THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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Photos: Aage Myhre
Gediminas' Tower (Lithuanian: Gedimino pilies bokštas) is the only remaining part of the Upper Castle in Vilnius, Lithuania.
The first fortifications were built of wood by Duke of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Gediminas. Later the first brick castle was completed in 1409 by Grand Duke Vytautas. Some remnants of the old castle have been restored, guided by archeological research.
It is possible to climb to the top of the hill on foot or by taking a funicular. The tower houses an exposition of archeological findings from the hill and the surrounding areas. It is also an excellent vantage point, from where the panorama of Vilnius' Old Town can be admired.
Gediminas' Tower is an important state and historic symbol of the city of Vilnius and of Lithuania itself. It is depicted on the national currency, the litas, and is mentioned in numerous Lithuanian patriotic poems and folk songs. The Flag of Lithuania was re-hoisted atop the tower on October 7, 1988, during the independence movement that was finalized by the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania on March 11, 1990.
The Castle Hill surrounded by rivers was a convenient location to build a castle and establish a bigger settlement. Archaeological investigations have revealed that there had already been a settlement on the Castle Hill in the Neolithic. In the 9th century, the hill was reinforced with wooden and stone fences, whereas in the 11th-13th centuries a wooden castle had already been erected. The early history of the castle is closely related to the history of the development of the city.
During the reign of Grand Duke of Lithuania Gediminas, Vilnius was already known as the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the Vilnius Castle was mentioned for the first time in the 1323 treaty between Gediminas and the Teutonic Order. Often the Higher Castle is referred to as the Gediminas Castle. During the reign of the first rulers from the Gediminas dynasty the Vilnius Higher Castle was of great significance not only as a political centre of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, but also as a constituent element of the defensive complex of the capital (together with the Lower and Crooked Castles) that withstood an intensified attack of the Teutonic Order during the second half of the 14th century. When a fire destroyed the wooden castle, a brick castle was constructed during the reign of Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas at the beginning of the 15th century. The remains of the brick castle have survived until the present day.
Eventually, as the situation in the state changed, the castle lost its purpose and subsequent fires and wars, after which it was not repaired, devastated the castle. During 1610-1613, a prison functioned in the basement of the castle, whereas the Higher Castle was last used as a defensive fortress during the war in 1655-1661. The Muscovite army was temporarily settled in the castle. Afterwards, the castle was completely desolated and was slowly disintegrating and declining.
The defensive functions of the castle were brought to light in the 19th century, when a fortress was established in the territory of Vilnius castles following the order of the Tsar of Russia in 1831. The ruins of the Higher Castle were also taken care of, i.e. the remains of the southern and northern towers of the Higher Castle as well as its western and northern walls were demolished, the masonry was conserved, and a sloping Castle Hill was reinforced. In 1838, a wooden two-storey structure of optical telegraph was erected on top of the western tower. When the fortress was removed from the territory of Vilnius castles, a new road was built on the slope of the Castle Hill in 1896, the slopes were planted with trees, and a café was opened in the western tower. During the interwar period, the conservation works were carried on.
When Lithuania restored its state in 1918, the flag of Lithuania was first hoisted on the Gediminas Castle Hill on January 1, 1919. Unfortunately, this was not for long. Vilnius region was occupied by the Polish and only on October 29, 1939 the tricolour of Lithuania was hoisted again on the castle tower. During the World War II the western tower of the castle was damaged badly.
After the war, although Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union, the tower was rebuilt and, in 1960, when the territory of the hill was arranged and the fragments of the castle buildings were conserved, the Castle Museum was opened in the western tower.
From 1968, the museum became the subdivision of the National Museum of Lithuania (at that time, the Museum of History and Ethnography). When the Lithuanian National Revival began, the flag of Lithuania was once again hoisted on the castle tower on October 7, 1988, whereas in 1995, when the castle tower was renovated, a renewed exposition opened its doors to visitors. A picturesque panorama of the capital of an independent Lithuania opens up from the scenic overlook installed on the top of the tower. The castle tower together with the flag of the Lithuanian state became the symbol of national struggles for independence and statehood.
VilNews e-magazine is published in Vilnius, Lithuania. Editor-in-Chief: Mr. Aage Myhre. Inquires to the editors: editor@VilNews.com.
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