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Special Vilnius Tour: Along the Road to Lithuanian Statehood

Along the Road to Lithuanian Statehood

Since the first mentioning of the name of Lithuania a thousand years ago our 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”.
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Along the Road to Lithuanian Statehood
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1. Seimas Palace and Indepen-dence 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
The construction of the avenue started in 1836. The central street with adjoining squares and a church at the end reflects the typical city planning system of the Russian Empire. The name of the avenue changed depending on political circumstances and it bore the names of Šv. Jurgis (St.George), A. Mickevičius (A. Mickiewicz), Gediminas, Stalin and Lenin at various times. As of 1989, the name of Gediminas—founder of the city, which was selected by the Lithuanian authorities in 1939, has been restored. The street is predominated by buildings dating back to the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. At present, the avenue is partly pedestrianized with numerous shops, restaurants and cafés.

3. Lukiškių Square
This square was first recorded in Lithuanian State history in 1863, when following suppression of the Lithuanian-Polish uprising its participants were executed here. In 1929, during the so-called Polish rule, a plaque with “1836” inscribed on it—symbolising the fight for freedom of the people of the former Commonwealth—was installed; in 1936 it was moved closer to the Church of St. James and St. Philip.

4. Court Palace and Museum of Genocide Victims
This 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. (former Savivaldybės Sq.)
A monument to the awakener of the Lithuanian nation, writer, publicist, composer, doctor and author of the Lithuanian anthem, Dr. Vincas Kudirka has been erected in the square in the centre of the capital. V. Kudirka (1858–1899) published most of his works in the magazine of literature, politics and science Varpas, which he—along with other kindred spirits—launched into publication in 1889. On 15 September 1898, V. Kudirka published Tautiška Giesmė (National Song) with notes in the Varpas. This patriotic poem became the national anthem of Lithuania in 1919. Following the restoration of independence, Tautiška Giesmė by V. Kudirka again became the anthem of Lithuania.

6. Sąjūdis Headquarters
Usually, the real beginning of this movement is counted from the establishment of the Sąjūdis (Lith. movement) initiative group by 35 well-known Lithuanian scientists and artists on 3 June 1988. 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
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 solar calendar symbols marking the most important pagan and Christian holidays.

8. Ministry of National Defence
The palace was built at the end of the 19th century in the area of the outbuildings of the former Jesuit Noviciate, which appeared in Vilnius in 1602–1604. 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. Luošaitis can be seen opposite the ministry.

9. Presidential Palace
This is a Classical building with a sublime history. The palace was mentioned in the 14th century as the residence of Goštautai noblemen. In 1543 the palace went to Vilnius bishops; in 17–18th centuries it was burned and damaged during wars and upheavals. Following the annexation of Lithuania by Russia, the palace was transformed into a temporary residence for the Russian Emperor, dukes and other nobility. Tsar Pavel I lived in the most ornate and sturdy palace of the time; it was also visited by the future King of France Louis XVIII. In the 19th century the palace became the official residence of the Russian Governor General. In 1812, Russian Tsar Alexander I and French Emperor Napoleon stayed here. The palace has been serving as the Presidential residence since 1997.

10. Signatories’ House
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
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 fact that in the same building, on 15 December 1918, forces sympathetic towards the Communists declared a Soviet Republic, demonstrates the complicated history of the creation of the state. The building, erected in 1902, was designed as the palace of Town Hall. Today, the Lithuanian National Philharmonic is famous for various concerts and musical performances.

12. TV Tower
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 to Lithuania and the world of the historic events of 13 January 1991, when Lithuanian patriots died during the seizure of the TV Tower by the Soviet Army.

13. Rasos Cemetery
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
This is the pantheon of the Republic of Lithuania. Renowned artists and scientists from all periods of time rest in the cemetery here. 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”.
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