Vilnius. Lithuanian Statehood road
Location: N54° 41` 29.7", E25° 15` 44.3"
Since the first mentioning of the name of Lithuania a thousand years ago the state has gone through a complicated period of establishment. By travelling the most famous sites in Vilnius, the history of statehood can be learnt “live”.
1. Seimas Palace (53 Gedimino Ave.) and Independence Square. The Seimas Palace is a symbol of resistance of the Lithuanian nation against the Soviet occupation. On 11 March 1990, the Act for the Re-establishment of the State of Lithuania was declared here. On 13 January 1991, thousands of people defended the building against attempts by the Soviet Army to seize it. This event is immortalised by the remains of barricades and commemorative signs.
2. Gedimino Avenue. Vilnius started developing faster in the middle of the 19th century, when the rail line St. Petersburg – Warsaw was built. New industrial, trading and residential developments were established next to the Old Town. A new central street of the city, St. George Avenue was built. The names of the avenue changed with the change of authorities. Later on the avenue had the names of A. Mickiewicz, Stalin, Lenin, and in 1989 it was known as Gediminas Avenue. Buildings of the 19th and 20th centuries were built next to the avenue, currently housing central government authorities and public institutions, trading and catering companies. Gediminas Avenue connects the historical city centre, Cathedral Square with the Seimas Palace. 3. Lukiškių Square. Market Square developed next to Lukiškės suburb, where the famous Casimir’s fairs used to take place. Lukiškės Square was written into the statehood history books when in 1863 a revolt against the Tsar’s autocracy was quashed there. It was the place of execution of the revolt leaders. A memorial plaque with the inscription “1863” was installed there in the Interwar period reminding of the freedom fights of the peoples of the Republic of Both Nations aiming to restore the statehood.
4. Court Palace (40 Gedimino Ave.) and Museum of Genocide Victims (2A Aukų St.) Ph. +370 5 249 7427, museum is open: III–VI 10 am – 6 pm, VII 10 am – 5 pm. The building used to house the District Court, and— under Nazi rule—the Gestapo. During Soviet occupation, the KGB headquarters were housed here, and fighters for the Lithuanian State were held, tortured and killed. At present, it is home to the Museum of Genocide Victims, with the names of resistance fighters embossed in the façade and a monument in the shape of a stone pyramid erected nearby. An “inner” prison (interrogation centre) has been preserved in the basement of the building. Here, Lithuanian residents who resisted the occupational authority were imprisoned between the autumn of 1940 right up until 1987. Visitors can get acquainted with various expositions reflecting the history of resistance of the Lithuanian people.
5. Monument to V. Kudirka (V. Kudirkos Sq.) A monument to the awakener of the Lithuanian nation, writer, publicist, composer, doctor and author of the Lithuanian anthem Dr. Vincas Kudirka (1858– 1899) has been erected in the square in the centre of the capital (sculptor A. Sakalauskas). In 1898, during the time when Lithuanian press was banned (1864– 1904) the National Hymn with notes was published by the newspaper “Varpas” (“Bell”), issued abroad and secretly circulating in Lithuania. This patriotic poem became the national anthem of Lithuania in 1919. Following the restoration of independence, “Tautiška Giesmė”(the national song) by V. Kudirka again became the anthem of Lithuania.
6. Sąjūdis Headquarters (1 Gedimino Ave.) On 3 June 1988, 35 famous Lithuanian artists and scientists founded Sąjūdis (Lith. movement) initiative group. It was the Lithuanian Sąjūdis that initiated the Baltic Road—a significant event for the Baltic States. Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian residents held hands in a live 595 kilometre-long chain through the Baltic States, thus symbolically separating their countries from the Soviet Union and declaring their wish to be free. The Baltic Road has been included in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest ever chain of people.
7. Monument to King Mindaugas (1 Arsenalo St.) Having united Lithuanian lands in the 13th century and aimed to open roads to Europe, Mindaugas accepted the catholic faith and was crowned the King of Lithuania. On 6 July 2003, the day of celebration of the 750th anniversary of the crowning of Mindaugas, a monument to this King (created by R. Midvikis) was unveiled. The 3.5 metre-high king sculpted from granite is shown sitting on a throne with royal regalia—a sceptre and an orb—in his hands. The pedestal of the monument is covered with calendar symbols marking the most important pagan and Christian holidays.
8. Ministry of National Defence (25/3 Totorių St.). The palace was built at the end of the 19th century in the area of the outbuildings of the former Jesuit Noviciate. Presently, the building is occupied by the Ministry of National Defence. Numerous authentic premises of the monastery and architectural elements of various periods have been preserved here. A fragment of the defensive wall of Vilnius can be seen in one of the premises. A bust of Jonas Žemaitis—general of resistance partisans, often called “the fourth president”—created by sculptor G. Lukošaitis can be seen opposite the ministry.
9. Presidential Palace (3 Daukanto Sq.). This is a Classical building with a sublime history. The palace was mentioned in the 14th century as the residence of Goštautai noblemen. After the last partitioning of the Republic of Both Nations, when the largest part of Lithuania was incorporated into the Tsarist Russia, bishops were evicted, and the palace became the residence of Governors General. The most esteemed guests of Vilnius also stayed there: the future King of France Louis XVIII, Tsar of Russia Alexander I, Emperor of France Napoleon. In the first half of the 19th century the palace was rebuilt in the late Classicist style according to a sketch design of V.Stasov, the imperial architect of St. Petersburg. The palace has been serving as the Presidential residence since 1997.
10. Signatories’ House (26 Pilies St.) Ph. +370 5 231 4437, open: II–VI 10 am – 5 pm. Between 1917 and 1918 the Lithuanian Council held its sittings here and the Act of Independence of Lithuania was signed here on 16 February 1918. In order to commemorate this significant event, a memorial room has been established with an exposition of various items that belonged to signatories who later served as diplomats. In 2003, a commemorative room dedicated to Dr. Jonas Basanavičius was opened here. The exposition of the Signatories’ House presents the history of the national revival of the beginning of the 20th century and the restoration of modern Lithuania in 1918.
11. Philharmonic (5 Aušros Vartų St.). On 4–5 December 1905 this building hosted the assembly of the Great Seimas of Vilnius, during which the goals of the Lithuanian national revival were formulated: a demand for autonomy was submitted to the tsarist authorities and—in 1918—the State of Lithuania was established. The building, built in 1902, was designed as the palace of Town Hall. Today, the Lithuanian National Philharmonic is famous for various musical performances.
12. TV Tower (10 Sausio 13-osios St.). The Vilnius Television Tower is not only an impressive (326 m high) construction—it is also a symbol of freedom and independence for the Lithuanian people and a memorial of the historic event of 13 January 1991, when Lithuanian patriots died during the seizure of the TV Tower by the Soviet Army.
13. Rasos Cemetery (32 Rasų St.). This is an exceptional cemetery not only for Vilnius City, but also for the Lithuanian State. Eminent politicians, scientists, artists and composers rest here.
14. Antakalnis Cemetery (11 Karių kapų St.). This is the pantheon of the Republic of Lithuania. Renowned artists and scientists from all periods of time rest in the cemetery. Freedom defenders who died on 13 January 1991 and border guards killed in Medininkai on 31 July 1991 have found their last refuge here. They are honoured by the monument of S. Kuzma "Pieta".