The name of the city originates from the Vilnia River. The city has also been known by many derivate spellings in various languages throughout its history: Vilna was common in English. The most notable non-Lithuanian names for the city include: Polish: Wilno, Belarusian: Вiльня, German: Wilna, Latvian: Viļņa, Russian: Вильнюс, Yiddish: ווילנע (Vilne), Czech: Vilnius. A Russian name from the time of the Russian Empire was Вильна/Вильно (Vilna/Vilno), although Вильнюс (Vilnius) is now used. The names Wilno, Wilna and Vilna have also been used in older English, German, French and Italian language publications when the city was one of the capitals of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and later of Second Polish Republic. The name Vilna is still used in Finnish, Portuguese, Spanish, and Hebrew. Wilna is still used in German, along with Vilnius.
The neighborhoods of Vilnius also have names in other languages, which represent the languages spoken by various ethnic groups in the area.
Historian Romas Batūra identifies the city with Voruta, one of the castles of Mindaugas, crowned in 1253 as King of Lithuania. During the reign of Vytenis a city started to emerge from a trading settlement and the first Franciscan Catholic church was built.
The city was first mentioned in written sources in 1323 as Vilna, when the Letters of Grand Duke Gediminas were sent to German cities inviting Germans (including German Jews) to settle in the capital city, as well as to Pope John XXII. These letters contain the first unambiguous reference to Vilnius as the capital; Old Trakai Castle had been the earlier seat of the court of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
According to legend, Gediminas dreamt of an iron wolf howling on a hilltop and consulted a pagan priest Lizdeika for its interpretation. He was told: "What is destined for the ruler and the State of Lithuania, is thus: the Iron Wolf represents a castle and a city which will be established by you on this site. This city will be the capital of the Lithuanian lands and the dwelling of their rulers, and the glory of their deeds shall echo throughout the world". The location offered practical advantages: it lay within the Lithuanian heartland at the confluence of two navigable rivers, surrounded by forests and wetlands that were difficult to penetrate. The duchy had been subject to intrusions by the Teutonic Knights.
Vilnius was the flourishing capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the residence of the Grand Duke. Gediminas expanded the Grand Duchy through warfare along with strategic alliances and marriages. At its height it covered the territory of modern-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Transnistria, and portions of modern-day Poland and Russia. His grandchildren Vytautas the Great and Jogaila, however, fought civil wars. During the Lithuanian Civil War of 1389–1392, Vytautas besieged and razed the city in an attempt to wrest control from Jogaila. The two later settled their differences; after a series of treaties culminating in the 1569 Union of Lublin, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was formed. The rulers of this federation held either or both of two titles: Grand Duke of Lithuania or King of Poland. In 1387, Jogaila acting as a Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Władysław II Jagiełło, granted Magdeburg rights to the city.
The city underwent a period of expansion. The Vilnius city walls were built for protection between 1503 and 1522, comprising nine city gates and three towers, and Sigismund August moved his court there in 1544.
Its growth was due in part to the establishment of Alma Academia et Universitas Vilnensis Societatis Iesu by the Polish King Stefan 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 Commonwealth.
During its rapid development, the city was open to migrants from the territories of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland, Grand Duchy and further. A variety of languages were spoken: Polish, German, Yiddish, Ruthenian, Lithuanian, Russian, Old Church Slavonic, Latin, Hebrew, and Turkic languages; the city was compared to Babylon. Each group made its unique contribution to the life of the city, and crafts, trade, and science prospered.
The 17th century brought a number of setbacks. The Commonwealth was involved in a series of wars, collectively known as The Deluge. During the Russo-Polish War (1654–1667), Vilnius was occupied by Russian forces; it was pillaged and burned, and its population was massacred. During the Great Northern War it was looted by the Swedish army. An outbreak of bubonic plague in 1710 killed about 35,000 residents; devastating fires occurred in 1715, 1737, 1741, 1748, and 1749. The city's growth lost its momentum for many years, but even despite this fact, at the end of the 18th century and before the Napoleon wars, Vilnius, with 56,000 inhabitants, entered the Russian Empire as its 3rd largest city.
The fortunes of the Commonwealth declined during the 18th century. Three partitions took place, dividing its territory among the Russian Empire, the Habsburg Empire, and the Kingdom of Prussia. After the third partition of April 1795, Vilnius was annexed by the Russian Empire and became the capital of the Vilna Governorate. During Russian rule, the city walls were destroyed, and, by 1805, only the Gate of Dawn remained. In 1812, the city was taken by Napoleon on his push towards Moscow, and again during the disastrous retreat. The Grande Armée was welcomed in Vilnius. Thousands of soldiers died in the city during the eventual retreat; the mass graves were uncovered in 2002. Inhabitants expected Tsar Alexander I to grant them autonomy in response to Napoleon's promises to restore the Commonwealth, but Vilnius didn't become autonomous by itself nor as a part of Congress Poland.
Following the November Uprising in 1831, Vilnius University was closed and Russian repressions halted the further development of the city. Civil unrest in 1861 was suppressed by the Imperial Russian Army.
During the January Uprising in 1863, heavy fighting occurred within the city, but was brutally pacified by Mikhail Muravyov, nicknamed The Hangman by the population because of the number of executions he organized. After the uprising, all civil liberties were withdrawn, and use of the Polish and Lithuanian languages was banned. Vilnius had a vibrant Jewish population: according to Russian census of 1897, out of the total population of 154,500, Jews constituted 64,000 (approximately 40%). During the early 20th century, the Lithuanian-speaking population of Vilnius constituted only a small minority, with Polish, Yiddish, and Russian speakers comprising the majority of the city's population.
During World War I, Vilnius and the rest of Lithuania was occupied by the German Army from 1915 until 1918. The Act of Independence of Lithuania, declaring Lithuanian independence from any affiliation to any other nation, was issued in the city on 16 February 1918. After the withdrawal of German forces, the city was briefly controlled by Polish self-defence units, which were driven out by advancing Soviet forces. Vilnius changed hands again during the Polish–Soviet War and the Lithuanian Wars of Independence: it was taken by the Polish Army, only to fall to Soviet forces again. Shortly after its defeat in the battle of Warsaw, the retreating Red Army, in order to delay the Polish advance, ceded the city to Lithuania after signing the Soviet–Lithuanian Peace Treaty on 12 July 1920.
Poland and Lithuania both perceived the city as their own. The League of Nations became involved in the subsequent dispute between the two countries. The League brokered the Suwałki Agreement on 7 October 1920. Although neither Vilnius or the surrounding region was explicitly addressed in the agreement, numerous historians have described the agreement as allotting Vilnius to Lithuania. On 9 October 1920, the Polish Army surreptitiously, under General Lucjan Żeligowski, seized Vilnius during an operation known as Żeligowski's Mutiny. The city and its surroundings were designated as a separate state, called the Republic of Central Lithuania. On 20 February 1922 after the highly contested election in Central Lithuania, the entire area was annexed by Poland, with the city becoming the capital of the Wilno Voivodship (Wilno being the name of Vilnius in Polish). Kaunas then became the temporary capital of Lithuania. Lithuania vigorously contested the Polish annexation of Vilnius, and refused diplomatic relations with Poland. The predominant languages of the city were still Polish and, to a lesser extent, Yiddish. The Lithuanian-speaking population at the time was a small minority, at about 6% of the city's population according even to contemporary Lithuanian sources. The Council of Ambassadors and the international community (with the exception of Lithuania) recognized Polish sovereignty over Vilnus region in 1923.
Vilnius University was reopened in 1919 under the name of Stefan Batory University By 1931, the city had 195,000 inhabitants, making it the fifth largest city in Poland with varied industries, such as Elektrit, a factory that produced radio receivers.
World War II began with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. The secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had partitioned Lithuania and Poland into German and Soviet spheres of interest. On 19 September 1939, Vilnius was seized by the Soviet Union (which invaded Poland on 17 September). The USSR and Lithuania concluded a mutual assistance treaty on 10 October 1939, with which the Lithuanian government accepted the presence of Soviet military bases in various parts of the country. On 28 October 1939, the Red Army withdrew from the city to its suburbs (to Naujoji Vilnia) and Vilnius was given over to Lithuania. A Lithuanian Army parade took place on 29 October 1939 through the city centre. The Lithuanians immediately attempted to Lithuanize the city, for example by Lithuanizing Polish schools. However, the whole of Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union on 3 August 1940 following a June ultimatum from the Soviets demanding, among other things, that unspecified numbers of Red Army soldiers be allowed to enter the country for the purpose of helping to form a more pro-Soviet government. After the ultimatum was issued and Lithuania further occupied, a Soviet government was installed with Vilnius as the capital of the newly created Lithuanian SSR. Between 20,000 and 30,000 of the city's inhabitants were subsequently arrested by the NKVD and sent to gulags in the far eastern areas of the Soviet Union. The Soviets devastated city industries, moving the major Polish radio factory Elektrit, along with a part of its labour force, to Minsk in Belarus, where it was renamed the Vyacheslav Molotov Radio Factory, after Stalin's Minister of Foreign Affairs.
On 22 June 1941, the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union. Vilnius was captured on 24 June. Two ghettos were set up in the old town centre 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 deported in roundups known as "Aktionen". A failed ghetto uprising on 1 September 1943 organized by the Fareinigte Partizaner Organizacje (the United Partisan Organization, the first Jewish partisan unit in German-occupied Europe), was followed by the final destruction of the ghetto. During the Holocaust, about 95% of the 265,000-strong Jewish population of Lithuania was murdered by the German units and Lithuanian Nazi collaborators, many of them in Paneriai, about 10 km (6.2 mi) west of the old town centre (see the Ponary massacre). In 2015, a street sign was unveiled in Kūdrų street for Righteous Among the Nations Ona Šimaitė, along with that street being renamed after her.
In July 1944, Vilnius was taken from the Germans by the Soviet Army and the Polish Armia Krajowa (see Operation Ostra Brama and the Vilnius Offensive). The NKVD arrested the leaders of the Armia Krajowa after requesting a meeting. Shortly afterwards, the town was once again incorporated into the Soviet Union as the capital of the Lithuanian SSR.
The war had irreversibly altered the town – most of the predominantly Polish and Jewish population had been expelled and exterminated respectively, during and after the German occupation. Some members of the intelligentsia and former Waffen SS members hiding in the forest were now targeted and deported to Siberia after the war. The majority of the remaining population was compelled to relocate to Communist Poland by 1946, and Sovietization began in earnest. Only in the 1960s did Vilnius begin to grow again, following an influx of Lithuanians and Poles from neighbouring regions as well as from other areas of the Soviet Union (particularly Russia and Belarus). Microdistricts were built in the elderates of Šeškinė, Žirmūnai, Justiniškės and Fabijoniškės.
On 11 March 1990, the Supreme Council of the Lithuanian SSR announced its secession from the Soviet Union and intention to restore an independent Republic of Lithuania. As a result of these declarations, on 9 January 1991, the Soviet Union sent in troops. This culminated in the 13 January attack on the State Radio and Television Building and the Vilnius TV Tower, killing at least fourteen civilians and seriously injuring 700 more. The Soviet Union finally recognised Lithuanian independence in September 1991. The current Constitution, as did the earlier Lithuanian Constitution of 1922, mentions that "…the capital of the State of Lithuania shall be the city of Vilnius, the long-standing historical capital of Lithuania".
Vilnius has been rapidly transformed, 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 Centre, expected to become the city's main administrative and business district on the north side of the Neris river. This area includes modern residential and retail space, with the municipality building and the 129-metre (423') Europa Tower as its most prominent buildings. The construction of Swedbank's headquarters is symbolic of the importance of Scandinavian banks in Vilnius. The building complex "Vilnius Business Harbour" was built in 2008, and one of its towers is now the 5th tallest building in Lithuania. More buildings are scheduled for construction in the area. Vilnius was selected as a 2009 European Capital of Culture, along with Linz, the capital of Upper Austria. Its 2009 New Year's Eve celebration, marking the event, featured a light show said to be "visible from outer space". In preparation, the historical centre of the city was restored, and its main monuments were renovated. The global economic crisis led to a drop in tourism which prevented many of the projects from reaching their planned extent, and allegations of corruption and incompetence were made against the organisers, while tax increases for cultural activity led to public protests and the general economic conditions sparked riots. Today, Vilnius' population and economy are rapidly growing. In 2015 Remigijus Šimašius became the first directly elected mayor of the city.
Vilnius has some of the highest internet speeds in the world, with an average download speed of 36.37 MB/s and upload speed of 28.51 MB/s.
Vilnius has access to groundwater, and there is no need to use extensive chemicals in treating surface water from lakes or rivers, providing residents with some of the cleanest and healthiest tap water access in Europe.
On 28–29 November 2013, Vilnius hosted the Eastern Partnership Summit in the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. Many European presidents, prime ministers and other high-ranking officials participated in the event. On 29 November 2013, Georgia and Moldova signed association and free trade agreements with the European Union. Previously, Ukraine and Armenia were also expected to sign the agreements but postponed the decision, sparking large protests in the former country.
On 20 December 2013, CNN named Vilnius Cathedral Square's Christmas tree as the best in the world, while EssentialTravel.co.uk mentioned Vilnius as one of the ten best destinations to spend your Christmas.
Vilnius is situated in south-eastern Lithuania (54°41′N 25°17′E / 54.683°N 25.283°E / 54.683; 25.283) at the confluence of the Vilnia and Neris Rivers. Lying close to Vilnius is a site some claim to be the Geographical Centre of Europe.
Vilnius lies 312 km (194 mi) 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 or 63 mi away), Šiauliai (214 km or 133 mi away) and Panevėžys (135 km or 84 mi away). The city's off-centre 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 centre of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
The current area of Vilnius is 402 square kilometres (155 sq mi). Buildings occupy 29.1% of the city; green spaces occupy 68.8%; and waters occupy 2.1%.
The climate of Vilnius is humid continental (Köppen climate classification Dfb). Temperature records have been kept since 1777. The average annual temperature is 6.7 °C (44 °F); in January the average temperature is −4.3 °C (24 °F), in July it is 18.1 °C (65 °F). The average precipitation is about 682 millimetres (26.85 in) per year. Average annual temperatures in the city have increased significantly during the last 30 years, a change which the Lithuanian Hydrometeorological Service attributes to global warming induced by human activities.
Summer days are pleasantly warm and sometimes hot, especially in July and August, with temperatures above 30 °C (86 °F) throughout the day during periodic heat waves. Night-life in Vilnius is in full swing at this time of year, and outdoor bars, restaurants and cafés become very popular during the daytime.
Winters can be very cold, with temperatures rarely reaching above freezing – temperatures below −25 °C (−13 °F) 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.
According to the census, 52,4% of the inhabitants were local, while others settled in the city from other regions. Among the townsmen class, there were 36,576 new-comers (among whose, 17,465 were born in Vilna Governorate). Among the peasant new-comers, 16,312 came from other localities of Vilna Governorate and 16,054 from the other governorates. Among the nobility class in Vilnius during the census of 1897, there were 5,301 (46,3%) local nobles and 6,403 (54,7%) new-comers. 24,1% of these noble new-comers came from Vilna Governorate territories, while the rest new-comers nobles came to Vilnius from Grodno Governorate, Minsk Governorate, Vitebsk Governorate, Kovno Governorate, Vistula Land and other regions.
Vilnius is a cosmopolitan city with diverse architecture. There are 65 churches in Vilnius. Like most medieval towns, Vilnius was developed around its Town Hall. The main artery, Pilies Street, links the Royal Palace with 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 of Vilnius, the historical centre of Vilnius, is one of the largest in Europe at 3.6 km2 (1.4 sq mi). 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 blend of many different architectural styles. Although Vilnius is known as a Baroque city, there are examples of Gothic (e.g. Church of St. Anne), Renaissance, and other styles. 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. Vilnius University's main campus's spectacular architectural ensemble features 13 courtyards framed by 15th century buildings and splashed with 300-year-old frescoes, and the Church of St. Johns. The Gate of Dawn, the only surviving gate of the first original five gates in the city wall, hosts the painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which has been said to have miracle-working powers. Over 200 tiles and commemorative plaques to writers, who have lived and worked in Vilnius, and foreign authors, who have shared a connection with Vilnius and Lithuania, adorn a wall on Literatų street (Lithuanian: Literatų gatvė) in the Old Town, presenting a broad overview of the history of Lithuanian literature. In Antakalnis district there is Church of St. Peter and St. Paul – a masterpiece of the 17th-century Baroque famous for its exceptional interior where one can see about 2,000 stucco figures. In 1995, the world's first bronze cast of Frank Zappa was installed in the Naujamiestis district with the permission of the government. The Frank Zappa sculpture confirmed the newly found freedom of expression, and marked the beginning of a new era for Lithuanian society.
The Vilnius Castle Complex, a group of defensive, cultural, and religious buildings that includes Gediminas Tower of the Upper Castle (which is a part of National Museum of Lithuania), Cathedral Square and the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. Lithuania's largest art collection is housed in the Lithuanian Art Museum. One branch of it, the Vilnius Picture Gallery in the Old Town, houses a collection of Lithuanian art from the 16th to the beginning of the 20th century. On the other side of the Neris, the National Art Gallery holds a permanent exhibition on Lithuanian 20th-century art, as well as numerous exhibitions on modern art. The House of the Signatories, where the 1918 Act of Independence of Lithuania was signed, is now a historic landmark. The Museum of Genocide Victims is dedicated to the victims of the Soviet era.
The Contemporary Art Centre is the largest venue for contemporary art in the Baltic States, with an exhibition space of 2400 square meters. The Centre is a non-collection based institution committed to developing a broad range of international and Lithuanian exhibition projects as well as presenting a wide range of public programmes including lectures, seminars, performances, film and video screenings, and live new music events. The Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania, named for the author of the first book printed in the Lithuanian language, holds 6,912,266 physical items. The biggest book fair in Baltic States is annually held in Vilnius at LITEXPO, the Baltic's biggest exhibition centre.
On 10 November 2007, the Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center was opened by avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas. Its premiere exhibition was entitled The Avant-Garde: From Futurism to Fluxus. The Modern Art Centre, which is scheduled to be completed in 2018, will become a new cultural space for the city of Vilnius. It will host a private collection of modern and contemporary Lithuanian visual art.
There were plans to build the Guggenheim-Hermitage museum, designed by Zaha Hadid, but the project has been terminated. The museum would have hosted exhibitions featuring works from Saint Petersburg's Hermitage Museum and the Guggenheim Museums, along with non-commercial avant-garde cinema, a library, a museum of Lithuanian Jewish culture, and collections of works by Jonas Mekas and Jurgis Mačiūnas.
The Užupis district near the Old Town, which used to be one of the most run down districts of Vilnius during the Soviet era, is home to a movement of bohemian artists, who operate numerous art galleries and workshops. Užupis declared itself an independent republic on April Fool's Day in 1997. In the main square, the statue of an angel blowing a trumpet stands as a symbol of artistic freedom.
In 2015, the project of Vilnius Talking Statues was realized. 15 statues around Vilnius now interact with visitors in multiple languages by a simple telephone call to a smart phone.
The Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre shows both standard Western repertory works and national operas and ballets. Vilnius City Opera – an independent opera theatre in Lithuania, well known for its high quality, innovative and modern artistic approach, blends classical with contemporary. Lithuanian National Drama Theatre, State Small Theatre of Vilnius, State Youth Theatre and a number of private theatre companies, including OKT / Vilnius City Theatre, Anželika Cholina dance theatre and others, show classical, modern and Lithuanian playwriting directed by world-known Lithuanian and foreign directors.
The Lithuanian National Philharmonic Society is the largest and oldest state owned concert organisation in Lithuania, whose main activity is to organise and coordinate live concerts, diverse classical/classical contemporary/jazz music events and tours throughout Lithuania and abroad. The Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra every year builds up a wide-ranging repertoire, introduces exceptional programs, and invites young talent to perform along with outstanding and recognized soloists.
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 20% of Lithuania's population, it generates about one third of Lithuania's GDP. GDP per capita (nominal) in Vilnius county was $22,000($42,000, in Purchasing power) in 2015, making it the wealthiest region in Lithuania. Many foreign companies have outsourced part of their high skilled operations to Vilnius, e.g. Swedbank, Telia, SEB, Barclays, etc. Shared service centers is another industry with significant employment in Vilnius. Office-based work is largely concentrated in glass high-rises around NMC or "Naujas miesto centras" (new city center) in Šnipiškės.
The budget of Vilnius reached €0.5 billion in 2017. Vilnius contributed almost €3 billion to the national budget in 2008, making up about 40% of the budget. The average monthly net salary in Vilnius city municipality reached €727 as of 2017 (average gross salary in Vilnius was €938 or $1,100 in 2017). In 2016, Vilnius merged two organisations to create Go Vilnius - an agency tasked with developing tourism and investment in the city.
There are growing local advanced solar and laser technologies manufacturers centres, such as photovoltaic elements and renewable energy producers (Arginta, Precizika, and Baltic Solar), high performance lasers manufacturers (Ekspla, and Eksma), biotechnological manufacturers (Fermentas Thermo Fisher, and Sicor Biotech), which successfully supply their products into global markets.
In 2009, the Barclays Technology Centre was established in Vilnius, which is one of the bank's four global strategic engineering centres.
The city has 12 primary schools, 19 progymnasiums and 42 gymnasiums.
The city has many universities. The largest and oldest is Vilnius University with 20,864 students. Its main premises are located in the Old Town. The university has been ranked among the top 500 universities in the world by QS World University Rankings. The University is participating in projects with UNESCO and NATO, among others. It features 15 Masters programs in English and 2 in Russian, as well as programs delivered in cooperation with universities all over Europe. The university is currently divided into 12 faculties, 7 institutes, and 4 study and research centres.
Other major universities include Mykolas Romeris University (17,739 students as of 2013), Vilnius Gediminas Technical University (10,500 students), and Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences (3,550 students). Specialized higher schools with university status include General Jonas Žemaitis Military Academy of Lithuania, Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre and Vilnius Academy of Arts. The museum associated with the Vilnius Academy of Arts holds about 12,000 artworks.
There are also a few private universities such as ISM University of Management and Economics, European Humanities University and Kazimieras Simonavičius University.
Several colleges are also located in Vilnius including Vilnius College, Vilnius College of Technologies and Design, International School of Law and Business and others.
Already in the XVII c. image of Vilnius as a city of many religions was very noticeable. In 1600, Samuel Lewkenor’s book describing cities with universities was published in London. He mentioned that citizens of Vilnius were Catholics, Orthodox, followers of John Calvin and Martin Luther, Jews and Tartar Muslims. Vilnius had a reputation as a city which had no rivals in Europe in the number of churches of different confessions throughout the entire 17th century. At the end of the century, this image was promoted by the highly rated and several times republished work by Robert Morden "Geography Rectified or a Description of the World" which ran that no other city in the world could surpass Vilnius in the number of churches and temples of various confessions except perhaps Amsterdam.
Today Vilnius is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vilnius, with the main church institutions and Archdiocesan Cathedral (Vilnius Cathedral) located here. The city of Vilnius became the birthplace of the Divine Mercy Devotion when Saint Faustina began her mission under the guidance and discernment of her new spiritual director Fr. Michał Sopoćko. In 1934, the first Divine Mercy painting was painted by Eugene Kazimierowski under the supervision of Faustina and it presently hangs in the Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Vilnius. Numerous other Christian Beatified persons, martyrs, Servants of God and Saints, are associated with Vilnius. These, among others, include Franciscan martyrs of Vilnius, Orthodox martyrs Anthony, John, and Eustathius, Saint Casimir, Josaphat Kuntsevych, Andrew Bobola, Raphael Kalinowski, Jurgis Matulaitis.
There are a number of other active Roman Catholic churches in the city, along with small enclosed monasteries and religion schools. Church architecture includes Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical styles, with important examples of each found in the Old Town. Additionally, Eastern Rite Catholicism has maintained a presence in Vilnius since the Union of Brest. The Baroque Basilian Gate is part of an Eastern Rite monastery.
Once widely known as Yerushalayim De Lita (the "Jerusalem of Lithuania"), Vilnius since the 18th century, was a world centre for the study of the Torah, and had a large Jewish population. A major scholar of Judaism and Kabbalah centred in Vilnius was the famous Rabbi Eliyahu Kremer, also known as the Vilna Gaon. His students have significant influence among Orthodox Jews in Israel and around the globe. Jewish life in Vilnius was destroyed during the Holocaust; there is a memorial stone dedicated to victims of Nazi genocide located in the centre of the former Jewish Ghetto — now Mėsinių Street. The Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum is dedicated to the history of Lithuanian Jewish life. The exact location of Vilnius' largest synagogue, built in the early 1630s and wrecked by Nazi Germany during its occupation of Lithuania, was pinpointed by ground-penetrating radar in June 2015, with excavations set to begin in 2016.
The Karaim are a Jewish sect who migrated to Lithuania from the Crimea to serve as a military elite unit in the 14th century. Although their numbers are very small, the Karaim are becoming more prominent since Lithuanian independence, and have restored their kenesa.
Vilnius has been home to an Eastern Orthodox Christian presence since the 13th or even the 12th century. A famous Russian Orthodox Monastery of the Holy Spirit, is located near the Gate of Dawn. St. Paraskeva's Orthodox Church in the Old Town is the site of the baptism of Hannibal, the great-grandfather of Pushkin, by Tsar Peter the Great in 1705. Many Old Believers, who split from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1667, settled in Lithuania. The Church of St. Michael and St. Constantine was built in 1913.
A number of Protestant and other Christian groups are represented in Vilnius, most notably the Lutheran Evangelicals and the Baptists.
The pre-Christian religion of Lithuania, centred on the forces of nature as personified by deities such as Perkūnas (the Thunder God), is experiencing some increased interest. Romuva established a Vilnius branch in 1991.
Almost half of Vilnius is covered by green areas, such as parks, public gardens, natural reserves. Additionally, Vilnius is host to numerous lakes, where residents and visitors swim and have barbecues in the summer. Thirty lakes and 16 rivers cover 2.1% of Vilnius' area, with some of them having sand beaches.
Vingis Park, the city's largest, hosted several major rallies during Lithuania's drive towards independence in the 1980s. Concerts, festivals, and exhibitions are held at Bernardinai Garden, near Gediminas Tower. Sections of the annual Vilnius Marathon pass along the public walkways on the banks of the Neris River. The green area next to the White Bridge is another popular area to enjoy good weather, and has become venue for several music and large screen events.
Cathedral Square in Old Town is surrounded by a number of the city's most historically significant sites. Lukiškės Square is the largest, bordered by several governmental buildings: the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Finance, the Polish Embassy, and the Genocide Victims' Museum, where the KGB tortured and murdered numerous opposers of the communist regime. An oversized statue of Lenin in its centre was removed in 1991. Town Hall Square has long been a centre of trade fairs, celebrations, and events in Vilnius, including the Kaziukas Fair. The city Christmas tree is decorated there. State ceremonies are often held in Daukantas Square, facing the Presidential Palace.
Rasos Cemetery, consecrated in 1801, is the burial site of Jonas Basanavičius and other signatories of the 1918 Act of Independence, along with the heart of Polish leader Józef Piłsudski. Two of the three Jewish cemeteries in Vilnius were destroyed during the Soviet era; the remains of the Vilna Gaon were moved to the remaining one. A monument was erected at the place where Užupis Old Jewish Cemetery was. On 23 October 2011, a swastika has been sprayed on the monument, as what seems to be an anti-Semitic act. About 18,000 burials have been made in the Bernardine Cemetery, established in 1810; it was closed during the 1970s and is now being restored. Antakalnis Cemetery, established in 1809, contains various memorials to Polish, Lithuanian, German and Russian soldiers, along with the graves of those who were killed during the January Events.
On 20 October 2013, Bernardinai garden, previously known as Sereikiškės Park, was opened after reconstruction. The authentic 19th-century Vladislovas Štrausas environment was restored.
Several teams are based in the city. The largest is the basketball club BC Lietuvos Rytas, which participates in European competitions such as the Euroleague and Eurocup, the domestic Lithuanian Basketball League, winning the ULEB Cup (predecessor to the Eurocup) in 2005 and the Eurocup in 2009. Its home arena is the 2,500-seat Lietuvos Rytas Arena; all European matches and important domestic matches are played in the 11,000-seat Siemens Arena.
Vilnius also has several football teams. FK Žalgiris is the main football team. The club plays at LFF Stadium in Vilnius (capacity 5,067).
Olympic champions in swimming Lina Kačiušytė and Robertas Žulpa are from Vilnius. There are several public swimming pools in Vilnius with Lazdynai Swimming Pool being the only Olympic-size swimming pool of the city.
The city is home to the Lithuanian Bandy Association, Badminton Federation, Canoeing Sports Federation, Baseball Association, Biathlon Federation, Sailors Union, Football Federation, Fencing Federation, Cycling Sports Federation, Archery Federation, Athletics Federation, Ice Hockey Federation, Basketball Federation, Curling Federation, Rowing Federation, Wrestling Federation, Speed Skating Association, Gymnastics Federation, Equestrian Union, Modern Pentathlon Federation, Shooting Union, Triathlon Federation, Volleyball Federation, Tennis Union, Taekwondo Federation, Weightlifting Federation, Table Tennis Association, Skiing Association, Rugby Federation, Swimming Federation.
Navigability of the river Neris is very limited and no regular water routes exist, although it was used for navigation in the past. The river rises in Belarus, connecting Vilnius and Kernavė, and becomes a tributary of Nemunas river in Kaunas.
Vilnius Airport serves most Lithuanian international flights to many major European destinations. Currently, the airport has about 50 destinations in about 25 different countries. The airport is situated only 5 km (3.1 mi) away from the centre of the city, and has a direct rail link to Vilnius railway station.
The Vilnius railway station is an important hub serving direct passenger connections to Minsk, Kaliningrad, Moscow and Saint Petersburg as well as being a transit point of Pan-European Corridor IX.
Vilnius is the starting point of the A1 motorway that runs across Lithuania and connects the three major cities (Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipėda) and is a part of European route E85. The A2 motorway, connecting Vilnius with Panevėžys, is a part of E272. Other highways starting in Vilnius include A3, A4, A14, A15, A16. Vilnius' Southern bypass is road A19.
Vilnius has a well-developed public transportation system; 45% of the population take public transport to work, one of the highest figures in all of Europe. The bus network and the trolleybus network are run by Vilniaus viešasis transportas. There are over 60 bus, 18 trolleybus, 6 rapid bus and 6 night bus routes. The trolleybus network is one of the most extensive in Europe. Over 250 buses and 260 trolleybuses transport about 500,000 passengers every workday. Students, elderly, and the disabled receive large discounts (up to 80%) on the tickets. The first regular bus routes were established in 1926, and the first trolleybuses were introduced in 1956.
At the end of 2007, a new electronic monthly ticket system was introduced. It was possible to buy an electronic card in shops and newspaper stands and have it credited with an appropriate amount of money. The monthly e-ticket cards could be bought once and credited with an appropriate amount of money in various ways including the Internet. Previous paper monthly tickets were in use until August 2008.
The ticket system changed again from 15 August 2012. E-Cards were replaced by Vilnius Citizen Cards ("Vilniečio Kortelė"). It is now possible to buy a card or change an old one in newspaper stands and have it credited with an appropriate amount of money or a particular type of ticket. Single trip tickets have been replaced by 30 and 60-minute tickets.
The public transportation system is dominated by the low-floor Volvo and Mercedes-Benz buses as well as Solaris trolleybuses. There are also plenty of the traditional Škoda vehicles, built in the Czech Republic, still in service, and many of these have been extensively refurbished internally. This is a result of major improvements that started in 2003 when the first brand-new Mercedes-Benz buses were bought. In 2004, a contract was signed with Volvo Buses
An electric tram and a metro system through the city were proposed in the 2000s. However, neither has progressed beyond initial planning.
In 2017, Vilnius started the historically largest upgrade of its buses by purchasing 250 new low-floor buses. The project will result in making 6 of 10 public buses being brand new by the middle of 2018 and will allow its passengers to use such modern technologies as free Wi-Fi and to charge their electronic devices while traveling. On September 5, 2017, 50 new Isuzu buses were presented and triaxial MAN buses were promised in the very near future. Vilnius City Municipality also held a contest for 41 new trolleybuses and its winner Solaris committed to deliver all trolleybuses until the autumn of 2018, which will also have the free Wi-Fi and charging features. On November 13, Vilnius City Municipality signed a contract with Solaris for the remaining 150 Solaris Urbino buses of the newest IV generation (100 standard and 50 triaxial), also with the free Wi-Fi and USB charging.
Vilnius City Municipality is one of 60 municipalities of Lithuania and includes the nearby town of Grigiškės, three villages, and some rural areas. The town of Grigiškės was separated from the Trakai District Municipality and attached to the Vilnius City Municipality in 2000.
A 51-member council is elected to four-year terms; the candidates are nominated by registered political parties. As of the 2011 elections, independent candidates also were permitted. The last election was held in March 2015. The results are:
Before 2015, mayors were appointed by the council. Starting with the elections in 2015, the mayors are elected directly by the residents. Remigijus Šimašius became the first directly elected mayor of the city.
Elderships, a statewide administrative division, function as municipal districts. The 21 elderships are based on neighbourhoods: