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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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,
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).