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about Vilnius

Vilnius (sometimes Vilna; Polish Wilno, Belarusian Вільня, Russian Вильнюс) is the capital city of Lithuania.

Vilnius history

Vilnius has been inhabited for centuries, as is proven by numerous archaeological findings in different parts of the city and is possibly a forgotten capital Voruta of the king Mindaugas. Lithuanians have a tale about Vilnius' founding: according to the story, Vilnius per se was founded after the ruling Grand Duke, Gediminas had a prophetic dream about an iron wolf houling on a top of the hill. When he asked a priest krivis Lizdeika for an explanation, he was told that he must build a castle on the top of that hill, which is strategically surrounded by three rivers (Vilnelė, Vilija (also known as Neris) and Vingria (now is underground) and a grand city around that hill, so that "the iron-wolf-like sound about this great city would spread around the world". So Gediminas somehow turned pagan Lithuania back to Mindaugas pro-Western and Christian Europe establishing a capital in the former capital place though forging the original name to Vilnius.

The city was first mentioned in written sources by the new name Vilnius in 1323. Vilnius became famous after a letter of invitation was written to German merchants, by Gediminas. The original part of the city was the Castle built by Gediminas on Castle Hill. Vilnius was established as a city in 1387, when the city was granted Magdeburg Rights by Ladislaus II of Poland. The town was initially populated by local Ruthenians, but soon the population began to grow and craftsmen and merchants of other nationalities settled in the city.

Between 1503 and 1522 the city was surrounded with walls that had nine gates and three towers. Vilnius reached the peak of its developement under the reign of Sigismund II Augustus, who moved his court there in 1544. In the following centuries, Vilnius became a constantly growing and developing city. This growth was due in part, to the establishment of Vilnius University by King and Grand Duke Stephen Bathory in 1579. The university soon developed into one of the most important scientific and cultural centres of the region and the most notable scientific centre of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Of course, political, economic and social life was also in full swing there. This is proved by statutes issued in the 16th century, the last of which was still in force until the 19th century. Also, in 1769 the Rasų cemetery was founded; today it is one of the oldest surviving cemeteries in the world.

Rapidly developing, Polish-Lithuanian Vilnius was open to migrants from both East and West. Communities of Poles, Lithuanians, Belarusians, Jews, Russians, Germans, Karaims, and others established themselves in the city. Each group made its contribution to the life of the city: At that time crafts, trade and science were prospering in Vilnius. In 1655 Vilnius was captured by the forces of Russia and was pillaged, burned and the population was massacred. Vilnius' growth lost its momentum for many years, yet the number of inhabitants quickly recovered and by the beginning of the 19th century the city was the third largest city in Eastern Europe. This made the destruction of the city walls a must and after 1799-1805 period, only the Aušros Vartai gate (also known as Miedniki Gate and Ostra Brama) remained.

After the Third Partition of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, Vilnius was annexed by Russia and became the capital of a gubernya. In 1812 the city was seized by Napoleon on his push towards Moscow. After the failure of the campaign, the Grand Armee retreated to Vilnius where thousands of French soldiers died and were buried in the trenches they had built months earlier. After the November Uprising the University was closed and repression halted the further development of the city. During the January Uprising in 1863 heavy city fights occurred, but were pacified by Mikhail Muravev. Muravev was nick-named Korikas or Wieszaciel (The Hanger) by the population because of the number of executions he organized. After the uprising all liberties were halted and the Lithuanian, Polish, and Belarusian languages were banned.

During the World War I Vilnius was occupied by Germany from 1915 until 1918. In 1919 Vilnius was proclaimed the capital of the short-lived Soviet Socialist Republic of Lithuania and Belarus. It was seized on January 1, 1919 by Polish defence units recruited from the local population. The city was later taken by Bolshevik forces advancing from east. On April 19, 1919 the city was seized again by the Polish Army led by Edward Rydz-Śmigły. On July 14, Vilnius was yet again seized by the Russian forces. After the defeat of Poland at the Battle of Warsaw in 1920 by Russia, the city was handed over to the newly reborn Lithuania. On October 9, 1920 the Lithuanian-Belarusian Division of Gen. Lucjan Żeligowski seized the city after a staged mutiny. The city and its surroundings were proclaimed Central Lithuania and on February 20, 1922 the local parliament passed the Unification Act and the city was incorporated into Poland as the capital of the Wilno Voivodship.

The League of Nations Conference of Ambassadors accepted the status quo in 1923, yet the city remained a territorry disputed between Poland and Lithuania (the latter state treated Vilnius as its constitutional capital). Lithuania declined to accept the Polish authority over Central Lithuania and it wasn't until the 1938 ultimatum, when the Lithuanian authorities resolved diplomatic relations with Poland and thus de facto accepted the borders of its neighbour.

For yet another time in its history Vilnius started a period of fast development. The Stephen Bathory University was reopened and the city's infrastructure was improved significantly. By 1931 Vilnius had 195,000 inhabitants, which made it the fifth largest city in Poland.

As an effect of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the Polish September Campaign the city was occupied by the Red Army on September 19, 1939. Only sporadic fighting by the local defence units occurred since most of the Polish Army was already fighting Germany in other parts of Poland. Vilnius was initially planned as the capital of Belarus, but after talks in Moscow on October 10, 1939 the city and its surrounding areas were transferred to Lithuania in exchange for Soviet military bases in Lithuania. In June 1940 Vilnius was again seized by the Soviet Union and became the capital of the Lithuanian SSR. Approximately 35,000 - 40,000 of the city inhabitants were arrested by the NKVD and sent to Gulags.

In June 1941 Vilnius was again seized by Germany. Approximately 100,000 inhabitants of the city were murdered in the mass executions in Ponary, among them were 95% of the local Jewish population. A failed uprising on 1 September 1943 (the Vilna uprising) led to the final destruction of the ghetto. Vilnius was taken by the Polish Home Army during Operation Ostra Brama, also known as Wilno Uprising.

After World War II, the Soviets expelled most of the city's Polish inhabitants and replaced them with Russians and Lithuanians.

Beginning in 1987 there were massive demonstrations against Soviet rule in the city. On March 11, 1990 the Supreme Council of the Lithuanian SSR announced its independence from the Soviet Union and restored the Republic of Lithuania, which had been annexed by Soviets in 1940. The Soviets responded on January 9, 1991 by sending in troops, and on January 13 during the Soviet Army attack on the State Radio and Television Building and the Vilnius TV retranslation tower 14 people were killed and more than 700 were seriously injured. However, the Soviet Union finally recognized Lithuania's independence in August 1991.

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Vilnius".

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