From the 13th to the 18th century, Vilnius has been the political centre of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Despite past invasions and partial destructions, Vilnius has preserved its characteristic variety of historical buildings. Over the centuries the Lithuanian capital has had an outstanding influence on the cultural and architectural development of Eastern Europe.
The Vilnius Historic Centre began its history around 1000 AD with a wooden castle built to fortify Gedimino Hill. Although, it developed as a town only during the 13th century. By the 15th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania had expanded from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. As a matter of fact, it became the largest country in Europe of that time.
The historic centre has an extension of 352 ha. It includes the three castles and the area surrounded by the Middle Ages wall. In particular, the urban tissue is circular, radiating out from the original castle site. Furthermore, the street pattern is typically medieval – with small streets but large squares.
The historic buildings combine different architectural styles – Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classical. They enhance great diversity but at the same time complete harmony. Buildings that suffered from the consequences of World War II were reconstructed using technical solutions typical for that time, while the traditional methods of restoration were used only for monuments and outstanding details. Both techniques equally gave authenticity to post World War’s architecture.
It was thanks to other nations belonging to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania that Vilnius reached its impressive development. Indeed this is why the town is considered multicultural. Its identity has always been open to influences coming from Eastern and Western Europe.
Outstanding Universal Value
In 1994 UNESCO added Vilnius Historic Centre to the World Heritage List. Thus, it recognized the site as an “Outstanding Universal Value” according to the following criteria:
- Criterion (ii): “to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design”
- Criterion (iv): “to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history”
Therefore, Vilnius is a prototype of a medieval foundation that influenced most of Eastern Europe. Also, it is a model of a Central European town which emerged organically over five centuries.
Finally, some spaces, uses and activities have naturally changed with developing social and economic needs, yet the formulated significance of the property remains recognisable.