The Old Town
The Old Town is the main tourist attraction of Vilnius. On a relatively small space (887 acres) there are 1487 old houses, churches and other historical buildings. The Old Town of Vilnius is seen as unique in the whole world and was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List (since 1994). Aging historical monuments present a serious economical problem for a very small state of Lithuania. Denmark and Norway, together with the World Bank and UNESCO are helping to restore old Vilnius.
The Gate of Dawn or Sharp Gate
(Lithuanian: Aušros Vartai) The sacred Gate of Dawn or Sharp Gate with the Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of Mercy painting in the chapel above, one of the most sacred paintings in Europe for the Catholic religion, was built together with the city walls and other eight gates between 1503 and 1522. The Gate takes its name from the historical suburb of Vilnius named Sharp End. Every year thousands of pilgrims visit Vilnius to pray at the Sharp Gate.
The Vilnius Cathedral stands on a place, where in 1251 first important Catholic church has been built by the King of Lithuania Mindaugas, but after his death the pagan rites returned to Lithuania and only in 1387, when the country took Christianity as its religion, the big gothic cathedral was built there. It has been rebuilt several times after the fires of 1419, 1530 and 1610, and after each reconstruction grew better and bigger.
The present neoclassical façade and a beautiful in its simplicity form, comes from 1783, and was designed by Laurynas Gucevičius (Polish: Wawrzyniec Gucewicz) an important architect to whom two nations - Poland and Lithuania have the claim. Inside the Cathedral you may see the crypts of several Lithuanian and Polish royals. Two wives of the Polish King Sigismundus August: Elisabeth of Habsburg (†1545) and Barbara Radziwiłł (†1551), both died very young without leaving an heir to the throne, are buried here.
The Gedyminas Castle Tower
The gothic tower of the Gedyminas Castle is often seen as a symbol of Vilnius and the Lithuanian independence. For the first time the Lithuanian flag has been put again on top the castle tower on October 7, 1988, signaling the beginning of freedom of the Baltic States from rule of Soviet Russia.
The western tower of the Gedyminas castle, is the only tower remaining from the brick castle built in 1409 by Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas the Great (1392-1430). This sober, gothic tower rising on a hill above the city has been restored in 20c. So today, you may visit it, see the rests of the castle defensive walls and admire the breathtaking panorama of the Old Town of Vilnius below.
You may also visit the historical museum housed in the rebuilt part of the Upper Castle. You may climb the Gedyminas Castle hill on foot or take a ride with an old-fashioned funicular.
When you stand in front of this small church, its beauty and the sheer complexity of arches of its façade, makes you hold your breath. It is clear, that St. Anne's Church builders raised it to the Lord’s Glory.
Built between 1405 and 1500, on a place where an old wooden church had been burnt by fire, the St. Anne's Church has been completed only many years later, in 1582. This delay produced the unusual late gothic sacral building, designed during the Renaissance. Thirty three different bricks were used in the complex construction of its amazing façade.
There is a legend, that Napoleon invading Moscow saw the church and decided to dismantle it and take away to France, to rebuild it on a new place in Paris. Happily the dramatic failure of the Napoleon’s war with Russia and his rapid return to Paris, with the troops left behind desparately struggling to survive, did not give the Emperor time for completion of this kind of projects.
St.Peter and St. Paul church
From outside it is just an old baroque basilica, but when you enter St.Peter and St. Paul church in Vilnius its like entering the world of the Bible: more than two thousands stuccato sculptures representing biblical and mythological figures, sometimes representing whole complex scenes, amaze you with their expression. The interior was built by Italian sculptors - Pietro Peretti and Giovanni Maria Galli from Como (figures and ornaments) and Martin de Altamonte from Rome (frescos).
St.Peter and St. Paul church in Vilnius was commissioned in 1668 by Michael Casimir Pac, Grand Lithuanian Hetman (the chief in command of the Lithuanian armies) to commemorate the peace ending the war with Moscow (1655-1661). The basilica has been erected on the place where wooden church, burnt by the Russians during the war, stood before. You may find the crypt with the grave of Michael Casimir Pac on the right from the entry to the church. The Latin inscription on the stone plate says "Hic jacet peccator" (Here lies the sinner).