Vilnius History -II

Dominikonų Street in Vilnius, by Zygmunt Vogel / Wikipedia

On June 30, 1610, Vilnius was devastated by one of the biggest fires in its history. Many of the city’s Gothic buildings and works of art were reduced to ashes, and the university, its library and archives were damaged. Some 4,700 residential buildings, more than ten churches were burnt down, and the city’s population was reduced by one third.

Plague in Vilnius in 1710. The Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. Unknown artist. / VU

On September 4, 1636, the first opera of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, The Abduction of Helen, was staged in the Lower Castle of Vilnius (in London, the first opera was staged a few decades later, and in Paris in 1673).

On August 8, 1655, Vilnius was captured by the Muscovite army: the city was sacked and burnt for several days, and a large part of the population was killed. Two days later, Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich entered the city. It was the first time in the history of the Grand Duchy that the capital had been occupied by a foreign army. Attempts to retake the city were unsuccessful until July 11, 1660, when the army of the Grand Duchy led by Mykolas Kazimieras Pacas did so. The remnants of the Muscovite army barricaded themselves in the castles of Vilnius and remained there until December 1661. During the Northern War, the city was devastated by the Swedish occupation in 1702 and 1707, by famine and plague in 1709, and by major fires in 1737, 1748 and 1749. Baroque churches, public buildings and palaces later replaced those burnt or destroyed.

Vilnius Lower Castle, by Pietro de Rossi, 1797 / Wikipedia

In 1760, the Polish-language newspaper Kurier Litewski was launched in Vilnius – the first periodical in Lithuania.

On April 24, 1794, the Act of Revolt signed by 2,328 rebels against Russia was proclaimed in the Town Hall Square in Vilnius and their government was formed. After the rebels were defeated, Lithuania was annexed to the Russian Empire in 1795, and Vilnius lost its status as capital. Between 1799 and 1805, the Lower Castle was razed to the ground, and part of the Upper Castle was demolished, as well as most of the city wall, its towers and gates, with the exception of the Gates of Dawn.

In 1832, after suppressing a Polish-Lithuanian uprising, the Russian imperial authorities closed Vilnius University. A forced relocation of its treasures – the library, archives, museums and classrooms – began, one of the largest in the country’s history. In 1836, the construction of the current Gediminas Avenue (Gedimino Prospektas) began. Under the Russian Empire, it was named after St George; under Polish rule, it was named after Adam Mickiewicz; in the Soviet era it bore the names of Stalin and Lenin. Since 1989, it has been named after the founder of the city, Gediminas.