Vilnius is an exceptional illustration of a Central European town which evolved organically over a period of five centuries
The Vilnius Historic Centre began its history on the glacial hills that had been intermittently occupied from the Neolithic period; a wooden castle was built around 1000 AD to fortify Gedimino Hill, at the confluence of the Neris and Vilnia rivers. The settlement did not develop as a town until the 13th century, during the struggles of the Baltic peoples against their German invaders. By 1323, when the first written reference to Vilnia occured, it was the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. By the 15th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, with its capital Vilnius, had become the largest country in Europe, stretching from the Baltic Sea in the North to the Black Sea in the South.
The historic buildings are in Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classical styles and have a distinct appearance, spatial composition, and elements of internal and external finishes. They constitute a townscape of great diversity and yet at the same time demonstrating an overarching harmony.
Together with the Lithuanians, other nations of Grand Duchy of Lithuania with their languages, religions and cultures, shaped the development of Vilnius as an outstanding, multicultural city, in which the influences of the West and the East were merged. Christianity, dominating since the Middle Ages, and the growing importance of Judaism led to exemplary material manifestations of these religious communities which include the churches of St Michael, St Stephen, St Casimir, All Saints, and St Theresa.
The successive reconstructions, resulting from different disasters, gave the town many buildings of special character, including the cathedral, town hall, arsenal, and the Tyzenhauzai, Rensai, Pacai and Masalskiai palaces. Many of the surviving earlier buildings were rebuilt or refurbished in the School of Vilnius Baroque style, which later left an imprint in the large area of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The identity of Vilnius has always been open to influences enhancing the social, economic and cultural activities of the thriving communities. These influences materialised in the works of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque, placed furthest eastward in Europe.
Vilnius is an outstanding example of a medieval foundation which exercised a profound influence on architectural and cultural developments in a wide area of Eastern Europe over several centuries.