The Gates of Dawn is the only remaining portion of the former city wall that surrounded Vilnius in the 16th century. The Gates of Dawn houses a chapel built in the 1800s, which holds a famous icon called the Madonna of Mercy. This icon draws pilgrims from around the world because it uniquely features the Virgin Mary without baby Jesus. The Madonna of Mercy was painted in the 17th century.
The Hill of Three Crosses is another iconic image of Vilnius and features predominately in many skyline silhouettes seen in photographs, paintings, or postcards. Though the current white crosses were erected only recently, the tradition of three crosses on this hill dates back to the 16th century. The original crosses were wooden, but were destroyed during Soviet occupation in the 1950s.
Founded in 1568, Vilnius University is considered the oldest university in Eastern Europe. The central part of the campus, primarily located on Universiteto gatve, was built in the 16th century. For a small entrance fee, visitors can walk through the old courtyards, marvel at restored frescoes, and tour the large library. Courses are still taught in these old buildings and visitors will see students rushing between classes or relaxing in the sun.
The Artillery Bastion was originally built as a defensive structure to protect Vilnius in the 17th century. Over time it fell into disrepair, but was reconstructed by the Germany army during WWI. The Artillery Bastion now houses a small museum with a lackluster art exhibit, but it is the grounds and exterior that are worth a visit on this historical tour of Vilnius.
Prior to WWII, Vilnius had a population of approximately 250,000 Jewish people served by several synagogues. During the Holocaust, Jewish Vilnius was destroyed. The only remaining synagogue in Vilnius is the Choral Synagogue (which only started operating in the early 1900s). The Choral Synagogue can still be visited today.
The Palace of the Grand Duke of Lithuania is a recently completed reconstruction of the Grand Duke Palace that was formerly located on this very site. The original structure was built prior to the 15th century, but was demolished in the 19th century. The reconstruction now houses a large museum full of artifacts and films are shown in its courtyard in the summertime.