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Special Vilnius route: German Heritage in Vilnius

German Heritage in Vilnius

The contribution made by German monks, merchants, craftsmen, engineers and architects to the cultural history of Vilnius is very significant. Vokiečių (German) Street, located in the very core of the city, symbolizes the German part of town.
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German Heritage in Vilnius
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1. Vilnius University
The artistic forms of Vilnius University quarters, which have been shaped over the centuries, reflect the main architectural styles that predominated in Lithuania; namely Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classicism. The University premises occupy almost a full quarter of the Old Town, lined with buildings for its perimeter and located within the limits of four streets. In 1579, following the example of the college in the Bavarian (Germany) town of Dillingen, Vilnius Jesuit College became a university with lecturing professors from Ingolstadt and other German towns. Osvald Krüger, nicknamed “the Archimedes of his century” also lectured at the University. The first chancellor of the University, Filip Widmanstadt, was of German origin.

2. St. Anne’s Church
The Church of St. Anne is one of the most beautiful and probably one of the most prominent buildings in Vilnius. It has always attracted attention and interested researchers. However, the mystery of the origin of this outstanding architectural monument has not been revealed until now. St. Anne’s Church (called a chapel at the time) was first mentioned in a letter by Pope Alexander VI in 1501. It is known that in the middle of the 16th century, a protestant priest Abraomas Kulvietis (Abraham Kulwieć) preached in St. Anne’s Church. In 1560 and 1564 the church was damaged by fire, but in 1581 it was repaired and reconstructed. In 1747, the works were supervised by the prominent Baroque architect of Vilnius Jonas Kristofas Glaubicas (Johann Christoph Glaubitz).

3. St. Francis’ and Bernardine Church
This is one of the most picturesque sacral Gothic buildings. At the beginning of the 16th century the church was built by a talented artist from Danzig, Michael Enkinger. Among other treasures inside the church, is the oldest professional free-standing memorial composition in Lithuania—a Renaissance marble tombstone of Stanislovas Radvila (Stanisław Radziwiłł), located in the Northern nave, which was created by Wilhelm van den Blocke in Danzig workshops between 1618 and 1623. At present, the oldest known crucifix in Lithuania which dates back to the 15th century is preserved in the church.

4. Bastion
This is part of the Vilnius Defensive Wall, often called “barbican”. The Bastion is a Renaissance-style fortification characterised by its original construction. It consists of a tower installed in the city defence wall, underground gun ports and a connecting corridor, which turns into a 48-metre long tunnel. The Bastion was built in the first half of the 17th century by the German military engineer, Friedrich Getkant. The Bastion was severely damaged during the wars with Moscow in the middle of the 17th century. During World Wars I and II, German military arsenals were located in the building. You can enjoy a picturesque view of the Old Town from the Bastion terrace.

5. Church of Holy Trinity and Basilian Monastery (Conrad Cell)
This complex is one of the most beautiful late Baroque buildings in Vilnius, designed by Jonas Kristupas Glaubicas (Johann Cristoph Glaubitz). The church combines elements of Gothic, Baroque and Russian Byzantine styles. The monastery cell, where the famous Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz was imprisoned for disobedience to the Tsarist authorities, is known as the Conrad Cell. In the 1920s and 1930s, popular literature soirees, in which German litterateurs participated actively, were organised in this cell.

6. St. Casimir’s Church
This is one of the earliest Baroque buildings in the city, built between 1604 and 1618. The author of the impressive dome is Jonas Kristupas Glaubicas (Johann Cristoph Glaubitz). The multilevel dome has a lofty lantern and a crown on top. During World War II, this church became the house of worship for the German military garrison stationed in Vilnius. A memorial plaque dedicated to the visit of the German Emperor Wilhelm II to Vilnius and to the church has survived inside the building.

7. Vokiečių (German) Street
This is one of the oldest streets in Vilnius and for centuries it has been known as the city trade centre. It was severely damaged during World War II and suffered even more damage during the Soviet post-war period. Only one part of the street which bears witness to the German merchants, craftsmen and noblemen who lived there has survived up until now. The house located at 22 Vokiečių St. used to belong to the royal doctor Motiejus Worbek-Lettov and was donated to him in the 17th century by Kristupas Radvila (Krzysztof Radziwiłł). Later, this building, which combines elements of Gothic and Baroque, was passed to the community of Evangelical Lutherans. The house of Ulrich Hosius, Vilnius Castellan and Mint Administrator, located at 24 Vokiečių St., was built in the first half of the 16th century and combines elements of Gothic and Renaissance. One of the most perfect palaces designed by Martin Knackfuss, a Vilnius architect of German origin, is the Wittinghoff Palace (26 Vokieičių St.).

8. St. Nicolas’ Church
This is one of the oldest churches not only in Vilnius, but in the whole of Lithuania, and it has managed to preserve its Gothic features practically unchanged. Built in the 14th century, the church was first mentioned in documents in 1387. During the last years of paganism in Lithuania, the Church of St. Nicolas was built by the German community living in Vilnius. Following its reconstruction after the 1749 fire, some Baroque elements appeared on its façade and in the interior. The Church of St. Nicolas is the only Vilnius Church in which mass was celebrated in Lithuania in the period between 1902 and 1939.

9. Evangelical Lutheran Church
The first Evangelical Lutheran Church (kirche) near Vokiečių Street was built in the middle of the 16th century. It was a sacral building that dominated the German part of town. Its construction was initiated by Chancellor of Lithuania Mikalojus Radvila the Black (Mikołaj “the Black” Radziwiłł). Architect Jonas Kristupas Glaubicas (Johann Cristoph Glaubitz)—who also created the church altar—should be praised for the present appearance of the kirche. The surrounding houses were mostly inhabited by the German evangelic community. The church was returned to the believers in 1993, soon after the restoration of independence.

10. Vilnius Evangelical Reformers’ Church
This Evangelical Reformers’ Church was built between 1830 and 1835 (designed by architect K. Podčašinskis [Karol Podczaszyński]). Unfortunately, the three sculptures by Kazimieras Jelskis (Kazimierz Jelski) that used to be on the pediment were demolished. Plaques in memory of the most prominent Lithuanian Calvinists were installed inside.

11. Evangelical Cemetery (Pylimo, J. Basanavičiaus St.)
From 1800 this cemetery served as the place of eternal rest for rich townspeople and intelligentsia. Residents of German origin, including many Vilnius University professors, were mostly buried here. In the 1950s the cemetery was transformed into a park.

12. Graves of German soldiers (Vingis Park)
The cemetery of German soldiers (Heldanfriedhof) was established during World War I; soldiers were also buried here during World War II. Soldiers of the German allies—Italy and Hungary—also found their last refuge in this cemetery.

Martin Knackfuss
Martin Knackfuss, an architect of German origin and the beginner of Classicism in Lithuania, started his artistic work in Warsaw. His works were influenced by representatives of late Baroque and early Classicism. His amazing talent in design and reconstruction of buildings unfolded after he settled in Vilnius in 1768. He designed public buildings, among which the astronomical observatory of the Vilnius University is the most famous, as well as houses and palaces for townspeople and nobility (Sulistrovskiai [4 Skapo St.], De Reus [2/5 S. Daukanto Sq.], Wittinghoffs [28 Vokiečių St.], Abramavičienė [36 Didžioji St.]).

Johan Christoph Glaubitz
Johan Christoph Glaubitz—the most prominent architect of late Baroque and Rococo styles in Lithuania—was a Vilnius resident of German descent. He reconstructed the Evangelical Lutheran Church, its altar and surrounding buildings (18/12, 20 Vokiečių St.); he restored the main façade of the Church of St. John, the Presbyterian pediment and the unique altar complex (3 Universiteto St.); he built the pediments of St. Catherine’s Church and reconstructed the Chapel of Providence (30 Vilniaus St.); he participated in restoring the interior of the Holy Spirit Church and designed its iconostasis (10 Aušros Vartų St.); he also designed the unique late Baroque gate of the Basilian Monastery (7 Aušros Vartų St.).
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