Vilnius, as the capital of Lithuania, is the home of the President, the Seimas, the Government, and the Supreme Court. Diplomatic missions, educational, cultural, financial, research, and healthcare institutions are based here.
Population: 587 581 inhabitants
Ethnic Composition: Lithuanians 63.2%, Polish 16.5%, Russians 12%, Belarusians 3.5%, Others 4.8% (2011)
Location/ Territory: The capital city Vilnius occupies an area of about 400 sq. km of which 20.2% approximately is developed and the remainder is green belt (43.9% approx.) and water (2.1% approx.).
Religion: Roman Catholic 77.2%, Russian Orthodox 4.1%, Old Believer 0.8%, Evangelical Lutheran 0.6%, Evangelical Reformist 0.2%, other 0.8%
Local Time: GMT + 2 hours (EET), GMT + 3 hour (summertime)
Working Hours: Governmental institutions work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday – Friday. Shops are usually open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. on weekdays and until 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Shopping malls are open all week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Food stores are usually open between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m., some supermarkets are open till 12 at night.
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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 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 occurred, 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 center 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 characterized 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 the setting also determines 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 been always open to influences enhancing the social, economic and cultural activities of the thriving communities. These influences materialized in the works of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque, placed furthest eastward in Europe. 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 a period of five centuries.
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