HistoryGrand Duke Gediminas founded Vilnius in 1323. Legend tells that an iron wolf came to him in a dream and announced the founding of a great city with its howl. The iron wolf and Gediminas are depicted in a monument in front of the Lithuanian Royal Palace. Gediminas’ castle was a wooden fortification, but fire destroyed the original construction. Grand Duke Vytautas, one of Gediminas’ successors, rebuilt the castle in brick, and it is the remains of this structure that enabled experts to reconstruct the tower. Archeologists and historians have also been able to explain how the castle complex looked in earlier centuries.
The castle’s layout changed with its function over the centuries. Conservation work began in the 19th century; by that time the castle had already ceased to serve as a royal or defensive structure and the slop of the hill was planted with tress and a café was established at the summit. However, the castle’s importance as a national symbol was emphasized when Lithuania declared its independence from Tsarist Russia in 1918 century and the national flag was flown from the top of the tower. During WWII, the castle suffered some damage but the tower was rebuilt in 1960 and later became a part of the national museum. Today, the image of Gediminas Tower appears on souvenirs, banknotes, and stamps. It exemplifies Lithuania’s continuity as a nation and its pride in its past.
Visiting Gediminas Castle
The hill on which the castle is located sits behind Cathedral Square. Besides the top of the hill offering good views of Vilnius and the Hill of Three Crosses, the castle tower is also a museum and a chance to get and even higher bird’s-eye-view of the surrounding area.
To reach the summit of the hill, enter the spiral ramp from the south-side park. (You can also take the funicular located on the other side of the hill.) The pathway is made of cobblestones and good shoes are a must. The walk offers its own panorama of Vilnius as you ascend. At the top, you’ll see what remains of the former castle structure and the rebuilt tower. This point is also a good vantage for checking out the demarcations of the former castle complex. For example, colored bricks in the pavement in the National Museum’s courtyard, just to the north of the hill, outline the foundation of a former church that was a part of the castle.
Pay 5 litas to enter the museum in the tower’s basement level. Then climb the winding, wooden stairs to the various floors of the tower, each with an exhibit relevant to the castle’s history or to important events in Lithuania’s past. One of the most interesting exhibits is the models of Gediminas Castle in various stages of its life. You can see how Cathedral Square looked in past centuries and what structures, such as a moat and castle walls, guarded the castle interior from enemies. Climb to the very top to see the many churches of Old Town Vilnius to the south, the river to the north, and the city high-rises beyond.