Unitas, Justitia, Spes
(Latin: Unity, Justice, Hope)
Interactive map of Vilnius
[ˈvʲɪlʲnʲʊs] (listen), see also other names) is the capital of Lithuania and its largest city, with a population of 587,581 as of 2020[update]. The population of Vilnius's functional urban area, which stretches beyond the city limits, is estimated at 700,275 (as of 2018), while according to the Vilnius territorial health insurance fund, there were 729,923 permanent inhabitants as of May 2020 in Vilnius city and Vilnius district municipalities combined. Vilnius is in southeastern Lithuania and is the second-largest city in the Baltic states. It is the seat of Lithuania's national government and the Vilnius District Municipality.
Vilnius is classified as a Gamma global city according to GaWC studies, and is known for the architecture in its Old Town, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Before World War II, Vilnius was one of the largest Jewish centres in Europe. Its Jewish influence has led to its nickname "the Jerusalem of Lithuania". Napoleon called it "the Jerusalem of the North" as he was passing through in 1812. In 2009, Vilnius was the European Capital of Culture, together with Linz, Austria.
Etymology and other names
The name of the city originates from the Vilnia River, from the Lithuanian for ripple. The city has also had many derivative spellings in various languages throughout its history: Vilna was once common in English. The most notable non-Lithuanian names for the city include Polish: Wilno, Belarusian: Вiльня (Vilnya), German: Wilna, Latvian: Viļņa, Ukrainian: Вільно (Vilno), Yiddish: ווילנע (Vilne). A Russian name from the time of the Russian Empire was Вильна (Vilna), although Вильнюс (Vilnyus) is now used. The names Wilno, Wilna and Vilna were also used in older English, German, French and Italian language publications when the city was one of the capitals of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and an important city in the Second Polish Republic. The name Vilna is still used in Finnish, Portuguese, Spanish, and Hebrew. Wilna is still used in German, along with Vilnius.
The neighborhoods of Vilnius also have names in other languages, which represent the languages spoken by various ethnic groups in the area.
According to legend, Grand Duke Gediminas (c. 1275–1341) was hunting in the sacred forest near the Valley of Šventaragis, near where Vilnia River flows into the Neris River. Tired after the successful hunt of a wisent, the Grand Duke settled in for the night. He fell soundly asleep and dreamed of a huge Iron Wolf standing on top a hill and howling as strong and loud as a hundred wolves. Upon awakening, the Duke asked the krivis (pagan priest) Lizdeika to interpret the dream. The priest told him, "What is destined for the ruler and the State of Lithuania, is thus: the Iron Wolf represents a castle and a city which will be established by you on this site. This city will be the capital of the Lithuanian lands and the dwelling of their rulers, and the glory of their deeds shall echo throughout the world." Therefore, Gediminas, obeying the will of the gods, built the city, and gave it the name Vilnius, from the Vilnia River.
Early history and Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Historian Romas Batūra identifies the city with Voruta, one of the castles of Mindaugas, crowned in 1253 as King of Lithuania. During the reign of Grand Dukes Butvydas and Vytenis a city started to emerge from a trading settlement and the first Franciscan Catholic church was built.
Vilnius is a historic and a present-day capital of Lithuania. Archeological findings indicate that this city was the capital of Lithuanian kingdom and later remained the capital of Lithuanian Grand Duchy continuously. Also later when Lithuania formed a dual confederation with Poland, Vilnius remained the capital of Lithuania.
The city was first mentioned in written sources in 1323 as Vilna, when the Letters of Grand Duke Gediminas were sent to German cities inviting Germans (including German Jews) to settle in the capital city, as well as to Pope John XXII. These letters contain the first unambiguous reference to Vilnius as the capital; Old Trakai Castle had been the earlier seat of the court of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.