is the remaining part of the Upper Castle in Vilnius, Lithuania.The Castle Hill surrounded by rivers was a convenient location to build a castle and establish a bigger settlement. Archaeological investigations have revealed that there had already been a settlement on the Castle Hill in the Neolithic. In the 9th century, the hill was reinforced with wooden and stone fences, whereas in the 11th-13th centuries a wooden castle had already been erected. The early history of the castle is closely related to the history of the development of the city.During the reign of Grand Duke of Lithuania Gediminas, Vilnius was already known as the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the Vilnius Castle was mentioned for the first time in the 1323 treaty between Gediminas and the Teutonic Order. Often the Higher Castle is referred to as the Gediminas Castle. During the reign of the first rulers from the Gediminid dynasty the Vilnius Higher Castle was of great significance not only as a political centre of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, but also as a constituent element of the defensive complex of the capital (together with the Lower and Crooked Castles) that withstood an intensified attack of the Teutonic Order during the second half of the 14th century. When a fire destroyed the wooden castle, a brick castle was constructed during the reign of Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas at the beginning of the 15th century. The remains of the brick castle have survived until the present day.Eventually, as the situation in the state changed, the castle lost its purpose and subsequent fires and wars, after which it was not repaired, devastated the castle. During 1610-1613, a prison functioned in the basement of the castle, whereas the Higher Castle was last used as a defensive fortress during the war in 1655-1661. The Muscovite army was temporarily settled in the castle. Afterwards, the castle was completely desolated and was slowly disintegrating and declining.The defensive functions of the castle were brought to light in the 19th century, when a fortress was established in the territory of Vilnius castles following the order of the Tsar of Russia in 1831. The ruins of the Higher Castle were also taken care of, i.e. the remains of the southern and northern towers of the Higher Castle as well as its western and northern walls were demolished, the masonry was conserved, and a sloping Castle Hill was reinforced. In 1838, a wooden two-storey structure of optical telegraph was erected on top of the western tower. When the fortress was removed from the territory of Vilnius castles, a new road was built on the slope of the Castle Hill in 1896, the slopes were planted with trees, and a caf was opened in the western tower. During the interwar period, the conservation works were carried on.When Lithuania restored its state in 1918, the flag of Lithuania was first hoisted on the Gediminas Castle Hill on January 1, 1919. Unfortunately, this was not for long. Vilnius region was occupied by the Polish and only on October 29, 1939 the tricolour of Lithuania was hoisted again on the castle tower. During the World War II the western tower of the castle was damaged badly.After the war, although Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union, the tower was rebuilt and, in 1960, when the territory of the hill was arranged and the fragments of the castle buildings were conserved, the Castle Museum was opened in the western tower. From 1968, the museum became the subdivision of the National Museum of Lithuania (at that time, the Museum of History and Ethnography). When the Lithuanian National Revival began, the flag of Lithuania was once again hoisted on the castle tower on October 7, 1988, whereas in 1995, when the castle tower was renovated, a renewed exposition opened its doors to visitors. A picturesque panorama of the capital of an independent Lithuania opens up from the scenic overlook installed on the top of the tower. The castle tower together with the flag of the Lithuanian state became the symbol of national struggles for independence and statehood.The tower houses an exposition of archeologic findings from the hill and the surrounding areas. It is also an excellent vantage point, from where the panorama of Vilnius' Old Town can be admired.Gediminas' Tower is an important state and historic symbol of the city of Vilnius and of Lithuania itself. It was depicted on the former national currency, the litas, and is mentioned in numerous Lithuanian patriotic poems and folk songs. The Flag of Lithuania was re-hoisted atop the tower on October 7, 1988, during the independence movement that was finalized by the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania on March 11, 1990. A reconstruction of the Royal Palace of Lithuania was completed in 2009, and is located near the base of the hill upon which Gediminas' Tower stands.There is a museum in the Gediminas Tower. In the museum there are models of Vilnius castles from the 14th to the 17th centuries, armament, and iconographic material of the Old Vilnius.

Vilnius Castle Complex

The Vilnius Castle Complex (Lithuanian: Vilniaus pili kompleksas or Vilniaus pilys), is a group of cultural, and historic structures on the left bank of the Neris River, near its confluence with the Vilnia River, in Vilnius, Lithuania. The buildings, which evolved between the 10th and 18th centuries, were one of Lithuania's major defensive structures.The complex consisted of three castles: the Upper, the Lower, and the Crooked (Lithuanian: Kreivoji pilis). The Crooked Castle was burned down by the Teutonic Knights in 1390 and was never rebuilt. The Vilnius Castles were attacked several times by the Teutonic Order after 1390, but they did not succeed in taking the entire complex. Its complete capture occurred for the first time during the 1655 Battle of Vilnius. Soon afterwards, the severely damaged castles lost their importance, and many buildings were abandoned. During the Tsarist annexation, several historic buildings were demolished; many more were damaged during the fortress construction in the 19th century.Today, the remaining Gediminas Tower is a major symbol of the city of Vilnius and of the nation itself. Annually, on 1 January, the Lithuanian tricolor is hoisted on Gediminas Tower to commemorate Flag Day. The complex is part of the National Museum of Lithuania, one of the largest museums in the country.

Upper Castle

One part of the castle complex, which was built on a hilltop, is known as the Upper Castle. The hill on which it is built is known as Gediminas Hill, about 40 meters (44 yards) in height and around 160 meters (170 yards) in length.Archaeological data shows that the site has been occupied since Neolithic times. The hill was strengthened with defensive wooden walls that were fortified with stone in the 9th century. Around the 10th century a wooden castle was built, and since about the 13th century the hilltop has been surrounded by stone walls with towers. During the rule of Gediminas Vilnius was designated the capital city; in 1323, the castle was improved and expanded.Pagan Lithuania waged war with the Christian Orders for more than two centuries. The Orders were seeking to conquer Lithuania, stating that their motivation was the conversion of pagan Lithuanians to Catholicism. As Vilnius evolved into one of the most important cities in the state, it became a primary military target.The Castle Complex was attacked by the Teutonic Order in 1365, 1375, 1377, 1383, 1390, 1392, 1394 and 1402, but was never completely taken. The most damaging assaults were led by the Teutonic Order marshals Engelhard Rabe von Wildstein and Konrad von Wallenrode in 1390 during the Lithuanian Civil War (13891392) between Vytautas the Great and his cousin Jogaila. Many noblemen from Western Europe participated in this military campaign, including Henry, Duke of Hereford, the future king Henry IV of England, with 300 knights, and the Livonian Knights, commanded by their Grand Master. At times during the civil war, Vytautas supported the Orders' attacks on the castles, having struck an alliance with them in his quest for the title of Grand Duke of Lithuania.At the time of the 1390 attack, the Complex consisted of three sections - the Upper, Lower and Crooked Castles. The Teutonic Knights managed to take and destroy the Crooked Castle, situated on Bleak Hill (Lithuanian: Plikasis kalnas), but failed to capture the others. During the 1394 attack, the Vilnius Castles were besieged for over three weeks, and one of its defense towers was damaged and fell into the Neris River.The civil war between Vytautas and Jogaila was resolved by the 1392 Astrava Agreement and Vytautas assumed the title of Grand Duke. During his reign the Upper Castle underwent its most notable redevelopment. After a major fire in 1419, Vytautas initiated a reconstruction of the Upper Castle, along with the fortification of other buildings in the complex. The present-day remains of the Upper Castle date from this era.[2] Vytautas had spent about four years with the Teutonic Order during the civil war. He had the opportunity to study the architecture of the castles of the Teutonic Order and adopt some of their elements in his residence in Vilnius.The Upper Castle was reconstructed in Gothic style with glazed green tiling on its roof. The Upper Castle keep hall, on the second floor, was the largest hall (10 x 30 m) within the complex; it was a little smaller than the hall of the Grand Master's Palace (15 x 30 m) in Marienburg, and much larger than the hall at the Duke's Palace in Trakai Island Castle (10 x 21 m). Reconstruction of the castle ended in 1422. The state had made plans to ho