Vilnius (pop. 528,300), the capital of Lithuania, is the largest and one of the oldest cities of the country. Vilnius boasts the most wonderful architectural styles of Southern and Western Europe, Gothic and Renaissance, as well as the original “Lithuanian” Baroque, also called the last vivid flash of Baroque in Europe. During these periods, the dynamic silhouettes of the majority of very elegant churches and belfry towers emerged above the city panorama. The end of the 18th century enriched the capital with beautiful buildings in the Classicist style. The capital of Lithuania is the biggest northernmost and easternmost city of Europe with especially evident influence of Western cultures in its architectural harmony. In 1994 the Old Town of Vilnius was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Contemporary Vilnius is the fastest growing and advancing capital in the Baltic States, aspiring to be the most attractive centre for business, political and cultural meetings and events in the region of the neighbouring countries. The city enjoys a well-developed infrastructure of services and entertainments–it has plenty of accommodation, catering and leisure places of various levels. Vilnius is home to the majority of national art and cultural institutions and companies as well as artists. Eimuntas Nekrošius, Oskaras Koršunovas, Rimas Tuminas and other Lithuanian artistic directors, the best in Europe, work here. During summertime, the city hosts international and national cultural events, including Vilnius Festival (classics and the virtuosi of the world music), Christopher’s festival of traditional and modern music, several jazz, folklore and modern dance festivals along with other festivities.
History of Vilnius
Its name was first mentioned in 1323 in the letters of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas inviting craftsmen, merchants and monks from Western Europe to come and stay here. In 1387, after Lithuania adopted Christianity, the city was awarded the Magdeburg Rights, i.e. self-governing. Vilnius was formed as a centre of tolerance where people of various nationalities, including Poles, Byelorussians, Russians, Germans and others, settled and lived in harmony. It also enjoyed prospering crafts and trade. Having established a university in the Lithuanian capital in 1579, Vilnius became the biggest centre of culture and education in the region. At the start of the 20th century, Vilnius became the centre of the Lithuanian national rebirth. On 16 February 1918 the independence of the Lithuanian state was declared here.
Kaunas (pop. 307,500), the second largest city of the country, is situated on the confluence of the Nemunas and the Neris. The city boasts a compact, well-preserved and nurtured Old Town, which is a concentration of valuable cultural and architectural monuments including Kaunas Castle, Gothic Perkūnas House (The House of Thunder), Vytautas the Great and St. Gertrude Churches, Kaunas Town Hall, also called The White Swan, and a number of others. In addition, the city has interesting objects of engineering heritage, i.e. funiculars launched 70 years ago; one of these lifts people to the Aleksotas hill which, like the Insurrection Church, opens beautiful panoramas of Kaunas. Kaunas Town Hall - The White Swan Pažaislis Monastery, the pearl of the Lithuanian mature Baroque of the European scale settled by Kauno Marios (Kaunas Lagoon), hosts international Pažaislis music (classical) festivals every summer. The city offers a number of opportunities for cultural and leisure activities: several drama, pantomime and dance theatres, a puppet-show, and Musical Theatre, which is the initiator of the perfect annual Opera festival in Kaunas Castle. The International Kaunas Jazz Festival represents an annual fiesta of music. The unique features of this festival include carillon jazz, the Jewish theme in jazz performed in a synagogue and others. Kaunas Bridge There are many museums in Kaunas. M.K.Čiurlionis Art Museum offers a chance to see the works of M.K.Čiurlionis, the genius of the Lithuanian art who is ranked alongside M.Shagal, V.Kandinski and K.Malevičius. M.Žilinskas Art Gallery displays a large variety of Western works of art of the latest centuries. Visitors to the Museum of Devils (with over 3,000 items), the only museum of its kind in the world, will experience a number of merry impressions. Vytautas the Great War Museum acquaints its visitors with the history of Lithuania. Nearby is a symbolic Statue of Liberty and the eternal fire commemorating those who died for Lithuanian independence. Quite different is the 9th Fort Museum which was an integral part of the Kaunas fortress during the occupation of the Tsarist Russia and served as a branch of the Lithuanian prison during the in-between-war period and was a death camp during Nazi occupation. Kaunas is also a city of students and athletes, with 5 higher education schools and the famous Arvydas Sabonis’ basketball team Žalgiris.
History of Kaunas
The city originated in the 13th century when the first brick castle in Lithuania, the biggest defence fortress at the time was built. In 1408 the city was granted the Magdeburg rights. Afterwards Kaunas began growing at a fairly rapid pace, especially its importance as the centre and main port for trade with Western Europe. In the 16th century, Kaunas was one of the best developed cities in the Lithuanian Grand Duchy. From 1920 to 1940 Kaunas was the provisional capital of Lithuania. Certainly, this had a positive influence on the city’s development. This period also witnessed the formation Laisvės Avenue, presently a pedestrian boulevard, the only non-smoking area in the whole of Europe
Klaipėda city (pop. 158,900) is the northernmost ice-free port in the Baltics and the only one in Lithuania. Klaipėda cherishes marine traditions– it hosts the Sea Festival on the last weekend of July every year since 1934. This event includes a number of performances of artistic companies and craftsmen’s fairs. The festival attracts many participants and guests not only from Lithuania but also from abroad. The Kopgalis Fort complex, built in the 19th century, houses the Maritime Museum with an attractive exposition of marine nature and the history of navigation. These unique structures also accommodate a rich Aquarium and a Dolphinarium, hosting shows of trained dolphins and Californian sea lions, which attract many spectators. Another interesting activity of the museum is dolphin therapy for children with disability. Warehouses of Klaipeda city Old Port (Fachwerk style buildings) The Lithuania Minor and Castle Museums house exhibits related to the history of the region; Pranas Domšaitis Gallery stores valuable collections of paintings; the Museums of Clocks and Blacksmith also boast interesting collections. A number of original artworks of the best national sculptors are displayed in Klaipėda Park of Contemporary Sculpture. Visitors can listen to the carillon music concerts given in the tower of the Old Post-office at midday on weekends. In summer the seaside enjoys intensive musical life–several festivals of serious and light music and concerts are held here. The International Pilies Jazz Festival held in late June is a real fiesta for music lovers; every year it receives new world-class stars. Žuvėdra dance sport ensemble, the most famous artistic company of Klaipėda, is a repeated European and world champion. Klaipėda is a city suitable for recreation. Klaipėda, like the entire coast of the Baltic Sea in Lithuania, boasts excellent white sand beaches. The Seaside Regional Park, in close proximity north of the city, is attractive with beautiful landscape and unique nature. The services of accommodation and leisure activities are well developed in the city. Yachtsmen are offered 2 yachting clubs, one of which is located in the very centre of Klaipėda, like the Cruise Ship Terminal. The seaport is on the routes of cruise ships sailing on the Baltic Sea. Palanga, the biggest Lithuanian seaside resort, is located on one side, and the beautiful Curonian Spit – on the other nearby Klaipėda.
History of Klaipėda
Klaipėda has been an important commercial centre since ancient times; as early as the 13th century. Having crossed the Baltic Sea, merchants from the northern and southern countries frequented it. 1 August 1252 is considered the date Klaipėda was founded. In 1257 the city was granted the Lübeck City Rights. Because of its old architecture, the seaport is closer to the northern countries. Some of the buildings that have survived in the cosy Old Town have a pronounced Fachwerk style. Modern elements can also be traced.