"Vilnius - my grandparents' love" Top 5 Page for this destination Vilnius by evaanna
Vilnius Travel Guide: 1,723 reviews and 3,529 photos
I have been thinking of visiting Vilnius for a long time. I remember my grandparents speaking of it with love: my grandmother had spent a lot of time there as a child. Having lost her father at the age of nine, she was often invited to Vilnius by her godmother, who by this was trying to help her anguished mother with the upbringing of her two daughters. Before WWII my grandparents visited Vilnius a number of times, the last time with their three children, including the youngest - my mother. But the godmother must have passed away by then - they went there on a night train and returned to Warsaw the following night. So I knew Vilnius from stories told in my family and went there with great expectations. I was also trying to check the theory of genetic memory - if my grandmother spent so much time there, will I experience the feeling of deja vu? To my great disappointment, I didn't, not the first time we went there anyway. We even got lost a few times and had to ask the way. Although I did take to a few places at first glance, like the Franciscan Church that we saw first when we arrived there. And perhaps we didn't see enough in the five hours we had there?
The city itself was not disappointing at all. There was so much to see that making the choices what to see in the short time was the only problem.
Yet I suspect my grandmother's Vilnius was a more beautiful place. Years of neglect and in some cases even deliberate destruction under the Soviet rule have left an indelible mark on the wonderful architecture and it is only now that many of the historic buildings are being restored, while some are still awaiting their turn.
Vilnius (in Polish Wilno) will always be close to the hearts of many Polish people, having shared so much history with us. United with Poland in 1385 following the marriage of the Polish Queen Jadwiga to the Grand Duke of Lithuania Jogaila (later King Wladyslaw Jagiello), Lithuania remained in that union until 1795 when it was annexed by Tsarist Russia. In the 19th century Vilnius was the centre of patriotic movement aiming at regaining independence from Russia. Many members of patriotic organisations were then imprisoned and, following the 1831 and 1863 uprisings, hanged or deported to Siberia. One of the spiritual leaders of the rebelling youth was the Polish national bard Adam Mickiewicz, who was a student of the University of Vilnius at the time.
Occupied by the Germans in 1915-1918, when the war was over Vilnius turned into an area of contention, which led to establishing Central Lithuania, which in turn, following the bill passed by its parliament, became part of Poland.
On September 19, 1939, after breaking up the resistance of the local people, Vilnius was occupied by Soviet troops. 14 July 1940 marks the start of mass deportations to Siberia, which for many of the 35 thousand, mainly Polish, inhabitants of the Vilnius area meant the sentence of death.
On 22 June 1940 Vilnius was bombed and then occupied by the Germans. In 1941 100 thousand of its inhabitants were executed, most of them of Jewish origin but also 20 thousand Poles.
In July 1944 the city was liberated by the Polish Home Army and the Red Army. But the joy of liberation was short-lived: a few days later the Soviets arrested all Polish officers and soldiers and turned Lithuania together with Vilnius into one of their republics. Most of its Polish population were re-settled, being replaced by Russians and Lithuanians.
1988 marks the establishing of the Lithuanian organisation Sajudis, whose aim was to gain independence for Lithuania. In January 1991 the struggle led to clashes with the military at the TV tower, where 17 people of the opposition were killed and 600 injured. Not in vain though - on 17 September of that year Vilnius became the capital of independent Lithuania.
And even if it was to take years to recover from all the damage inflicted by the occupant the process of restoration could now begin.
Last year we returned to Vilnius for a day, visiting some places we had not seen before. And this time I really fell in love with the city, just as my grandparents had done before me.
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