After spending most of the day at Kursiu Nerija, we finally made it to Vilnius pretty late in the evening. Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania and the largest city in the country, named after the Vilnia river. It is close to what some consider the geographic center of Europe in the southeast of Lithuania. We stayed quite late into the night wandering around the old town part of Vilnius, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
We parked close to Cathedral Square and walked to the Vilnius Cathedral down a shopping pedestrian road, Gedimino. The Cathedral Square was still busy with tourists enjoying the views of the cathedral with it’s stunning columns and intricate ceiling. The nearby tower was quite a sight as well. Behind the cathedral is a national museum, which of course was already closed for the night. But we could admire the statue of Grand Duke Gediminas a historic ruler of eastern Europe from the early 1300s.
Just to the east of Cathedral Square we had some nice views of the Gediminas Castle tower. The tower flies the Lithuania flag and is well lit at night. The tower is the last remaining portion of the upper castle, which was built upon the hill where the Grand Duke Gediminas dreamt of a large iron wolf… apparently a omen that he should build a city here that would be become the capital. Vilnius was built in the early 1300s, but now is a bustling city of over half a million people!
Below the castle tower we walked through the lovely Bernadine Park. I love fall and the park had lovely foliage this time of year. It was a bit hard to see in the dark but the smell of fall was unmistakeable. From within the park we could see three illuminated crosses on a tall hilltop, the bald hill (Plikasis kalnas). This is a prominent part of the city’s skyline, but has a dark past. Wooden crosses on this hilltop in memory of Franciscan friars who were beheaded on the hill, were later replaced with a concrete monument.
At the southeast edge of the park we walked past a number of small ponds and along a canal to the Church of St. Francis from Assisi (Bernardine). The church is unique in that it was built for prayer but also for defensive purposes. The gothic architecture was dramatically lit at night. We also had a nice view of the Church from the courtyard to the adjacent St. Archangel Michael Church.
From there we walked down Literatai Street, where there was artwork mounted all along the walls of the street. Then we walked further south to the Town Hall Square and then the Church of St. Casimir. On our way back to Cathedral Square we passed the Offices of the President and the Kempinski Hotel Cathedral Square. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to such elaborate architecture for seemingly normal buildings like hotels. It’s so amazing to see and explore places like Vilnius where we didn’t know what to expect and walked away humbled by yet another beautiful city.