On both sides of Gediminas Avenue

The story of one street

Gediminas Avenue is a real artery of Vilnius. Here, you will not only feel the pulse of the capital of Lithuania, but also see the diversity of people living in the city. That’s why the road from Independence Square to the Cathedral is designed to accommodate a wide range of travellers, from those with reduced mobility, to parents with children in pushchairs, to the large crowds of people in the festive processions. You can park your car in one of the many car parks around Gediminas Avenue before you start your route, and there are plenty of cafés if you want to stop for a breather too!

Įrašo pavadinimasAbipus Gedimino prospekto

Įrašo trukmė1:45

Route map

1. St. George’s (present-day Gedimino) Avenue

The history of this Avenue in Vilnius dates back to the beginning of the 19th century on 16 April 1816, when in St. Petersburg, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, the Military Governor of Lithuania, presented a comprehensive plan for the city of Vilnius. This plan was passed on to the Scottish architect William Hastie, who mapped out the representative street of the city – St. George’s Avenue. The architect hoped that his project would be easy to implement, but the reality proved to be different. The inhabitants of the town were not interested in the expansion of the town, so some asked for their houses to be bypassed, and others refused to move out. In 1834, six problematic properties were mentioned as preventing the construction of the street. The property owners obstructing the plans included firemen, cabbage growers, gardeners, brewers, and palace owners. The construction of the street did not begin until 1837, and from 1842 onwards, developments were planned for the street. After the section from the current Vilnius Street to the Cathedral was landscaped, the street received its first name – by order of Tsar Nicholas I on 11 February 1852 – St George’s Avenue.

 

2. Gedimino pr. 1

The late 19th-century residential building has always housed taverns, cafés, and restaurants. In 1901, the beerhouse belonging to R. Vojevodskis was located on the ground floor of Burhart’s house, followed by the restaurant Medvied (‘The Bear’) in 1901 and the short-lived Lithuanian café ‘Poilsis’ (‘Rest’) in 1920, which only lasted a week. Until the Polish occupation, the first café in Vilnius, ‘Birutė’, operated in this building. A year later, when the Poles occupied Vilnius, the famous confectionery of Sebastijonas Rudnickis was established here, where writers, painters, actors and journalists gathered. In 1940, the building was nationalised, and 20 years later, it became the home of the ‘Literatų svetainė’ – the Literary Lounge was popular with the bohemians and intellectuals of the time. In 1989, a tricolour was raised over the building. At the dawn of independence, the ‘Gariūnai Boys’, renowned for importing illegal contraband goods, took a liking to the place. The restaurant era was brought to an end by the closure of KFC, which most recently occupied the site. What’s next for this historic building?

3. The Palace of the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences

The Russian economy was booming at the end of the 19th century, and in order to expand its influence, the State Bank of Russia purchased a plot of land for a bank located on the prestigious avenue. Construction work began in 1905, according to Mikhail Prozorov’s design. The basement of the building was equipped with a safe room and an autonomous boiler house, which operated until the 1960s. The architect applied a novelty of the time – metal and reinforced concrete structures – to this building. Inside the bank, there is an impressive white marble staircase and a 440 m2 hall covered by a reinforced concrete vault without additional supports. 

Pay attention to the decoration of the building: wrought-iron fences, oval windows, and exterior door decor.

4. ISM University of Management and Economics

In 1886, the landlord, J. Śniadecki, built an Italian Neo-Renaissance palace. Later, the premises were rented to a bank. Interestingly, the building occupied a small block. Already in the Soviet era, the building was reconstructed according to the project of the architects Algimantas and Vytautas Nasvytis, who adapted the building to serve the function of a post office. The famous architect sibling duo preserved the original façade at the top of the building. The ground floor has been rebuilt using features that were particularly modern at the time, combining old and modern Vilnius architecture. As the architects put it, “the mood of an old town street was created”. After another renovation, the Vilnius Central Post Office, which was located in the building for many years, was handed over to ISM University of Management and Economics in 2023

5. The Church of St. George

In the early 16th century, Mikołaj Radziwiłł built the Monastery of the Barefoot Carmelites and a church in the then suburb of Vilnius. The wooden church was dedicated to St. George (patron saint of soldiers and knights) and St. Mary, Our Lady of the Snows. The church was commissioned by Mikołaj Radziwiłł to give thanks for the victory over the Tatars in 1506. In the middle of the 18th century, Vilnius was devastated by a huge fire, and the church and the monastery burnt down. However, they were rebuilt in 1755 by Jerzy Radziwiłł. Vilnius Theological Seminary was founded here at the end of the 18th century. During the Second World War, the monastery was turned into a hospital for infectious diseases. In the Soviet period, the church and the seminary were closed, and the ‘Palace of Books’ was established. From 1946 until the proclamation of independence, the premises housed a repository of old publications. Recently, all the books were moved to Martynas Mažvydas National Library, and the church has now been handed back to the curia under the stewardship of the Catholic Church. By the way, legend has it that Sigismund Augustus and Barbara Radziwiłł were married in this church. 

6. GO9 Shopping Centre

This is the oldest building on St. George’s Avenue build in accordance with the requirements for the façade. It belonged to Baruch Ridziunski, who, in 1839, started to build a two-storey brick building whose façade was supposed to face St. George’s Square (now Vinco Kudirkos Square). However, the construction was delayed due to the incompetence of officials. As it later turned out, the comprehensive plans were not followed, so the street was not aligned with Ridziunski’s house; to not be cut off from the street, he had to buy a new plot of land at auction in 1855. The governor, Vladimir Nazimov, persuaded the owner to add a new building next to the old one, facing St. George’s Avenue. Nazimov assured them that renting out the apartments would bring huge profits when the railway was built in Vilnius. In the end, after many changes, the building ended up having three storeys. The construction was completed in 1861. 

7. Vinco Kudirkos Square

This square has had many names throughout the years, being named after St. George, E. Orzeszkowa, and Chernyakhovsky, as well as Municipality Square. It was formed next to St. George’s Church and Monastery, hence the name of St. George. In the early 19th century, a hay market operated here. When the avenue was built, trees were planted, and a square was created. Since 1850, concerts have been held here in the summer. It is worth remembering that after the first stretch of St. George’s Avenue had been completed, it was itself renamed after the square. In 1865, the Alexander Nevsky Chapel was built here; it stood in the square until 1919. After the Polish occupation of Vilnius, a fountain was built on the site of the demolished chapel, and the square was renamed, this time after the Polish novelist E. Orzeszkowa. An attempt was also made to erect a monument to Adam Mickiewicz. After the Second World War, Ivan Chernyakhovsky was buried in the square, a monument was erected to him, and the square was yet again given another name. The monument was dismantled in 1991, and the Soviet general was reburied in Moscow. On 8 July 2009, the square was renamed after Vincas Kudirka, who is famous for writing the lyrics of the Lithuanian national anthem.

8. Žemaitės Square

A writer who was known under the pseudonym ‘Žemaitė’ lived in two buildings on St George’s Avenue. The address of one of them was St. George’s Avenue 19–13 (in the nine-room apartment of the landlord, A. Meysztowicz), and the other was located next to the avenue in Lukiškės Prison. Žemaitė spent two weeks there for an article in the newspaper ‘Lietuvos aidas’ (‘The Lithuanian Echo’). The monument to the writer was erected in 1970 by Petras Aleksandravičius. 

Feminists like to protest in this square, which is why the graffiti ‘Frida Kahlo’, donated by the artist Paula Bocullaitė in 2016, is very fitting here. The artist is sure that ‘at a party in middle America, if Žemaitė had seen Frida smoking a cigarette, she would have asked Frida for a light for her pipe.’ 

 

9. Lukiškių Square

The comprehensive plan for St. George’s Avenue included a market. At that time, Lukiškės was a suburb of Vilnius, with huts and vegetable gardens nearby. In 1860, five nearby markets were moved to the square.

After the uprising of 1863–1864, 21 participants of the insurrection were hanged by the Russian army on the orders of the Vilnius Governor-General Mikhail Muravyov.

Until 1879, the Market Square was not very popular, and the roads leading to it were in a very poor state of repair. The situation changed after 1879 when the surrounding streets were repaired, new houses were built, and important buildings were constructed – the Court House, the Vilnius Girls’ Gymnasium and the most modern prison in the Russian Empire. From 1887, the square was used for agricultural exhibitions, followed by circus performances, cinema screenings, and theatre performances. During the Polish occupation, markets and fairs were held here, and in 1936 the square was renamed after Józef Piłsudski. During the Soviet occupation, it became ‘Soviet Square’, then ‘Stalin Square’, and later – ‘Lenin Square’. The plan was to connect the square with Pamėnkalnis, to erect a monument to Victory on the hill, and to build a Palace of Soviets in the square. These plans were talked about until 1967, although the traditional Lenin monument was unveiled here in 1952 (and torn down on 21 August 1991).

10. The Church of St. James and St. Philip

The suburban church was built in 1642 on the territory of a cemetery. The Castellan of Smolensk, Chreptowicz, provided the Dominicans with funds for the construction of the church and monastery. It is recorded that in the 17th century, seven monks lived in the monastery and served the faithful. In 1727, a stone church was built, with three bells in the towers, named after James, Dominic, and Philip. At the end of the 17th century, an image of Our Lady of Mercy was donated to the church, which later became famous for its miracles. It is a late 15th-century Byzantine-style icon, the Smolensk Hodegetria (The Mother of God who shows the way). The nobleman General Maciej Korwin Gosiewski brought the icon to Lithuania as a spoil of the wars with Moscow. His son gave the icon to the Dominicans of Seine, who, in 1684, donated it to the Vilnius Monastery. And that is when the miracles began

11. Józef Montwiłł’s Colony (Lukiškių Colony)

This block of Art Nouveau houses built in the early 20th century was owned by Józef Montwiłł, the founder and director of Vilnius Land Bank. Construction of the 21 English-style cottages, designed in a triangular shape with an enclosed courtyard, began in 1911. Each had a different façade and internal layout (and two houses were more expensive than others). The most beautiful, stylish houses, decorated with noble coats of arms, faced Lukiskių Square. All the houses had electricity, water supply, and wastewater sanitation. Several of them had central heating. 

12. The Merchants’ Club

The building was constructed in 1913 to the design by the architect Mikhail Prozorov for the public organisation Vilnius Merchants and Industrialists’ Association, or Merchants’ Club. This was a club of very wealthy businessmen, so the architect put only the very best into the interior and exterior of the building. The building was equipped with central heating, electricity, a telephone, a cinema, and a billiards room. The ground floor housed six shops, while the upper floor housed a luxurious hall and club rooms. The house was adorned with a sculpture of Atlas holding the globe on top of a cylindrical tower. The original sculpture was destroyed in 1952 (when the Vilnius Executive Committee was established in the building). In 2012, the architect Alfredas Trimonis restored the building and returned the destroyed Atlas (sculptor: Kęstutis Balčiūnas). 

 

13. The Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre

This was initially a former girls’ gymnasium, built in 1903 to a conservative design by architects from St. Petersburg. Interestingly, on the other corner of the square, we see completely different – modern – architecture (the J. Montwiłł Colony). 

The history of this building is more interesting. Originally, in 1903, it was used as a gymnasium for noble girls. During the First World War, the building housed a military hospital and in 1918, the Lithuanian Ministry of Education. In 1921, the Vytautas the Great Gymnasium was established for one month, but soon afterwards, the Poles turfed the pupils out onto the street. They were given shelter by some Jews on Arklių Street, who took them in. In 1947, this building became the home of the Vilnius Conservatoire, which had been founded a few years earlier. After the erection of the Lenin monument, a balcony was added to the façade facing Lukiskių Square, from which Communist Party figures greeted the labourers who marched down the street on Soviet holidays. 

14. The bench in honour of the bard Vytautas Kernagis

The monument to the beloved Lithuanian singer-songwriter was unveiled on 21 October 2011. It is dedicated to the bard himself, often referred to as the ‘Maestro’, as well as the children of ‘Brodas’ (from Broadway – the name of Gedimino Avenue during the Soviet era), among whom was Vytautas Kernagis. The bench was built with funds donated by friends. The work is by the sculptor Danielius Sodeika and the architect Rimvydas Kazickas. 

15. Vilnius Distrcit Court House, Lithuanian Special Archive, the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights

This building is often referred to as the KGB HQ. Interestingly, this palace has not changed its purpose since it was built in 1899 when it housed the Court of Vilna Governorate. Until 1990, the building housed the offices of the occupying powers (the judiciary and the security services), except for the months of November and December 1918, when, after the declaration of independence, the Vilnius Commandant’s Office and a conscription station for the Lithuanian army were established here. In 1919, Vincas Kapsukas headed the Revolutionary Tribunal from here. During the Polish occupation (1920–1939), the Vilnius Voivodeship Court operated here. Between 1940 and 1941, the NKVD headquarters and interrogation prison were housed in the building. It became the Gestapo and SS headquarters and prison from 1941 until 1944, and later, the KGB office and internal prison from 1944 right up until independence in 1991.

16. Trade Pavilion

This Art Nouveau building, which is guarded by a Doberman, was built in 1914; it was intended for trade. Designed by the architect Wacław Michniewicz, it is one of the ‘lightest’ architectural buildings on Gediminas Avenue.

17. The State Small Theatre of Vilnius, shops, and residential premises

This building probably has the most interesting history out of the whole avenue. In 1900, the merchant Izaokas Smazhenevičius built one of the largest buildings in Vilnius – with four storeys. Three courtyards were designed by the architect Konstantin Korojedov, and a winter garden was built over the central entrance. In 1902, the student Kalman Radin established the ‘Bristol Hotel’, which had 35 rooms. After a fire in 1904, the architect Mikhail Prozorov renovated the Grand Theatre and replaced the winter garden with a hall. The renovated building was used as the restaurant of the ‘Green Sztral’ – there were three restaurants in Vilnius belonging to the merchant Sztral, one of which was painted green. As Rapolas Mackonis writes in his book ‘The Old Generation of Vilnius’, this restaurant was a favourite of elderly merchants and traders, but not of intellectuals. The oldest professions also worked here, and a seven-woman Jewish orchestra played for guests. In 1909, Yasha Haifetz, one of the world’s most famous violinists, gave a concert in the hall when he was only eight years old. The building was also famous for its huge rented flats with as many as 10 rooms. 

During the Soviet era, there was a grocery shop and the ‘Centrinis Gastronomas’, where you could find details from the interior of the ‘Green Sztral’. In 1996, the architectural group ‘JP’ gave the premises new life and redesigned the ‘Gastronomas’, but soon afterwards, the remarkable design was irrevocably lost.

18. Gedimino pr. 20

The building was designed as a hotel at the end of the 19th century. The ground floor housed shops and a restaurant, and some premises were rented out. As the name of the hotel is ‘St. George’ (also known as ‘Jurgis’ or ‘Džoržas’), a concrete sculpture of St. George was installed on the roof of the building. It was demolished by the Nazis in 1944 and restored in 2005 to a design by Kęstutis Balčiūnas, whose sculpture (made of fibreglass on a steel frame) was slightly larger than the original and cost around €87,000. In the interwar period, the hotel did not meet the needs of the time, as many of the rooms did not have bathrooms or hot water – this has been confirmed by cultural heritage studies. 

During the Soviet era, from 1950, it was home to the 134-bed ‘Vilnius Hotel’ and a restaurant. In 1992, the hotel was bought by Georgijus Dekanidzė, the Godfather of the ‘Vilnius Brigade’ Mafia.

19. Gedimino pr. 12

This modernist building dates from the Polish era. As Prof. Dr Algimantas Mačiulis writes, ‘…architects of such a high calibre came to implement their wildly daring ideas in the provincial Vilnius of the time’. Between 1937 and 1938, the most famous buildings of the interwar period were created, and the future Harvard University Professor Jerzy Sołtan (who would later go on to work with Charles Le Corbusier) worked as an architect in Vilnius. One of his projects was the former insurance company and health complex at 27 Gedimino Avenue.

The building at 12 Gedimino Avenue is surprisingly simple. We only see what is necessary. The architects Zbigniew Puget and Juliusz Żórawski created a functional and ascetic building.

20. The Bank of Lithuania and the sculpture to Vladas Jurgutis and the litas

The sculpture is dedicated to the first Governor of the Bank of Lithuania and was cast from melted 50 cent coins of the Lithuanian currency – the litas. The sculpture by Gediminas Piekuras was made from 75,000 coins.

21. The Lithuanian National Drama Theatre

‘In 1893, one of the first cultural buildings was constructed – the Vilnius Craftsmen’s Fair, an organisation supporting crafts,’ writes art historian and architectural historian Nijolė Lukšionytė-Tolvaišienė. This is another building associated with the banker and philanthropist Józef Montwiłł, who was the founder of the organisation. The spacious halls were used for exhibitions and Sunday technical drawing and drafting courses, as well as an art school. The ‘Lutnia’ theatre operated here from 1910. 

The building acquired its present appearance in 1981 (the authors of the project were Algimantas and Vytautas Nasvytis). The main entrance to the theatre, which runs deep into the building (as in the Central Post Office), is decorated with a sculpture by Stanislovas Kuzma entitled ‘The Feast of the Muses’. 

22. The ‘Danija’ shop

At the main entrance to the shop, you can see chocolate-eating teddy bears perched on either side of the door. This used to be the ‘Viktorija’ sweet and chocolate factory, owned by the merchant and banker Israel Bunimovich and his son Tobias. The first chocolate bar was made in England in 1847. The ‘Viktorija’ factory in Vilnius started producing chocolate in 1893, and its products were sold throughout the Russian Empire, as far as Siberia, and won prizes at Western European exhibitions. In 1909, a shop opened in this building selling marmalade, caramel, and premium milk chocolate.

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