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Historic Lithuanians

Famous Figures Essential to Know

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Gediminas

Gediminas

Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com
When you travel to Lithuania, you will encounter the names of important historic figures who are related to landmarks and pivotal events in Lithuania’s past. This introduction of famous Lithuanians will improve your understanding of what you read about Lithuania and what you see when you travel there.

Jonas Basanavičius

Jonas Basanavičius was the head of the council that drafted Lithuania’s declaration of independence on February 16, 1918. His bearded countenance appears on Lithuanian currency. He is closely associated with the House of Signatories on Pilies Street in Old Town Vilnius, where the act of independence was signed.

Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis

Čiurlionis is one of Lithuania’s most famous artists and musicians. He worked at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. His music continues to be widely played in Lithuania. A museum dedicated to Čiurlionis is located in Kaunas and displays many of his haunting, mysterious works.

Kristijonas Donelaitis

Donelaitis, a pastor and poet from the 18th century, is famous for his literary works, which include fables and the lengthy poem The Seasons. Often known as the first Lithuanian poet, Donelaitis continues to inspire Lithuanian literature today. A statue of Donelaitis guards the central building of Vilnius University.

Gediminas

Grand Duke Gediminas founded Vilnius in the 14th century and was responsible for expanding Lithuania and improving its military power, all while maintaining a pagan stance during a time when great pressure from other parts of Europe insisted that nations’ leaders take the Christian faith. A statue of Gediminas reaching toward the street that bears his name can be seen near Vilnius Cathedral.

Dalia Grybauskaitė

Dalia Grybauskaitė has been president of Lithuania since 2009 and is the country’s first female head of state. Though she is generally popular, she also suffers strong criticism from both supporters and opponents. The official residence of the Lithuanian president is located in Vilnius next to the university, and Lithuanian flags fly when she is in her home country.

Vytautas Landsbergis

Now a member of the European Parliament, Landsbergis was the leader of the Supreme Council, a post analogous to the position of president, after Lithuania gained its independence. He took office on March 11, 1990 and served for over 2 years and continued to play a part in Lithuanian politics until his election to the European Parliament.

Mindaugas

Mindaugas was crowned Lithuania’s first king in the 13th century. He also bears the title of Lithuania’s only king. He is famous for uniting Lithuanian lands when threat from German knights created a need for strong national alliances. A statue of Mindaugas is located in front of the National Museum of Lithuania in Vilnius.

Maironis

Maironis was a late 19th-, early 20th-century Lithuanian poet and important member of the Lithuanian National Revival movement and is strongly associated with this movement. The Lithuanian Literature Museum in Kaunas is located in his former house.

Martynas Mažvydas

Mažvydas was a 16th-century writer responsible for publishing the first Lithuanian book, Catechism. This fete of cultural development is frequently celebrated in Lithuania. A copy of the cover of the book can be seen on Literatu Street in Vilnius.

Barbora Radvilaitė

Barbora Radvilaitė enjoys a special place in Lithuanian legend. Though Polish born, she was the 16th-century Grand Duchess of Lithuania and married to Sigismund II Augustus. Their union, borne of an illicit romance, was supposedly one of great passion and was infused with tragedy. Many books, plays, and other creative works have been inspired by this historic figure. A bust of Barbora Radvilaitė can be seen in the Decorative Arts Museum in Vilnius and her remains visited in the Vilnius Cathedral catacombs. Legend also says that her face was used as a model for the miraculous icon at the Gates of Dawn.

Vytautas the Great

Vytautas was a medieval Lithuanian grand duke under whose rule the nation expanded and developed. The Vytautas the Great War Museum in Kaunas was named after this national hero.

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