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Museums in the Gediminas Castle Complex

Vilnius Museums

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King Mindaugas Statue, Vilnius

King Mindaugas Statue, Vilnius

Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com
Looking for a way to spend a rainy or cold day in Vilnius? Consider a visit to two branches of the National Museum of Lithuania and the Old Armory, which houses the Museum of Applied Arts. The three museums are clustered under Gediminas Castle Tower, and it’s possible to see them all in one afternoon.

Museum of Applied Arts

If you tire easily of viewing portraits of people even historians have forgotten about and grow more excited at viewing exemplary artifacts from past eras when quality of craftsmanship rose to the height of artwork, visit the Museum of Applied Arts. Faded tapestries depicting epic Bible scenes, deeply carved chests, keepsake boxes with hidden drawers, glass, ceramic, and other decorative objects fill the nooks and crannies of this interesting museum.

For some time now the museum has held exhibitions from the historic clothing collection of Alexander Vasiliyev, including clothing from the 60s as well as Art Nouveau and Secession Era fashion. These exhibits are well done and take visitors through time, color, and geography with gowns grouped cleverly and presented with photography showing women in full outfits of similar styles.

Archaeological Museum in the Old Arsenal

The entrance to the Archaeological Museum is found in the yard of the Gediminas Lower Castle complex across from the funicular. This small but tidy museum exhibits artifacts from Lithuania’s prehistoric era, when Baltic tribes roamed the land and evolved to weave, fish, hunt, and trade more efficiently as the centuries passed. You’ll see photos of ancient burials, ancient jewelry, spearheads, clothing fasteners, remnants of fishing equipment, and more. Of particular interest are recreated tribal clothing of men, women, and children, showing how members of tribes from different regions of Lithuania dressed. The clothing was reproduced using remnants found at gravesites and illustrates the sophistication and complexity of clothing from that era and how the linen and woolen garments are precursors to Lithuanian traditional clothing. Explanations are in English and Lithuanian and each item is well marked and identified.

The New Arsenal

The New Arsenal is a good mixture of artifacts from Lithuania’s statehood between the 13th and 18th centuries as well as ethnographic exhibits. While it may seem hodgepodge at first, and the dour visages of once-famous men, whose portraits hang on wall after wall, can get old, if you concentrate on the fascinating oddities of the lower floor, you’re sure to find something to make your visit worthwhile. For example, a painted sledge for a single person and his or her driver, complete with plush seat, is situated in one of the first rooms. Further on, a gigantic blacksmith’s bellows carved with a dragon’s face commands attention.

The upper floor, dedicated to ethnographic artifacts, is enjoyable. Lithuanians’ love of color and pattern is apparent in the traditional clothing on display. Also see woven accessories like sashes, knitted gloves, and linen and woolen bedclothes. Stroll through the hallway of village houses to peer into the past and see how Lithuanians used to live, entertain guests, and prepare their food. The rooms with their log walls and rough-hewn furniture make rural life look cozy. Information posters describe the location of the room and what it was used for. Cheerful ceramic and wooden toys are displayed on shelves along the opposite wall.

In the next rooms, you’ll find folk art such as painted wooden carvings of angels and saints, some of them beautiful, others startlingly awkward. The opposite wall showcases the delicate metalwork crosses that combine pagan symbols with Christian ones and which topped poles and countryside shrines.

Gediminas Castle Tower

If you haven’t been already, walk behind the hill and into the park to reach the entrance of Gediminas Castle Tower. There you’ll be able to enter the tower museum, which offers information about the site as well as panoramic views of the Old Town Vilnius.
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