Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Vilnius. The Castle Complex and Vilnius Cathedral.

A walk through the park, heading for Gediminas Hill.

Oh boy, these Lithuanian meals are going to be the death of me. All I had for lunch was one cepelinai but it was so heavy that I just felt like there was an entire russet potato sitting at the bottom of my stomach. If not for the annoying smell of cigarette smoking wafting over from a few tables over, I probably would have stayed glue to our lunch table for bit longer but just as well that we left.  Our restaurant was located right across the street from a park and according to our map, if we walked part way in, we would see Gediminas Hill.


So a'walking we went.  I don't know the name of the park but it was pretty.  We're barely into the month of September and leaves were already turning yellow and starting to fall.  Summer really is a short season in this part of Europe.

Someone or someones must have thought the weather was getting cold for the lightpoles; they were yarn bombed.  Yes, yarn bombed is indeed the term used to describe this phenomenon.  Not be be negative, I think the knitters could put their creative energy to more productive ends e.g., knitting sweaters, caps, socks, mittens etc for orphans or homeless people than covering poles in the park.  Nonetheless, here are some colorful examples of their work which did, I have to admit, bring some whimsy to the park.



From the base of Gediminas Hill, we took the cobblestone walk way up the hill.  Time to burn off some potato calories!




In the distance, we could see the Three Crosses, a monument erected on a hill by the same name located in Kalnų Park, the adjoining park.  Everyone seems to agree it's a monument but there doesn't seem to be a concensus as to who or what it's suppose to commemorate or memoralize.  One story is that the three crosses were first erected here in the 17th century to commemorate a group of monks from a nearby monastery, who were martyred in the 14th century.  Over the centuries, the crosses have been torn down and rebuilt.  The current threesome was designed by Henrikas Šilgalis and was erected in its place in 1989.


When walk way took us to the other side of Gediminas Hill, we finally had a view of modern day Vilnius.

That building on the left is for the funicular that you can ride up and down Gediminas Hill.

Just a few feet from getting to the top of the hill was when we walked passed the structure that are the ruins as well as reconstructed sections of what is known as the Upper Castle.


The legend is that Vilnius was founded in the beginning of 14th century when Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas stopped for the night near confluence of the Neris and Vilnele rivers. That night he dreamt of an iron wolf howling on a hill. In the morning his soothsayer Lizdeika explained his dream as a sign for him to build here a city as it will become a well known all over the world. Gediminas ordered to pour a mound at the same place he slept. On the hill there a castle was built, the predecessor of the Upper Castle.

Along with the Lower Castle and the Skew Castle, the Upper Castle forms what is referred to as the Vilnius Castle Complex.  The buildings, which evolved between the 10th and 18th centuries, were one of Lithuania's major defensive structures.  The Skew Castle stood on the hill where the Three Crosses currently stand.  The castle was burned down by the Teutonic Knights in 1390 and was never rebuilt.

The tower of the Upper Castle, otherwise just referred to simply as Gediminas Tower sits high atop Gediminas Hill. Its walls were ruined during the Russian occupation (1655-61), but it was restored in 1930 to house the Upper Castle Museum which displays reconstruction models of Vilnius castles of the second part of the 14th and the beginning of the 17th centuries, armament, and iconographic material of old Vilnius. We opted to not go inside the museum.


Atop the hill, we had a spectacular panoramic view of both Old Town Vilnius and the modern day city. 

The tall spire in the middle of the photo is the campanile of St. John's Church at Vilnius University.

Back down Gediminas Hill, we made our way to Cathedral Square crossing through the same park.  This time, we took a short break, sitting on a bench and watching the world go by.  There were a lot of moms and nannies pushing strollers along.  The ice cream vendors were out and about as well.  If not for the fact that a good sized cepelinai was still settled on the bottom of my stomach, I would have gotten a cone.  I've not yet had any Lithuanian ice cream :-)


We walked by this relatively small door.  I say relatively because it's the entrance to the National Museum, now housed in what was the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania.  You would expect a much grander entrance for a museum let alone a palace. The Palace of the Grand Dukes was originally constructed in the 15th century for the rulers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and is situated where the original Lower Castle once stood.  The Palace of the Grand Dukes. evolved over the years and prospered during the 16th and mid-17th centuries. For four centuries the palace was the political, administrative and cultural center of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It was demolished in 1801. Work on a new palace started in 2002 on the site of the original building and it reopened to the public as a national museum on 6 July 2013, just a little over two months before our arrival into Vilnius.  We didn't go inside as it was already late afternoon and we still had quite a few places to go to. If I ever get to come back Vilnius, a visit to the museum will definitely be included on the itinerary.


Without a doubt, Lithuania's most recognizable sight is the Vilnius Cathedral and bell tower. Though Cathedral Square itself is of newer origin, the cathedral is well is over 700 years old (though modified many times since).

Vilnius Cathedral with its bell tower.  Palace of the Grand Duke is to the far right.

There was a small courtyard between the Cathedral and the Church. It begged for us to check it out.



 

Cathedral Square. 

Statue of Duke Gediminas.

The Bell Tower.

Standing at the front entrance to the Cathedral and looking up.  So beautiful.

We stepped inside Vilnius Cathedral which is the seat of the Vilnius archdiocese and is one of the oldest established churches in Lithuania.  As we were walking towards it from Cathedral Square, there were placards showing photos that had been taken of Pope John Paul II when he visited the cathedral in September 1993.  It was a proud moment for Lithuanians as the Pope had been prohibited by Soviet authorities to visit the country so it wasn't until the country gained its independence in 1990 that a visit was even possible.

I loved the interior of this church which dates back to 1801.  It had such a classy and elegant look to it, especially with light butter yellow colored walls and the magnificent carved plaster work.


Such a simple altar compared to what you find inside an Orthodox church.

Another really pretty organ.  Gives the one inside St. John's Church at Vilnius University a run for the money.

The front of the Cathedral.

I felt like we did a whirlwind tour of Gediminas Hill and Cathedral Square.  So much more I wish we had had time to see.  It's still just early afternoon but we have more places to go.