Gediminas castle, Vilnius
I always like going up hills over cities to get a great view and an idea of the layout of the city. This is a must in Vilnius because you truly see a great view of the old city on one side, and then a modern view on the other - such a great contrast. From the city, it is easy to walk towards the hill and I took the funicular going up, but then decided to go down on my own. It was close to sunset and I thought that was a great time to see the view :)
And this hill has so much historical significance for the city. The Castle Hill surrounded by rivers was a convenient location to build a castle and 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 complex consisted of three castles: the Upper, the Lower, and the Crooked. The Crooked Castle was burned down by the Teutonic Knights in 1390 and was never rebuilt. Then, many more attacks occurred in Castle Hill, destroying the buildings. Today, you can just see the remaining Gediminas Tower.
The funicular railway started operating in Vilnius in 2003. It takes people from the foot of Gediminas Hill and in 35 seconds the funicular railway covers the 71m. The ascending journey which includes getting on and off the funicular lasts around one minute. The train accommodates up to 16 people.
May to September (Mon to Sun) 10.00 - 19.00
October to April (Mon to Sun) 10.00 - 17.00
Ticket office open until 16.30
The day was incredibly cold, and I was very surprised as to how warm and hot the interior of the castle was! There were a number of exhibitions running during my visit, they were all of interest and either about the castle, the City or the downfall of communism in the Baltic countries.
Gediminas' Tower was part of the Upper Castle which was built around year 1400, and is today – besides ruins of some old castle buildings and stone walls - the only remaining part of the castle. The tower was restored in 1930 and is considered the symbol of the city of Vilnius. Inside is an exhibition about the history of the castle, and from the top of the tower is a great view of the Old Town and the Hill of Three Crosses.
If you don't want to walk all the way up to the tower, you can take the funicular located on the riverside side of the hill.
The so called Upper Castle, or Gediminas Castle, was built at the beginning of the 14th century on the site of an earlier wooden one. A century later it was rebuilt and strenghten-
ed. Along with the Lower Castle (now gone) and the defensive wall it formed a powerful defensive system. But slowly itlost its importance and after the damage caused in the war with Russia in 1655, it was left unrebuilt.
After the World War II the best surviving tower was restored. It now houses a museum and an observation platform.
The museum is open:
May - Sept 10.00 - 19.00 whole week
Oct - April Tuesday to Sunday, 10.00 to 17.00.
Entrance fee 5Ltl for adults, pensioners and school children 2Ltl.
To the east of the tower are the ruins of the ducal palace.
The funicular is 71m long and will take you 40m high. The angle is said to be 36 degrees.
Opening hours 10.00 - 19.00 all year round.
- up and down adults 3Ltl, pensioners and school children 2Ltl
- up OR down adults 2 Ltl, pensioners and school children 1Ltl
The costs of August 2010.
The lower starting point is in the courtyard of the Old Arsenal.
Apart from the historical aspect connected to the Castle it's worth going up there just for the views.
To go to the top of Gediminas Tower, which is an iconic landmark of Vilnius , they charge you 5Lt to climb the 78 steps. For that reason alone you may have wished you took the Funicular (3Lt) up to the castle in the first place to save some energy.
There are a few other things of interest in here to see but it's the views that are really worth coming up for. During the day though the church spires and landmarks of the old town are in the sun's path which if you want to take photographs can be a bit of a challenge.
High above the city is the fortress which founded the city. From here everything else fanned out to create the capital. It was built on the hill formed in the confluence of the rivers Vilnia and Neris. According to legend this was as a result of the Grand Duke Gediminas seeing an iron wolf howling from a hill in a dream. He built the fortress here and moved the capital from the castle at Trakai.
All that is left of that fortress on the hill is Gediminas Tower, and that brick tower you see was actually the work of a later Grand Duke, Vytautas. But the views haven't changed, and are magnificent if you can find a way up. When I was there the dauntingly steep footpath was closed, and the only access was via a funicular that was staffed by a grumpy Russian, and plagued by long queues.
Still it's worth the effort, even though the cost of entry to the tower is more questionable.
Atop the 150-foot high Gediminas Hill lies the remnants of the castle. The restored north tower of the upper castle holds special significance for Lithuanians as a symbol of national independence. During the struggle for independence from the Soviet Union, activists raised the Lithuanian Flag over the tower on October 7, 1988. The ceremony was repeated to commemorate Lithuania's formal independence on March 11, 1990. When I visited, there was a videotape of Lithuanians all around the world singing their National Anthem at the moment the flag was raised. If you go up onto the roof, you can enjoy panoramic views of Vilnius, as well as get a close look at the giant flag that flies over the tower to this day.
Admission to the tower and museum costs 5 Litas for adults, 2 Litas for students and Seniors. It is open daily from 10am - 5pm off-season, and until 7pm May - September.
When visiting Vilnius, order a hot air balloon flight and you will see totally different view of the old town. Vilnius is extremely nice from above!
They say, Vilnius is one of just few capitals in Europe, where you may fly by hot air balloon. And this is probably true.
Sightseeing Vilnius from a hot air balloon is one of the top things to do in Lithuania.
The Gediminas' Tower is an important historic symbol of the city of Vilnius and of Lithuania. It is the only remaining part of the Upper Castle. The first wooden fortifications were built by Gediminas - the Duke of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
Gediminas Tower has become one of the symbols of Vilnius. The tower is one of the best preserved parts of the Upper Castle complex and is open to visitors, having been restored in the 20th century. The interior of the tower now houses a museum.
The tower had previously been reconstructed in the 19th century, to function as a telegraph station between St. Petersburg, Vilnius and Warsaw.
There is historic evidence of a castle being located at the top of Gediminas Hill since the early 14th century. The original castle was made of wood and there is uncertaintainty around when exactly the stone castle was built. Originally the castle was built to protect the city of Vilnius from invaders and gave a great vantage point ove the city and surrounding countryside.
Over the centuries the city of Vilnius was attacked five times but the castle was never successfully taken. It was only in the 17th century, during the war with Moscow, did the castle finally succumb to foreign invasion when it was nearly completely destroyed. Recently, parts of the castle have been restored, but access to the interior of the castle is still not possible for visitors.
A fairly easy walk (assuming you're wearing good walking shoes) up Gedeminas Hill allows for wonderful views of Vilnius. The orange-red roofs of old town spread out below, while taller modern buildings can be seen in the distance, a reminder that Vilnius is both a historical site and modern, living city.
At the top of the hill stands the remains of the Upper Castle, built in the 15th century. Inside the tower is a museum detailing some of the city's history. Climb to the top of the tower for even better views of the city below.
For a change of pace, take the funicular down to the bottom of the hill when you're ready to leave. It's a fun ride, and quick!
The first timber castle was built on Castle Mount by Grand Duke Gediminas around 1320. It was replaced by a brick one in the second half of the 14th century, which had to be re-built by Grand Duke Vytautas after a fire in 1419.
The castle served the Polish kings as a bell foundry and a jail and, later, as King Sigismund August's library. In 1655 it was conquered by the Muscovites, which was the start of its gradual decline. The only remaining part of it at present is just one tower which houses the Museum of the Castle. From its top you can admire the panorama of Vilnius.
Unfortunately, we could only see the castle from below. There were no signposts to the funicular and it was getting too late for us to attempt a walk. The pictures of the panorama of the town were taken by my friend on her stay in Vilnius. Thanks, Basia.
Photos: Barbara Godlewska