History of the Royal Palace

The Royal Palace were located in the center of the Lower castle – between the Cathedral and the Hill of the Gediminas castle. The palace consisted of 4 buildings that surrounded a courtyard of irregular quadrangular shape. From the south, near the palace there was a garden, from the west – the Cathedral. In the drawings dating from the end of the 18th century, the eastern and southern buildings are depicted as three-storied.

At the beginning of the national revival movement on demand of public, it was decided to investigate the remains of the Palace and to store information for it’s reconstruction. As a result this material has been published in the continuous publication ”The Vilnius Royal Palace of the Lower Castle”.

Archaeologists discovered a long, narrow promontory in the western hillside of Gediminas hill. The steep, 5-6 m high northern slopes of which descended towards the marshy valley of the Neris River is built up with wooden houses. The southern slopes extend downwards to the swampy valley of the Vilnia River. As early as the second half of the 13th century on the southern edge and slope of the promontory, there stood brick houses of which only small fragments have survived showing the Baltic brick bond. The buildings incorporated solid quadrangular buttresses and some of them were magnificent, with shaped brick decorating the door and window edges and nerve brick embellishing the vaults which had paintings over plastering. Ceramic tile was used as flooring. Large bricks carved with fantastic beings in bas-relief that have been found at the site must have decorated the facades of the buildings.

The Castles about 1530 year

In the beginning of the 15th century, and probably after the fire of 1419, a large Cathedral was erected at the castle site and a new Gothic palace between the castle and the hill. The brick houses of the 13th-14th centuries were demolished to make room for these new buildings. The new palace must have consisted of three large buildings: the eastern one with 3 basements at the hillside (55,5 m in length), the southern one on the southern slope of the promontory (70 cm in length), and the western one adjacent to the rear of the Cathedral. The courtyard apparently was fenced off by a wall on the northern side. The buildings must have been two-storied, with tiled roofs and had basements. The rooms of the first floor of the southern building were connected by a gallery that once was on the side of the courtyard. The palace was magnificent. Glazed wall tiles decorated with coats-of-arms and figures of fantastic beings, shaped and nerve bricks, as well as tiles dating back to the first half of the 15th century, have been found at the palace site.

In the end of the 15th century or the beginning of the 16th century, the Gothic palace was decorated with stoves made of multicolored glazed tile characteristic of the Renaissance. The cornices of the stoves were decorated with the sovereign’s and noblemen’s coats-of-arms and fantastic scenes.

C. 1520-1530, during the reconstruction of the palace, Sigismundus the Old had the eastern building extended. It must have been at this time that the northern building was erected of squared stone, floored with limestone and marble slabs. Stoves made of multicolored tiles decorated the rooms.

In particular, marble and sandstone were widely used while repairing the palace after the fire of 1610. Sandstone cornices with the Vasas’s coats-of-arms decorated the windows, fire places and walls. The stoves were embellished with tiles depicting not only the coats-of-arms of the Vasas but also those of the noblemen.

From the end of the 15th century to the 17th century, most of the architects and sculptors worked in Krakow and Vilnius simultaneously. Nevertheless they managed to convey a distinctive style of its own to the palace in Vilnius. The palace became a source generating new fashions in architecture and applied art for the western part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Raczynski

At least from the beginning of the 14th century, Vilnius was the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In the 14th-17th centuries, the Lower Castle in Vilnius was the main residence of the great dukes of Lithuania. It was from here that in 1323 the Grand Duke Gediminas sent letters into West European cities and it was here that he received foreign envoys. Later, the Grand Duke Algirdas lived in the castle, his sons were born and grew up here in this region. In 1386, Gediminas’s grandson Jogaila (Jagiella) left Vilnius for Krakow to be crowned king of Poland. In 1430, the Grand Duke Vytautas intended to celebrate his crowning as King of Lithuania in the castle. Casimir Jogailaitis lived in the castle for several years and so did his sons, St. Casimir and Alexander, the ruler of Poland; it was here that the latter died in 1506. Guests and envoys used to be received in the palace and issues of foreign and home policies to be dealt with here. There is, however, no accurate data regarding the sovereign’s residence either from the 14th or 15th centuries. Therefore, until quite a short time ago, those investigating the past of Vilnius believed that until the end of the 15th century the residence was a wooden one.

A reference dated 1530 said the 100 000 ducat – worth palace that had just been built had not suffered from the fire which had damaged many buildings in the city and the castle. “Cities of the World”, the atlas compiled in the end of the 16th century by G. Braun, contains the earliest known picture of the city of Vilnius and the castle represented after an unknown drawing of early or mid-16th century.

Sigismund the Old, the ruler of Lithuania and Poland, in the first decades of the 16th century resided in the castle off and on. It was he who had the palace reconstructed. In 1517, he received in the palace the emperor’s envoy who arranged Sigismund’s marriage to Bona Sforza. During the third and fourth decades of the 16th century, the palace site was still being cleaned up and decorated. In 1529, Sigismund Augustus, the son of Sigismund the Old and Bona Sforza was declared great duke of Lithuania in this palace and resided there from 1544 to 1548. Afterwards he often came there too. Sigismund Augustus’s first wife Elisabeth died in this palace in 1545 and Barbora (Barbara) Radvilaite, his second wife, later resided in it. The palace housed Sigismund Augustus’s library, picture gallery and collection of jewels. The latter, according to Sigismund Augustus’s contemporaries, was superior even to the Pope’s treasures. In 1562 the palace saw the wedding of Catherine, Sigismund Augustus’s sister, to Swedish king Gustavus Vasa’s son John.

Later rulers, i.e. Stephen Batory, Sigismund and Vladislaus Vasas, would also stay in the palace.

The fire of 1610 damaged part of the city and the castle again. The palace also suffered from the fire and was soon repaired. The first known Lithuanian opera performances took place in it in 1634.

In August 1655 the Russian army, without encountering any major resistance, occupied Vilnius, plundered the city and the castle and set some buildings on fire. It was only in the beginning of December 1661 after a siege of several months and heavy fighting that castle, now badly destroyed, was recaptured by the Lithuanian-Polish army. The palace, plundered, devastated, extensively damaged by the fighting, was no longer suitable as the rulers’ residence and for some 100 years stood neglected and abandoned. The palace of that time is depicted in several drawings dating from the end of the 18th-the beginning of the 19th centuries.

In the second half of the 19th century, a few score of townspeople’s families were given permission to settle in the palace. After the fall of the Lithuanian-Polish state in 1799, when Lithuania was annexed to Russia, the Vilnius magistracy sold the palace to a Kremenchug merchant to tear it down. During the first years of the 19th century the palace was demolished, its brick and stone were sold, the foundations of the palace and the remnants of the basements were buried under the debris. It was only of the eastern building of the palace, viz. the basements and part of the ground-floor walls turned into a two-storied house, that survived.

The foundations of the palace were further damaged in 1831, when the moat was excavated around the fortress. After the fortress ceased to function around 1880, the ramparts were removed, the moat was filled up and the palace site was turned into a park.

Worth to mention that the Vilnius Royal palace was looted and significantly damaged; it no longer served as a Royal residence. As a symbol of statehood was razed during the Tsarist occupation.

The remains of discovered foundations progressively were ripped from precipitation. Lithuania’s Parliament enacted a law on October 17, 2000 which states that the Royal Palace of Lithuania should be rebuild by the year 2009 – for the millennium celebration of the mention of Lithuania’s name in written records (it will serve as a cultural, educational, representational center and museum of statehood as well as a tourist attraction).

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