Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania is a city with over half a million inhabitants. The population of the city is mostly Lithuanian (57.8%), but there are important minorities living in the city. Among these the most numerous are the Poles who represent 18.7% of the population. Even the Russians who are 14% are a large ethnic group in the city.
The capital of Lithuania is located in a flat area in the south east of the country, at the confluence of the Vilnia and Neris rivers. The decentralized position with respect to the rest of the country is the cause of the history and change of Lithuania’s borders over the centuries. At one time the city was located at the geographical center of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a state entity much larger than current Lithuania.
THE ANCIENT HISTORY
The city was born in the tenth century as a small settlement of Baltic tribes, and in 1323 it became the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Then in 1387 the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania Wladyslaw II of Poland granted city rights to Vilnius. In 1377 Vilnius was destroyed by the Teutonic Knights, who were however defeated in the battle of Grunwald in 1410.
With the beginning of the 16th century the city developed as an important cultural, commercial and industrial center of Eastern Europe, becoming one of the most important printing centers in Europe. Between 1503 and 1522 the city was surrounded by walls with ten gates. Vilnius reached its maximum development under the reign of Sigismund II of Poland (Zygmunt II), who established his court there in 1544.
Vilnius University was founded in 1579 and soon became one of the major scientific and cultural centers of the Baltic region. In 1795 the city was annexed to Russia, becoming the capital of the North-West Province of the Tsarist Empire. In this period the population suffered the religious and political repressions of the Russian government. Then in 1831 the Russians closed the university and Catholic churches were converted into Orthodox churches.
THE HISTORY OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
During the First World War Vilnius was occupied by the Germans from 1915 to 1918. In 1920 Lithuania became independent, but in February 1922 Vilnius was annexed to Poland becoming the capital of the Wilno Voivodeship. With the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, which divided Eastern Europe between a Soviet and a German sphere of influence, the Red Army invaded Eastern Poland, and Vilnius was occupied on 19 September 1939 by Russian troops.
During the Second World War, in June 1941, the city was occupied by the Germans. During the occupation, the large Jewish population was subjected to brutal extermination. Over 100,000 people, around 95% of the local Jewish population was murdered. In July 1944, Vilnius was re-annexed to the Soviet Union. On 11 March 1990 it became the capital of the new independent state of Lithuania.
HOW TO GET TO VILNIUS
Plane: Vilnius International Airport (Vilnius International Airport, Tarptautinis Vilniaus Oro Uostas) is located about 7 km from the city center. The airport is connected by a direct train service to the central station, the journey takes 7 minutes. The connection between the airport and the city is also guaranteed by a bus service: line 1 (airport – central station) and line 2 (airport – city center – Šeškinė).
Vilnius airport is connected to numerous European cities including Moscow, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Paris, Rome, Milan, London, etc. Among the airlines with more frequent flights to Vilnius are AirBaltic, Austrian Airlines, Wizz Air, Finnair, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa and Ryanair.
HOW TO MOVE: URBAN TRANSPORT OF VILNIUS
Vilnius is served by a dense network of public services: there are 60 bus lines, and 20 trolleybus lines. Public transportation runs between 4.00 and 24.00.
Vilnius tourist attractions: what to see.