| Exhibits of the museum |
Other valuables of the museum
All valuables of the museum
The palace began to flourish 400 years ago, but, alas, was destroyed 200 years ago. Today, it has been rebuilt, and once again we hope that it will become a symbol of Lithuania’s long lived statehood, of its glorious history as one of the most influential European states in early modern Europe. All of this is told through the expositions in the palace museum, which opened its doors to the public in 2013.
The first tour route reveals the development of the residence of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in an historical context – from ancient times to the current reconstruction of the palace. The most valuable part of this exposition are the authentic ruins in the cellars and the unique archaeological finds displayed there. In all, over 300,000 artifacts have been unearthed over two decades of archaeological research. Like a “Lithuanian Pompeii”, they make us rethink and re imagine the history of Lithuania and its heritage.
The second tour route guides us through the evolution of the different stylistic eras of the palace and the historical functions of the various rooms. We hope to capture the spirit of palace life and the functioning of the state. Please enjoy your walk through the recreated interiors representing various historical eras – the late Gothic, Renaissance and early Baroque – and the treasures of applied and fine arts associated with them.
Archaeological research indicates that the first residents in the territory of Vilnius Lower Castle settled here during the first millennium A.D. Undoubtedly, there was a settlement here during the 5th–8th centuries. During the late 13th century, in the location of the later palace, an early brick castle was built, which was the first and the only one of its kind in former ethnic Lithuania. The defensive walls, towers, and remains of some of the buildings can still be seen today in the entrance hall under the courtyard and in the cellars of the palace. This palace residence is witness to the establishment of the Lithuanian State and the Gediminid dynasty. During the 14th and 15th centuries, the Grand Dukes, residing in the capital of Lithuania, stayed both at the Lower and the Upper castles. The castles gradually acquired brick walls and Gothic features.
It is known that the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Vytautas the Great, resided in the Lower Castle. He planned to have his coronation as the King of Lithuania in Vilnius. The Vilnius castles were supposed to highlight the grandeur of the medieval Lithuanian state, stretching from the Baltic to the Black Seas, as well as the exceptional status of its ruler. The castles of Vilnius were also often the home of the successors of Vytautas – the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and Kings of Poland, Casimir Jagiellon and his son Alexander, who notably expanded the residence.
In the early 16th century, the Renaissance reconstruction of the palace was begun by the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland, Sigismund the Old. The development of the residence was undoubtedly influenced by his wife, the Italian duchess Bona Sforza. She sought to turn the palace of Vilnius into a modern representational residence of the Gediminid Jagiellonian dynasty. Thanks to Bona Sforza, the palace was decorated by Italian craftsmen, and Italian artists played an important part in its cultural life as well.
Sigismund Augustus, the son of Sigismund the Old and Bona Sforza, who factually ruled Lithuania from 1544, began new palace development initiatives. He built what came to be called the “New Palace” and formed the closed inner courtyard. In the early 17th century, the rulers of Lithuania and Poland from the Swedish Vasa dynasty paid great attention to the Vilnius residence. Sigismund and Ladislaus Vasa remodelled the palace in the style of Northern European Mannerism and later – early Italian Baroque.
The 16th and the early 17th centuries were a period of prosperity for the palace. Famous craftsmen from Italy and other countries helped build and decorate the palace. Legations from the Apostolic See, the Holy Roman Empire, Moscow, Hungary, Turkey, Persia, France, Spain, Venice and many other countries were received here. This was a place for the dynastic politics of the last of the Jagiellonians and the Vasas. The Council of Lords and the Parliament of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania met here. The Statutes of Lithuania (the code of laws of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania) were compiled and edited here. The Lithuanian Metrica (chancellery records of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania) was kept here, as well as the treasuries of Lithuania’s rulers and of the Grand Duchy.
Sigismund Augustus himself had accumulated a large library, impressive collections of tapestries, weapons, armour, pictures and hunting trophies. The treasury of the palace and its valuables greatly impressed even the envoy of the Pope Pius IV Bernardino Buongiovanni. The palace was the setting for the romantic and tragic love story of Sigismund Augustus and his second wife Barbara Radziwiłł. The gorgeous residence, which was surrounded by a picturesque park, became a centre for the dissemination of Baroque culture and art not only in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, but also throughout Eastern and Northern Europe. Here, earlier than in London or Paris, the first operas were staged.
The prosperity of the palace of Vilnius ended in 1655, when the capital of Lithuania was captured by the Muscovite and Cossack armies. The siege, plundering, and destruction of the Vilnius castles lasted for six years. Later, due to the deplorable condition of the state treasury, it was impossible to reconstruct the destroyed palace. After the last partition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, when Lithuania became a part of the Russian Empire, the Russian administration deliberately destroyed the symbols of Lithuanian statehood and made sure that the remains of the palace were demolished.
Systematic archaeological investigation of the palace began only in 1987, and coincided with the Lithuanian liberation movement. The digs yielded hundreds of thousands of valuable finds. In 2000–2001 the Lithuanian Parliament and the Government of the Republic of Lithuania adopted resolutions regarding the reconstruction of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in Vilnius Lower Castle. Reconstruction of the palace was perceived as the return of a symbol of Lithuanian sovereignty, important for the national identity and historical memory. The reconstruction of the palace is an expression of contemporary Lithuania’s approach to its historical tradition and concern for its cultural heritage.
This audio guide will help you traverse the exhibition spaces of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. We will start with the exhibits from the archaeological finds that were discovered during the exploration of the palace grounds. They are marked with the audio guide numbers 1 to 16. Other exhibits presented were acquired for the reconstructed historical interiors of the palace. They are marked with the audio guide numbers 17 to 30.
In the entrance hall and the first three exhibition halls you can see the ruins of the 13th–16th century castle and palace, the retrospective model of Vilnius’ castles, the wooden sewage gutter of the early 16th century and the blackened and melted bricks, as well as the fallen vault from the wars of the mid 17th century.
The fourth exhibition hall, where you will see the east wall of the 16th century palace, is dedicated to the early settlement, which was situated in that area of the palace. Here one can find examples of its wooden architecture and early masonry. This exhibition hall is also dedicated to the formation of the state of Lithuania since the first time its name was mentioned until the days of the King Mindaugas and the Grand Duke Gediminas. The oldest archaeological finds reach back to the Stone Age. The confluence valley of the Neris and Vilnelė rivers, with its hills, has long been a convenient place to settle, but traces of sedentary life were captured only in the middle of the first millennium A.D. One of the witnesses of this process is a temple ring, marked with the first number of the audio guide.