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Vilnius Historic Centre

Vilnius Historic Centre

Political centre of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from the 13th to the end of the 18th century, Vilnius has had a profound influence on the cultural and architectural development of much of eastern Europe. Despite invasions and partial destruction, it has preserved an impressive complex of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and classical buildings as well as its medieval layout and natural setting.

Centre historique de Vilnius

Centre politique du grand-duché de Lituanie du XIIIe siècle jusqu'à la fin du XVIIIe siècle, Vilnius a exercé une profonde influence sur le développement culturel et architectural d'une grande partie de l'Europe orientale. Malgré invasions et destructions, elle a conservé un ensemble imposant de bâtiments historiques de styles gothique, Renaissance, baroque et classique, ainsi que sa structure urbaine avec ses espaces historiques et son environnement de verdure.

الوسط التاريخي في فيلنيوس

كانت فيلنيوس المركز السياسي لدوقيّة ليتوانيا الكبرى من القرن الثالث عشر حتى نهاية القرن الثامن عشر. فقد أثّرت تأثيرًا كبيرًا على التطوّر الثقافي والهندسي لجزءٍ كبيرٍ من أوروبا الشرقيّة. كما حافظت، بالرغم من كل ما تعرّضت له من اجتياحات وتدمير، على مجموعةٍ كبيرةٍ من المباني التاريخية التي تتميّز بأسلوبها القوطي والباروكي والتقليدي والأسلوب الذي يعود إلى عصر النهضة، بالإضافة إلى البنية الحضرية بمساحاتها التاريخيّة وبيئتها الخضراء.

source: UNESCO/ERI

维尔纽斯历史中心

维尔纽斯是从13世纪到18世纪末期立陶宛大公国的政治中心,在文化和建筑发展上对许多东欧国家有着深远的影响。尽管遭到入侵和部分的破坏,它仍然给人留下深刻的印象,保留了哥特式、 文艺复兴时期、巴洛克式和古典的建筑及其中世纪的布局和自然景致。

source: UNESCO/ERI

Исторический центр Вильнюса

Будучи политическим центром Великого княжества Литовского в период с XIV до конца ХVIII вв., Вильнюс оказывал глубокое влияние на развитие культуры и архитектуры во многих странах Восточной Европы. Несмотря на вражеские вторжения и частичные разрушения, здесь уцелел впечатляющий комплекс зданий, построенных в стиле готики, Возрождения, барокко и классицизма. Сохранилась средневековая планировка, а также природная среда.

source: UNESCO/ERI

Centro histórico de Vilna

Capital del Gran Ducado de Lituania desde el siglo XIII hasta finales del XVIII, Vilna tuvo una gran influencia en el desarrollo cultural y arquitectónico de una gran parte de Europa Oriental. Pese a las invasiones y destrucciones de que fue víctima, la ciudad ha conservado un impresionante conjunto de edificios góticos, renacentistas, barrocos y neoclásicos, así como su trazado medieval y el paisaje natural circundante.

source: UNESCO/ERI

ヴィルニュスの歴史地区

source: NFUAJ

Historisch centrum van Vilnius

Van de 13e tot het einde van de 18e eeuw was de historische stad Vilnius het politieke centrum van het Groothertogdom Litouwen. De stad had een grote invloed op de culturele en architectonische ontwikkeling van een groot deel van Oost-Europa. Ondanks invasies en gedeeltelijke vernietiging is een indrukwekkend complex van gotische, renaissance, barok en klassieke gebouwen bewaard gebleven. Hetzelfde geldt voor haar middeleeuwse uitstraling en natuurlijke omgeving. De snel groeiende stad werd in 1471 getroffen door een rampzalige brand. Hierdoor werden de eerste religieuze instellingen – de kathedraal, de parochiekerk van Sint Johannes en de Franciscaanse en cisterciënzer kloosters – vernietigd.

Source: unesco.nl

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Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis 

The Vilnius Historic Centre began its history on the glacial hills that had been intermittently occupied from the Neolithic period; a wooden castle was built around 1000 AD to fortify Gedimino Hill, at the confluence of the Neris and Vilnia rivers. The settlement did not develop as a town until the 13th century, during the struggles of the Baltic peoples against their German invaders. By 1323, when the first written reference to Vilnia occured, it was the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. At this time, some brick structures had apparently been erected on a small island formed when the Vilnia changed its course. By the 15th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, with its capital Vilnius, had become the largest country in Europe, stretching from the Baltic Sea in the North to the Black Sea in the South. The historic centre comprises the areas of the three castles (Upper, Lower and Curved) and the area that was encircled by a wall in the Middle Ages. The plan is basically circular, radiating out from the original castle site. The street pattern is typically medieval, with small streets dividing it into irregular blocks, but with large squares inserted in later periods.

The historic buildings are in Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classical styles and have a distinct appearance, spatial composition, and elements of internal and external finishes. They constitute a townscape of great diversity and yet at the same time demonstrating an overarching harmony. The townscape is characterised by the general pattern of the town plan, the network of streets, squares and the boundaries of the plots. The elements of the urban pattern in relation to its natural setting also determine the specific silhouettes, panoramas and vistas that are preserved today.

Together with the Lithuanians, other nations of Grand Duchy of Lithuania with their languages, religions and cultures, shaped the development of Vilnius as an outstanding, multicultural city, in which the influences of the West and the East were merged. Christianity, dominating since the Middle Ages, and the growing importance of Judaism led to exemplary material manifestations of these religious communities which include the churches of St Michael, St Stephen, St Casimir, All Saints, and St Theresa.

The successive reconstructions, resulting from different disasters, gave the town many buildings of special character, including the cathedral, town hall, arsenal, and the Tyzenhauzai, Rensai, Pacai and Masalskiai palaces. Many of the surviving earlier buildings were rebuilt or refurbished in the School of Vilnius Baroque style, which later left an imprint in the large area of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The identity of Vilnius has always been open to influences enhancing the social, economic and cultural activities of the thriving communities. These influences materialised in the works of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque, placed furthest eastward in Europe. 

Criterion (ii): Vilnius is an outstanding example of a medieval foundation which exercised a profound influence on architectural and cultural developments in a wide area of Eastern Europe over several centuries. 

Criterion (iv): In the townscape and the rich diversity of buildings that it preserves, Vilnius is an exceptional illustration of a Central European town which evolved organically over a period of five centuries. 

Integrity

The inscribed property has an extension of 352 ha and contains all the attributes that convey its Outstanding Universal Value. The Vilnius Historic Centre has maintained a radial street pattern that dates back to the Middle Ages. Its spatial structure reflects both the evolution from changes in style and the political and natural calamities that have struck the area. The property maintains exceptional attributes such as the 16th-century University ensemble, a Town Hall with its square, temples of all religious denominations and the complete street pattern without any significant gap. Only a few places show the damage occurred during occupations and wars, including the Cathedral square that covers the foundations of the Lower Castle, demolished after the 3rd partition of the Commonwealth of the Two Nations in 1795, the empty place of the Great Synagogue, demolished after World War II, and the nearby attempted fragment of a broad avenue on the side of Vokiečių street (Deutsche Gasse), and some squares or modern buildings that replaced elements demolished at the same period.

Those features gone and changed remain in the sources of history, diligent archaeological and historical research reports, the fine and applied arts, living traditions of music, theatre and hospitality. Some spaces, uses and activities have naturally changed with developing social and economic needs, yet the formulated significance of the property remains readily recognisable. Vilnius has retained its political role and economic and cultural importance in the country and the region, and its current shape represents its complex history excellently. 

Authenticity

The current shape of the city retains its authentic qualities in the material attributes and continuous processes, traditions of the arts and life witnessing the often stormy history of the city and country and their political, economic and cultural evolution throughout the centuries.

The spatial pattern of the city within its setting and a vast majority of the buildings filling the pattern remain authentic in their shape, materials, and building technique. Many of the buildings retain material layers from several periods, as with the introduction of new styles, the buildings have been rebuilt, incorporating the old buildings into the new ones. Buildings that suffered from the consequences of wars and fires, notably from World War II, were reconstructed using technical solutions typical for that time, whilst the traditional methods of restoration were used only for monuments and outstanding details. On the whole, the authentic attributes remain in the pattern of plots, structure and internal spatial arrangements of the buildings, distinctive elements of internal decorations and equipment, surfaces of the external walls and various decorations of the facades, doors, windows and roofs, pavements of the streets and squares, and details of the engineering and transport infrastructure, along with the surviving intangible heritage expressed through arts and traditions.  

Protection and management requirements

The protection of the Vilnius Historic Centre is ensured by the specific provisions stipulated by the Laws on National Security, on Protection of Immovable Cultural Heritage, on State Commission of Cultural Heritage, on Territorial Planning on Protected areas, and other legal acts. The attributes of the property are protected by the Vilnius Strategic Plan, the Vilnius Official Plan, the Regulation on the Protection of the Old Town and the actions taken by the annual Old Town revitalisation programme. The Minister of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania is responsible for safeguarding the Old Town. Notwithstanding this important regulatory framework, precise regulations concerning the construction of high-rise buildings, beyond the proposed buffer zone, need to be developed and strongly enforced to ensure the conservation of the visual integrity of the property and its setting. These need to complement the provisions made in the Vilnius Official Plan to ensure the retention of visual relationship among protected areas, valuable views, panoramas and silhouettes. This should be complemented with a strategy for heritage impact assessments to make certain that large constructions, regardless of their location, do not impact the Outstanding Universal Value, Authenticity or Integrity of the property.

The safeguarding of the property is based on 4 principles: (i) territorial unity of management; (ii) lateral interaction of inter-institutional multidisciplinary teams with regards to management, therefore involving, besides the heritage protection, other sectors such as territorial planning as well as social, economic and other issues; (iii) vertical integration and coordination of responsibilities and decision-making on state and local governance levels; (iv) interaction of the institutions of the state, local government and civil society through an inter-institutional commission and civil society audit.

The multinational community of the city that developed in history is more homogeneous today; hence the manifestations of a multicultural city must be especially treasured, safeguarded and exposed. Exceptional attention needs to be given to the remaining authentic elements, to the preservation of historic techniques and their interpretation to be complemented with references to the forgone socioeconomic and cultural processes and other intangible heritage. These principles are to be implemented through the Coordination and Management Commission, which is also responsible for developing a clear set of conservation objectives and procedures, in order to ensure that effective decision-making mechanisms are in place to emphasize the protection of the Outstanding Universal Value of the property.

Long Description

Vilnius is an outstanding example of a medieval foundation which exercised a profound influence on architectural and cultural developments in a wide area of Eastern Europe over several centuries. In the townscape and the rich diversity of buildings that it preserves, Vilnius is an exceptional illustration of a central European town that evolved organically over five centuries.

On a site that had been intermittently occupied from the Neolithic period, a wooden castle was built around AD 1000 to fortify Gedimino Hill, at the confluence of the Neris and Vilnia rivers. The settlement did not develop as a town until the 13th century, during the struggles of the Baltic peoples against their German invaders. By 1323, when the first written reference to Vilnia occurs, it was the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania founded by Prince Gedymin, ancestor of the Galitzin family. At this time some brick structures had apparently been erected on a small island formed when the Vilnia changed its course.

Lithuania was the last great pagan state in Eastern Europe to be converted to Christianity, in 1387, when Grand Duke Jagaila was baptized. This opened Vilnius to the Western world, as in the same year it adopted the Magdeburg Statutes. However, it was not until 1410 when the Teutonic Order was destroyed at the battle of Tannenberg that it became safe from marauders and invaders.

The rapidly expanding town was struck by a disastrous fire in 1471, when the first religious establishments (cathedral, parish church of St John and Franciscan and Cistercian monasteries) were destroyed. The only surviving remains from the earliest period are therefore the walls, some sections of which survive beneath the defences built in 1503-22 against Tatar incursions. The town was partially reconstructed after another major fire in 1530, when an attempt to rationalize the medieval street pattern was largely unsuccessful. This was a period of commercial and cultural development. Close trading links were established with both Western and Eastern Europe, and these trading links led to the spread of Western culture into Byelorussia and the Ukraine.

A printing works was set up in 1522 and a university in 1579. Yet another fire in 1610 saw the destruction of the newly built Lower Castle and the new cathedral. The subsequent reconstruction included extensive church building: the churches of St Michael, St Stephen, St Casimir, All Saints, and St Theresa all date from this period. At the beginning of the war with Russia (1654-67) Vilnius had no fewer than 41 religious buildings, though many were lost during the conflict. Most of the older buildings in wood were lost in a series of fires (in 1715, 1737, 1748 and 1749), but it was the successive reconstructions that gave the town many of the buildings of special character, including the cathedral, town hall, arsenal, and the Tyzenhauzai, Rensai, Pacai and Masalskiai palaces. Many of the surviving earlier buildings were rebuilt or refurbished in Baroque style.

Annexation by Russia in 1795 led to the Lithuanian capital gradually losing some of its distinctive character. The fortified enceinte and Lower Castle were demolished in 1799; in 1837 Cathedral Square was laid out in strict academic style and St George Avenue was constructed cutting across the old town fabric. In the Second World War, over 80 old houses were destroyed, but reconstruction was put in hand with the end of hostilities. Major rehabilitation projects for the historic town centre were drawn up in 1956-58 and 1970-74.

The historic centre comprises the areas of the three castles (Upper, Lower and Curved) and the area that was encircled by a wall in the Middle Ages. The plan is basically circular, radiating out from the original castle site. The street pattern is typically medieval, with small streets dividing it into irregular blocks, but with large squares inserted in later periods.

The historic buildings are in Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and classical styles (with some later additions). Some 40% of them are adjudged to be of the highest category of architectural and historical importance. They constitute a townscape of great diversity and yet at the same time one in which there is an overarching harmony.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
Historical Description

On a site that had been intermittently occupied from the Neolithic period onwards, a wooden castle was built around AD 1000 to fortify Gedimino Hill, at the confluence of the Neris and Vilnia rivers. The settlement did not develop as a town until the 13th century during the struggles of the Baltic peoples against their German invaders. By 1323, when the first written reference to Vlnia occurs, it was the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, founded by Prince Gedymin, ancestor of the Galitzinn family. At this time some brick structures had apparently been erected on a small island formed when the Vilnia changed its course.

Lithuania was the last great pagan state in Eastern Europe to be converted to Christianity, in 1387, when Grand Duke Jagaila was baptized. This opened Vilnius to the western world, since in the same year it adopted the Magdeburg Statutes. However, it was not until 1410 when the Teutonic Order was destroyed at the battle of Tannenberg that it became safe from marauders and invaders.

The rapidly expanding town was struck by a disastrous fire in 1471, when the first religious establishments (the cathedral. the parish church of St John, and the Franciscan and Cistercian monasteries) were destroyed. The only surviving remains from the earliest period are therefore the walls, some sections of which survive beneath the defences built in 1503-22 against Tatar incursions. The town was partially reconstructed after another major fire in 1530, when an attempt to rationalize the medieval street pattern was largely unsuccessful. This was a period of commercial and cultural development. Close trading links were established with both western and eastern Europe, and these trading links led to the spread of western culture into Byelorussia and the Ukraine. A printing works was set up in 1522 and a university in 1579.

Yet another fire in 1610 saw the destruction of the newly built Lower Castle and the new cathedral. The subsequent reconstruction included extensive church building: the churches of St Michael, St Stephen, St Casimir, All Saints, and St Theresa all date from this period. At the beginning of the war with Russia (1654- 67) Vilnius had no fewer than forty-one religious buildings, though many were lost during the conflict. Most of the older buildings in wood were lost in a series of fires (in 1715, 1737, 1748, and 1749), but it was the successive constructions that gave the town many of the buildings which give it its special character, including the Cathedral, the Town HalI, the Arsenal, and the Tyzenhauzai. Rensai. Pacai, and Masalskiai Palaces. Many of the surviving earlier buildings were rebuilt or refurbished in Baroque style.

Annexation by Russia in 1795 led to the Lithuanian capital gradually losing some of its distinctive character. The fortified enceinte and the Lower Castle were demolished in 1799; in 1837 Cathedral Square was laid out in strict academic style and St George Avenue was constructed, cutting across the old town fabric.

In World War II over eighty old houses were destroyed but reconstruction was put in hand with the end of hostilities. Major rehabilitation projects for the historic town centre were drawn up in 1956-58 and 1970- 74.

Source: Advisory Body Evaluation