Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania and one of the country’s oldest cities. It stretches along both banks of the fast flowing Neris River, and is set among hills pine forests. Vilnius is very old city indeed. The honor for founding Vilnius is justly given to Gediminas (a Lithuanian Duke) in the year 1323. Having declared Vilnius his „royal town“, Gediminas created the conditions for its subsequent growth as the political, economical and cultural center of Lithuania. The fortress on Castle Hill was used for defense purposes and was called the Upper Castle.
Following the craftsmen in other European towns at the end of the 15th century, Vilnius craftsmen began to join together by professions into guilds. Many Catholic churches and monasteries appeared in the town. Stone buildings sprang up inside the Lower Castle. The new Cathedral was among them. Crafts and trade continued to develop in the 16th century. Many beautiful new buildings in the late Gothic and Renaissance style appeared in the town. The most significant event in the cultural life of 16th century Lithuania was the founding of the Vilnius Academy in 1579, which was endowed with the rights and privileges of a university. In 1795 Vilnius became the center of a new gubernia consisting of the lands annexed to the Russian Empire. A number of new Classical style buildings were built, including the Cathedral, which had been reconstructed at the end of the 18th century, a new town hall, and the Governor-Generals’ Palace. In 1860, a railway, the first in Lithuania, crossed Vilnius and connected with St. Petersburg and Warsaw.