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Image:LietuvaVilnius.png Image:Vilnius city COA.gif
Ethnographic region Aukštaitija
County Vilnius County
Municipality Vilnius city municipality
Coordinates 54°41′N 25°17′E
Number of elderates 20
General Information
Capital of Lithuania
Vilnius County
Vilnius city municipality
Vilnius district municipality
Population 540,318 in 2005 (1st)
First mentioned 1323
Granted city rights 1387
Not to be confused with Vilnius city municipality.

Vilnius (pronunciation (help·info), see also other historical names of the city) is the capital and largest city of Lithuania, with a population of 553,904 as of December 2005<ref>Number of population by county, city (town) and municipality | Statistics Lithuania © Department of Statistics to the Government of the Republic of Lithuania (Statistics Lithuania). Accessed May 2, 2006.</ref>. It is the capital of the Vilnius city municipality and of the Vilnius district municipality. It is also the county seat of Vilnius County.


[edit] History

Main article: History of Vilnius

Some historians identify the city with Voruta, a legendary capital of Mindaugas who was crowned in 1253 as King of Lithuania. The city was first mentioned in written sources in 1323, in letters of Grand Duke Gediminas that were sent to German cities and invited German and Jewish community to settle in the capital city. In 1387, the city was granted city rights by Jogaila, one of Gediminas' successors.

Image:Vilnius Ostra Brama.jpg
Gate of Dawn, the only remaining gate in the city wall

Between 1503 and 1522 the city was surrounded with walls that had nine city gates and three towers. Vilnius reached the peak of its development under the reign of Sigismund August, who moved his court there in 1544. In the following centuries, Vilnius became a constantly growing and developing city. This growth was due in part to the establishment of Vilnius University by the King Stephen Bathory in 1579. The university soon developed into one of the most important scientific and cultural centres of the region and the most notable scientific centre of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Political, economic, and social activities were in full swing in the town. In 1769, the Rasos Cemetery, one of the oldest surviving cemeteries in the city, was founded. During its rapid development, the city was open to migrants from both abroad and far reaches of territories of Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Each group made its unique contribution to the life of the city, and crafts, trade and science prospered. During the Russo-Polish War (1654-1667), Vilnius was occupied by Russia for several years. The city was pillaged and burned, and its population was massacred. The city's growth lost its momentum for many years, but the population rebounded, and by the beginning of the 19th century city's population reached 200,000 making the city one of the largest in Northern Europe.

Image:Vilnius Alumni Yard.jpg
The Vilnius Alumni yard

After the Third Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, Vilnius was annexed by Russia and became the capital of a guberniya. During the Russian occupation the city walls were destroyed, and by 1805, only the Dawn Gate remained. In 1812, the city was seized by Napoleon on his push towards Moscow. Following the November Uprising in 1831, Vilnius University was closed and Russian repressions halted the further development of the city. During the January Uprising in 1863 heavy fighting occurred within the city, but was brutally pacified by Mikhail Muravyov, nicknamed The Hanger by the population because of the number of executions he organized. After the uprising all civil liberties were withdrawn, and use of the Polish <ref>Egidijus Aleksandravičius, Antanas Kulakauskas; Carų valdžioje: Lietuva XIX amžiuje ("Lithuania under the reign of Czars in 19th century"); Baltos lankos, Vilnius 1996. Polish translation: Pod władzą carów: Litwa w XIX wieku, Universitas, Kraków 2003, page 90, ISBN 83-7052-543-1</ref> and Lithuanian languages was banned.

Image:Vilnius St Anns church.jpg
St. Anne's Church and the church of the Bernardine Monastery in Vilnius.

During World War I Vilnius — as with the rest of Lithuania — was occupied by Germany from 1915 until 1918. The Act of the Restoration of Independence of Lithuania was proclaimed in the city on February 16, 1918. After the withdrawal of German forces, Lithuanian forces were made to retreat by the advancing Russian occupation forces. Vilnius changed hands many times: for a while it was controlled by Polish self-defence units, who didn't want the city to be occupied by Russian-Bolshevik forces. Then the Polish Army regained control, then Soviet forces again. Shortly after its defeat in the Battle of Warsaw (1920), the retreating Red Army ceded the city back to Lithuania by signing a peace treaty on July 12, 1920. Poland also recognized Vilnius and the Vilnius region as a part of Lithuania with the Treaty of Suwalki signed on October 7, 1920 ([1]). However, on October 9 of the same year, the Polish Army under General Lucjan Żeligowski broke the treaty and seized Vilnius after a staged coup. The city and its surroundings were proclaimed a separate state of Central Lithuania (Vidurio Lietuvos Respublika). On February 20, 1922, the whole area was made a part of Poland, with Vilnius as the capital of the Wilno Voivodship (Wilno being the name of Vilnius in Polish). The Lithuanian government fled to a temporary capital Kaunas and stated that Poland had illegally annexed and occupied Vilnius and diplomatic relations between Lithuania and Poland were severed until 1938. Poles and Jews made up a majority of the population of the city, with a small Lithuanian minority of only 0.8%.

Image:Vilnius HMG Orthodox church.jpg
Orthodox Cathedral of the Theotokos, with Gediminas Tower in background.

In the meantime, for yet another time in its history, the city enjoyed a period of fast development. Vilnius University was reopened under the name Stefan Batory University and the city's infrastructure was improved significantly. By 1931, the city had 195,000 inhabitants, making it the fifth largest city in Poland. Some Lithuanians, however, dispute this picture of economic growth and point out that the standard of living in Vilnius at this time was considerably lower compared to that in other parts of contemporary Lithuania.

Following the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, on September 19, 1939, Vilnius was seized and annexed by the Soviet Union. On October 10, 1939, after a Soviet ultimatum, the Lithuanian government accepted the presence of Soviet military bases in various parts of the country in exchange for restoring the city to Lithuania. Though the process of transferring the capital from Kaunas to Vilnius started soon after, the whole of Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union in June of 1940, before the transfer was completed. A new Communist government was installed, with Vilnius as the capital of the newly created Lithuanian SSR. Up to 40,000 of the city's inhabitants were arrested by the NKVD and sent to gulags in the far eastern areas of the Soviet Union.

In June 1941, the city was seized by Germany. Two ghettos were set up in the old town center for the large Jewish population - the smaller one of which was "liquidated" by October. The larger ghetto lasted until 1943, though its population was regularly decimated in what were known as "Aktionen". A failed ghetto uprising on September 1, 1943 organized by the Fareinigte Partizaner Organizacje (the United Partisan Organization, the first Jewish partisan unit in Nazi-occupied Europe), was followed by the final destruction of the ghetto. About 95% of the 265,000-strong Jewish population of Lithuania was murdered by the German units and their local collaborators, many of them in Paneriai, about 10 km west of the old town centre.

In July 1944 Vilnius was retaken by the Soviet Army. Vilnius was incorporated into the Soviet Union as the capital of the Lithuanian SSR shortly thereafter. Immediately after World War II, large numbers of Poles were expelled from Soviet-occupied Lithuania to Poland. Coupled with the migration of the Lithuanians into Vilnius, this development resulted in a change in the city's demographic fabric.

On March 11, 1990, the Supreme Council of the Lithuanian SSR announced its independence from the Soviet Union and restored the independent Republic of Lithuania. The Soviets responded on January 9, 1991, by sending in troops. On January 13 during the Soviet Army attack on the State Radio and Television Building and the Vilnius TV Tower, fourteen civilians were killed and more than 700 were seriously injured. The Soviet Union finally recognized Lithuanian independence in August 1991.

Since then, Vilnius has rapidly transformed in an attempt to erase its Soviet past and the town has emerged as a modern European city. Many of its older buildings have been renovated, and a business and commercial area is being developed into the New City Center, expected to become the city's main administrative and business district on the north side of Neris river. This area includes modern residential and retail space, with the municipality building and a 129-metre (423') Europa Tower as its most prominent building. While a number of modern business and retail centers have been built during recent years, many other projects are waiting to be implemented.

In 2009 Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, will be the capital of the European Culture. Among the initiatives promoted by the Lithuanian Country for this event, the historical centre of the city has been restored and its main monuments have been renewed <ref>O. Niglio, Restauri in Lituania. Vilnius Capitale della Cultura Europea 2009, in "Web Journal on Cultural Patrimony", 1, 2006 </ref>.

[edit] Coat of arms of Vilnius city

Image:Vilnius city COA.gif
Large version of coat-of-arms of city of Vilnius.
Main article: Vilnius Coat of Arms

The Vilnius coat of arms depicts St. Christopher (Kristupas) wading through water with the Infant Jesus on his shoulders. It was granted to the city in the seventh year of its first mention (1330).

[edit] Geography and population

Vilnius is situated in southeastern Lithuania (54°41′N 25°17′E) at the confluence of the Vilnia and Neris Rivers. It is believed that Vilnius, like many other cities, was named after a crossing river, Vilnia.

Vilnius' non-central location can be attributed to the changing shape of the nation's borders through the centuries; Vilnius was once not only culturally but also geographically at the center of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Vilnius lies 312 km from the Baltic Sea and Klaipėda, the chief Lithuanian seaport. Vilnius is connected by highways to other major Lithuanian cities, such as Kaunas (102 km away), Šiauliai (214 km away) and Panevėžys (135 km away).

The current area of Vilnius is 402 km². Buildings cover 20.2% of the city and in the remaining areas, greenery (43.9%) and waters (2.1%) prevail.

According to the 2001 census by the Vilnius Regional Statistical Office, there were 542,287 inhabitants in the Vilnius city municipality, of which 57.8% were Lithuanians, 20.7% Poles, 14% Russians, 4.0% Belarusians and 0.5% Jews; the remainder indicated other nationalities or refused to answer.

[edit] Tourism

Image:Lithuania Vilnius Cathedral.jpg
View over the Cathedral roof

Vilnius is a cosmopolitan city with diverse architecture. There are more than 40 churches in Vilnius to see. Restaurants, hotels and museums have sprouted since Lithuania declared independence, and young Vilnius residents are building the city's reputation for being the most hospitable in the world, as evidenced by an active participation in the Hospitality Club.

Image:Vilnius Ostrobramska.jpg
Aušros Vartai Street.

Like most medieval towns, Vilnius was developed around its Town Hall. The main artery, Pilies Street, links the governor's palace and the Town Hall. Other streets meander through the palaces of feudal lords and landlords, churches, shops and craftsmen's workrooms. Narrow, curved streets and intimate courtyards developed in the radial layout of medieval Vilnius.

The Old Town, the historical centre of Vilnius, is one of the largest in Europe (3.6 km²). The most valuable historic and cultural sites are concentrated here. The buildings in the old town — there are nearly 1,500 — were built over several centuries, creating a splendid blend of many different architectural styles. Although Vilnius is known as a Baroque city, there are examples of Gothic (e.g. the St Anne's Church), Renaissance, and other styles. The main sights of the city are Gediminas Castle and Cathedral Square, symbols of the capital. Their combination is also a gateway to the historic centre of the capital. Owing to its uniqueness, the Old Town of Vilnius was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994. In 1995, the first cast of Frank Zappa in the world was installed near the center of Vilnius with the permission of the government.

[edit] Economy

Vilnius is the major economic centre of Lithuania and one of the largest financial centres of the Baltic states. Even though it is home to only 15% of Lithuania's population, it generates approximately 35% of Lithuania's GDP [2]. Based on these indicators, its estimated GDP per capita, based on purchasing power parity, in 2005 is approximately $33,100, above the European Union average.

Vilnius contributed over 4.6 billion litas to the national budget in 2004. That makes about 37% of the budget. Kaunas, the second largest city, contributed only 1.5 billion. Vilnius received a return of 360 million litas in the budget, which is only 7.7% of its contribution. This disparity caused some conflicts with the central government because of Vilnius' demand for a greater share of the funds it generated.

[edit] Religion

For ecclesiastical history, see Archdiocese of Vilnius

Known as Yerushalayim De Lita (translated as "Jerusalem of Lithuania"), Vilnius (Vilna) once was comparable only to Jerusalem, Israel as a world center for the study of the Torah, and for its large Jewish population. That is why one part of Vilnius was named Jeruzalė. At the end of the 19th century, the number of synagogues in Vilnius exceeded one hundred<ref>The Great Synagogue of Vilnius The Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum</ref>. A major scholar of Judaism and Kabbalah centered in Vilnius was the famous rabbi Vilna Gaon. His students have significant influence among Orthodox Jews in Israel and around the globe. This Jewish life in Vilnius was destroyed during the holocaust of the second world war.

[edit] Climate

Image:Lituania Vilnius.jpg
Central Vilnius in winter

The climate of Vilnius is transitional between continental and maritime. The average annual temperature is +6.1°C; in January the average temperature is −4.9°C, in July it is +17.0°C. The average precipitation is about 661 mm per year.

Summers can be hot, with temperatures above thirty degrees Celsius throughout the day. Nightlife in Vilnius is in full swing at this time of year, and outdoor bars and cafés become very popular during the daytime.

Winters can be very cold, with temperatures rarely reaching above freezing - temperatures below minus 25 degrees Celsius are not unheard-of in January and February. Vilnius's rivers freeze over in particularly cold winters, and the lakes surrounding the city are almost always permanently frozen during this time of year. A popular pastime is ice-fishing, whereby fishermen drill holes in the ice and fish with baited hooks, usually drinking quantities of alcohol to keep themselves warm.

[edit] Transport

Vilnius is the starting point of the Vilnius-Kaunas-Klaipėda highway that runs across Lithuania and connects the three major cities. The Vilnius-Panevėžys highway is a branch of Via-Baltica. Though the river Neris may be navigable, no regular water routes exist. Vilnius International Airport serves most Lithuanian international flights to many major European destinations. The Vilnius railway station is an important hub as well.

Vilnius has a well-developed public transportation system. There are over 60 bus and 19 trolleybus routes. Over 230 buses and 250 trolleybuses transport about 500,000 passengers every workday. Students, elderly, and the disabled receive large discounts (up to 80%) on the tickets. A single ride ticket (called a talonas or diminutive talonėlis) costs up to 1.40 litas while monthly tickets (called nuolatinis) cost up to 60 litas (about 20 USD). The first regular bus routes were established in 1926, and the first trolleybus was launched in 1956.

A sample Vilnius Transport nominal monthly ticket

The public transportation system is dominated by the brand new lowerdecker Volvo and Mercedes-Benz buses as well as Solaris trolleybuses. It is a result of a major improvements that started in 2003 when the first 14 brand-new Mercedes-Benz buses were bought. In 2004, a contract was signed with Volvo Buses to buy 90 brand-new 7700 buses over the next 3 years. Along with the official public transportation, there are also a number of private bus companies. They charge about the same as the municipal buses and sometimes follow the same routes. There are also a number of different routes, for example from various neighborhoods to the Gariūnai market. In addition there are about 400 share taxis that are usually faster than regular buses.

Artūras Zuokas, the Mayor of Vilnius city municipality, has proposed that a tramway be built. However the plans to install a tram network remain unclear. A number of studies and projects have been prepared but construction dates have not been set yet.

[edit] Sister cities

Vilnius has 14 sister cities. In addition, agreements on cooperation have been signed with 16 other cities.

[edit] Trivia

Vilnius is one of the locations featured in the video game Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon (photographs comparing the game's locations with their real-life counterparts can be found here). However, although some of the architecture is relatively well-represented, it has to be said that most of the map is fictional and it does not feel like a particularly accurate representation of the city of Vilnius.

Lying very close to Vilnius is a site some claim to be the Geographical Centre of Europe.

The rural town of Wilno, Ontario, Canada was named after the Polish name for Vilnius in the 1860s. The village of Vilna, Alberta was also named for Vilnius.

The city is the birthplace of the fictional character Marko Ramius from Tom Clancy's novel The Hunt For Red October.

[edit] Subdivisions

Image:Vilniaus seniunijos numeracija.png
Map of Vilnius elderates. Numbers on the map correspond with numbers in the list

The city of Vilnius is made up of 20 elderates that are based on neighbourhoods:

  1. Verkiai — includes Baltupiai, Jeruzalė, Santariškės, Balsiai, Visoriai
  2. Antakalnis — includes Valakupiai, Turniškės, Dvarčionys
  3. Pašilaičiai — includes Tarandė
  4. Fabijoniškės — includes Bajorai
  5. Pilaitė
  6. Justiniškės
  7. Viršuliškės
  8. Šeškinė
  9. Šnipiškės
  10. Žirmūnai — includes Šiaurės miestelis
  11. Karoliniškės
  12. Žvėrynas
  13. Grigiškės — a separate town included in the Vilnius city municipality
  14. Lazdynai
  15. Vilkpėdė — includes Vingis park
  16. Naujamiestis — includes bus and train stations
  17. Senamiestis (Old Town) — includes Užupis
  18. Naujoji Vilnia — includes Pavilnys, Pūčkoriai
  19. Paneriai — includes Trakų Vokė, Gariūnai
  20. Naujininkai — includes Kirtimai, Salininkai, Vilnius International Airport
  21. Rasos — includes Belmontas, Markučiai

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes and references


[edit] External links

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