The Vilnius old town, the historical core of the capital of Lithuania, was formed in the V-VI centuries on the confluence of Vilnia and Neris rivers, the place belonged to Baltic tribes. The Old Town, the pride of Lithuania, began to form in the early Middle Ages. In the XII century, the city has been surrounded by well – established castle on the Gediminas mound and the city wall, the masonry buildings were started to be built.
Through centuries Vilnius evolved into harmonious nature and urbanistic gamut. The old town is distinguished from other European cities by its authenticity and size. The fire of 1471 devastated the rapidly growing city, many sacred buildings were burned down. However, the Medieval street plan of the city and the triangular market square next to the Town Hall had survived till the present days.
Rapid changes have contributed to the mixture of the architectural styles of many building in Vilnius. The city has tried to adapt to all the latest European trends, and it has formed the architectural heritage of the present-day old city. There is no single pure architectural style building that would be not influenced by other architectural styles.
The historic buildings are in Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classicism styles and have a distinct appearance, spatial composition, and elements of internal and external finishes. They constitute a townscape of great diversity and yet at the same time demonstrating an overarching harmony.
Gothic formed in France and until the 16th century spread across other countries belonging to the Western European cultural stratum. It flourished in Vilnius from the second half of the 14th century until the end of the 16th-century. Among constructions of different age and size Gothic architecture is represented by the well-known monuments: St. Anne’s Church, The Church of St. Nicolas, Church of St. Johns, Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy, Kazys Varnelis House- Museum, Bernardine church and other buildings.
The most significant monuments of Vilnius are Churches of St. Anne and Bernardine ensemble. Church of St. Anne is the most impressive building not only in the Vilnius region but also throughout Lithuania. None of the Gothic buildings resembles its gravity and the richness of the details of the ornament. Meanwhile, the Bernardine Church and monastery are among the largest ensembles of gothic sacral buildings in Lithuania.
In the first quarter of the 16th century, renaissance architecture appeared in Vilnius, which flourished until the middle of the 17th century. The Renaissance reached Lithuania directly from Italia when Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Žygimantas wife Queen Bona Sforza, invited the Italian artists. The most important buildings were designed mostly by invited Italian architects.
In the early Renaissance buildings, gothic structures are combined with renaissance decor. One of the most characteristic features of the Renaissance of Vilnius – the commonality of this style traditions and forms unite with the gothic and baroque elements. During the Renaissance period, the importance of education was perceiving and more and more strengthening the importance of education; schools and printing houses continued establishing. The most important educational institutions were established at that time – Vilnius University (1579), Vilnius aluminate (1582), Vilnius Jesuit novice (1602).
Baroque reached Vilnius at the turn of the 16th – 17th century. The new style “brought” the Jesuit Order. Now Vilnius is considered to be the Eastern European Baroque capital. Baroque-style churches and houses in Vilnius reached previously unseen variety and glamorous in Lithuania. In the whirlwind of Counterreformation, the wealth of Catholic churches intended to raise as a contradiction to the protestant prayer house restraint.
The rich architecture of the churches should have formed the proper background for liturgical rituals, further enhancing their emotional impact. Many Lithuanian Baroque churches have domes. As during the Renaissance, as well during the Baroque period sculptors, architects, and other artists were invited from Italy.
Early Baroque churches were designed and built according to the example of the Church of the Gesù. Jesuits carried out constructions in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and had been controlled by Ordinance Center in Poland, church projects had been approved in Rome. The most vivid example of Baroque in Vilnius is St Peter’s and Paul’s church, which is unique for its interior decoration, statues, and ornamentation.
The distinctive feature of the baroque of Vilnius is the facades of the churches with two graceful towers (Church of St Catherine, Church of the Ascension of the Lord, Church of St Raphael the Archan). Other two striking examples of the baroque of Vilnius are Church of St. Casimir, distinguished by a little wieldy lower part and a dome with a crown, and Church of St Johns with a bell tower, harmoniously integrated into the architectural ensemble of Vilnius University
Classicism in architecture is understood as a classical style common in Europe. Classicism style in Vilnius as in other European cities spread in the middle of the 17th – the 19th century. Quite a fast style arrival prompted artists studies in Rome and Paris. Architect Laurynas Gucevičius, who studied in Rome and Paris created the most important buildings of the Vilnius Classicism – Vilnius Cathedral, Vilnius town hall, some of the Verkiai Palace ensemble buildings.
Vilnius Old town feels inviting and charming. It is one of the largest old towns in Europe, has many churches, the old town from others are different in scale, structure, common landscape – here is a combination of nature, urbanism, and architecture.
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