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Civilopedia entry Edit
Lying at the junction of two navigable rivers, the Vilnia and the Neris, some 194 miles from the Baltic, Vilnius was settled as a trading post deep in the woodlands of Lithuania. The town is first mentioned in written records in 1323 AD, when German Jews were invited to relocate to the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania by Duke Gediminas, who promised religious tolerance and commercial opportunities. Over the following decades under the ambitious duke and his sons, the duchy expanded until it encompassed most of modern Lithuania, Belarus, the Ukraine, Transnistria, and portions of Poland and northern Russia. With the Union of Lublin in 1569, the city became an important mercantile center in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
During this period, Vilnius changed dramatically from a backwater post to a cultural and political center. Migrants were welcomed by the authorities, and thousands of Slavs, Germans, and Jews moved into the booming city. In 1579, King Stefan Báthory founded the institution that would evolve into the 'Vilniaus universitetas,' the oldest university in the Baltic States, which quickly became one of the most important scientific and cultural centers in Europe. Artistic and craft guilds of various types were established, and the city served as the primary center for trade between Scandinavia and the interior of Poland and northern Russia.
All this ready coin meant that the inhabitants – when they weren’t fighting the Poles, Swedes, Russians, or Germans – could live the good life. Although labelled a “Baroque” city, Vilnius boosts a blend of architectural styles – Gothic, Renaissance, Neo-Classical, and so forth – in its well-preserved and unique Old Town (placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994). Museums and monuments of all sorts dot the city. The Gediminas Tower, Cathedral Square, and stately Palace of the Grand Dukes, the House of the Signatories and national museums and libraries have managed to survive occupation by many enemies … and since independence in 1990, again form the heart of Lithuania.