Church of SS. Peter and Paul, Vilnius, Lith.
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Vilnius is the largest city and the capital of Lithuania, with a population of 555,613 (847,954 together with Vilnius County) as of 2008. It is the seat of the Vilnius city municipality and of the Vilnius district municipality. It is also the capital of Vilnius County.
|"Legend has it that the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Gediminas, was hunting in the sacred forest near the Valley of Šventaragis. Tired after the successful day's hunt, the Grand Duke settled in nearby for the night. He fell soundly asleep and began to dream. A huge Iron Wolf was standing on top a hill and the sound of hundreds of other wolves inside it filled all of the surrounding fields and woods. Upon awakening, the Duke asked the pagan priest Lizdeika to interpret the meaning of the dream. And the priest told him: "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 Legend of the Founding of Vilnius|
Between 1503 and 1522 the walls were built to protect the city, and at the time it had nine city gates and three towers. Vilnius reached the peak of its development under the reign of Sigismund August, who moved his court there in 1544. In the following centuries, Vilnius became a constantly growing and developing city. This growth was due in part to the establishment of Almae Academia et Universitas Vilnensis Societatis Jesu by the King Stephen 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 Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Political, economic, and social activities were in full swing in the town. In 1769, the Rasos Cemetery, one of the oldest surviving cemeteries in the city, was founded. During its rapid development, the city was open to migrants from both abroad and far reaches of territories of Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Each group made its unique contribution to the life of the city, and crafts, trade and science prospered. During the Russo-Polish War (1654–1667), Vilnius was occupied by Russia for several years. The city was pillaged and burned, and its population was massacred. The city's growth lost its momentum for many years, but the population rebounded, and by the beginning of the 19th century city's population reached 20,000, making the city one of the largest in Northern Europe.
In the meantime, for yet another time in its history, the city enjoyed a period of fast development. Vilnius University was reopened under the name Stefan Batory University and the city's infrastructure was improved significantly. By 1931, the city had 195,000 inhabitants, making it the fifth largest city in Poland with vibrant industries, such as Elektrit, a factory of a popular make of radio receivers. Some dispute this picture of economic growth and point out that the standard of living in Vilnius at that time was considerably lower compared to that in other parts of contemporary Lithuania.
On March 11, 1990, the Supreme Council of the Lithuanian SSR announced its independence from the Soviet Union and restored the independent Republic of Lithuania. The Soviets responded on January 9 1991, by sending in troops. On January 13 during the Soviet Army attack on the State Radio and Television Building and the Vilnius TV Tower, at least fourteen civilians were killed and more than 700 were seriously injured. The Soviet Union finally recognized Lithuanian independence in August 1991.
In 2009 Vilnius will be the capital of European Culture. Among the initiatives promoted by Lithuania for this event, the historical centre of the city has been restored and its main monuments have been renewed.
Lying close to Vilnius is a site some claim to be the Geographical Centre of Europe.
Vilnius' non-central 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 center of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
Vilnius lies 312 kilometres (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/63 mi away), Šiauliai (214 km/133 mi away) and Panevėžys (135 km/84 mi away).
Summers can be hot, with temperatures above thirty degrees Celsius throughout the day. Night-life in Vilnius is in full swing at this time of year, and outdoor bars and cafés become very popular during the daytime.
Winters can be very cold, with temperatures rarely reaching above freezing — temperatures below negative 25 degrees Celsius (-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, whereby fishermen drill holes in the ice and fish with baited hooks.
Vilnius is a cosmopolitan city with diverse architecture. There are more than 40 churches in Vilnius. Restaurants, hotels and museums have sprouted since Lithuania declared independence. Like most medieval towns, Vilnius was developed around its Town Hall. The main artery, Pilies Street, links the royal palace and the 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, the historical centre of Vilnius, is one of the largest in Europe (3.6 km²). 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 splendid blend of many different architectural styles. Although Vilnius is known as a Baroque city, there are examples of Gothic (e.g. St Anne's Church), Renaissance, and other styles. The main sights of the city are Gediminas Castle and Cathedral Square, symbols of the capital. 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. In 1995, the first bronze cast of Frank Zappa in the world was installed near the center of Vilnius with the permission of the government.
Guggenheim-Hermitage museum will be built in Vilnius. The building is designed by Zaha Hadid. The museum will host: Guggenheim and Hermitage exhibitions, non commercial avant-garde cinema, library, museum of Lithuanian Jewish culture, collection of Jonas Mekas and Jurgis Mačiūnas.
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 15% of Lithuania's population, it generates approximately 35% of Lithuania's GDP Based on these indicators, its estimated GDP per capita, based on purchasing power parity, in 2005 is approximately $33,100, above the European Union average.
Vilnius contributed over 4.6 billion litas to the national budget in 2004. That makes about 37% of the budget. Kaunas, the second largest city, contributed only 1.5 billion. Vilnius received a return of 360 million litas in the budget, which is only 7.7% of its contribution. This disparity caused some conflicts with the central government because of Vilnius' demand for a greater share of the funds it generated.
There is also the National M. K. Čiurlionis School of Art.
Vilnius is the Roman Catholic center of the country, with the main church institutions and Archdiocesan Cathedral located here. There are quite a number of active and open 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. Vilnius is considered one of the main centers of the Polish Baroque movement in ecclesiastical architecture. 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.
Also, Vilnius has been home to an Eastern Orthodox Christian presence since the 13th or even the 12th century. A famous Russian Orthodox monastery, named for 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.
Once widely known as Yerushalayim De Lita (the "Jerusalem of Lithuania"), Vilnius since the 18th century was comparable only to Jerusalem, Israel, as a world center for the study of the Torah, and for its large Jewish population. That is why one part of Vilnius was named Jeruzalė. At the end of the 19th century, the number of synagogues in Vilnius exceeded one hundred. A major scholar of Judaism and Kabbalah centered 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 center of the former Jewish Ghetto — now Mėsinių Street.
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.
Islam came to Lithuania in the 14th century from Crimea and Kazan, through the Tatars. Tatars in Lithuania have maintained their religious practices: currently, about 3,000 Tatar Muslims live in Lithuania. The Lukiškės mosque of the Lithuanian Tatars was a prominent 19th century feature of suburban Vilnius, but was destroyed during the Soviet era.
In the end of year 2007 a new electronic monthly ticket system was introduced. It is possible to buy an electronic card in shops and newspaper stands and fill it with an appropriate amount of money. The prices for the monthly e-ticket are the same as for the paper tickets. The monthly e-ticket cards are bought once and might be filled with an appropriate amount of money in various ways including the Internet. Currently the monthly e-ticket system co-exists with paper monthly tickets until August 2008 when a new system for electronic one-time tickets will be introduced.
The public transportation system is dominated by the brand new low-floor Volvo and Mercedes-Benz buses as well as Solaris trolleybuses. The new Solaris vehicles (built in Poland) are 15 m long three-axle vehicles. There are also plenty of the traditional Skoda vehicles built in Czech Republic still in service, and many of these have been extensively refurbished internally. All 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 to buy 90 brand-new 7700 buses over the next 3 years. Along with the official public transportation, there are also a number of private bus companies. They charge about the same as the municipal buses and sometimes follow the same routes. There are also a number of different routes, for example from various neighborhoods to the Gariūnai market. In addition there are about 400 share taxis that are usually faster but less comfortable and more expensive (3litas — 0.87 EUR) than regular buses.
The city of Vilnius is made up of 21 elderships that are based on neighbourhoods:
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