Symbolic opening of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania
The reconstruction of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania is one of the most important projects of Lithuania’s Millennium programme. This reconstructed historical residence in the heart of Lithuania’s capital should once again become the traditional symbol of Lithuania’s longlived statehood and an object of national pride. It should become a center for civic education, historical consciousness-raising and appreciation of material culture, for state ceremonial events and tourist information. It will also be an important part of Lithuania’s museum complex. The reconstruction of the palace in Vilnius, authorized by acts of the Lithuanian Parliament and Government in 2001 and 2002, is viewed by the public as important for national selfconsciousness and historical memory, for the restitution of historical truths regarding Lithuania’s independence and Vilnius as its historical capital, for the regeneration of the city’s historic core, for illustrating Lithuania’s historical and cultural roots in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – a multinational state of Lithuanians, Poles, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Jews, Tatars, Karaims and other nationalities – and for showing the importance of Lithuania’s European ties, historic and current.
The reconstruction and refurbishment of the palace was to be finished and it was to be opened to the public in 2009, in time for the Millennium celebration. But because of financial and organizational problems, the historical residence was mostly reconstructed but not fully furnished and opened to the public. For this reason, the permanent exhibitions have not been installed yet nor the spaces for visitor services completed. In January, 2009, the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania was designated a National Museum but, again, could not begin its museum functions – research, collecting, exhibits, education – in its new home. The planned commemorative exhibitions for the opening of the Palace and the Millennium – Wawel in Vilnius: From the Jagiellonians to the End of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth(with the Lithuanian Art Museum and the Wawel Royal Castle), Lithuania in Ancient Historical Sources (with the Lithuanian Archives Department and others), and Art of the Balts (with the Vilnius Academy of Arts) – were shown nearby, in another important building of the Vilnius Lower Castle, the Old Arsenal, which is now the Museum of Applied Art.
The symbolic opening ceremony took place as planned in Cathedral Square and in the Great Courtyard of the yet unfinished palace on 6 July 2009 – the Anniversary of the Coronation of King Mindaugas national holiday. The historic flag of Lithuania – a Mounted Knight (Vytis) in white on a red background – was raised above the south wing of the palace. This flag was created by the artist Arvydas Každailis in cooperation with Dr. Edmundas Rimša, chair of the Lithuanian Heraldry Commission attached to the Office of the President of Lithuania.
The ornate, ceremonial portal in the south wing was also unveiled. The grand dukes would enter the palace through this gate after entering the city through the Gate of Rudininkai and then proceeding down Didžioji and Pilies streets. This portal with its early Baroque form and decoration is one of the major architectural accents of the palace. It was recreated by the architects of the Design and Restoration Institute (Projektavimo ir restauravimo institutas), one of the palace contractors, and built by the Kaunas firm Akmi. Architect and restorer Rūta Grigienė contributed the most to the recreation of this portal.
The original early 17th c. portal, same as the reproduction, was built of grey limestone by architects, sculptors, and stonemasons from Italy – the brothers Costante and Jacopo Tencalla. Before coming to Vilnius, they had worked in Rome with the Italian architect Carlo Maderno (1556–1629), one of the fathers of Baroque architecture. The same master craftsmen, who worked on the palace, also helped build the very impressive St. Casimir’s Chapel next to Vilnius Cathedral and the palace, and worked on the façade of the St. Theresa Church in Vilnius.
Carved in gilt letters on the frieze of the recreated portal is the dedication of this historical residence as a monument to Lithuania’s Millennium – Millennio Lithuaniae MIX–MMIX.
Carved on a reddish marble memorial plaque and mounted in the fronton of the recreated portal are the Latin words: Respublica est societas hominum uno Deo, iure, rege ad commune et privatum bonum iunctorum (a State is nothing other than a human society, whose members are bound by one God, one law, and one ruler and in which everyone looks after the common good and their own welfare). These very civic-minded and historically important words were written down in the 16th c. by the famous Lithuanian Catholic humanist, jurist, historian, and publicist Augustinus Rotundus (1520–1582). He studied at the Universities of Wittenberg, Ferrara, and Padua, where he took a doctorate in civil and cannon law (c. 1548). After working for several years in the royal chancellery in Krakow, he transferred to Vilnius (1551) where he was appointed chief magistrate of Vilnius and personal secretary to King and Grand Duke Sigismund Augustus. He translated the Second Lithuanian Statute (Code of Laws, 1566) into Latin and was one of the editors of the Third Lithuanian Statute (1588). He did most of his work in the Palace of the Grand Dukes. The Latin phrase on the portal is from his polemical pamphlet Conversations between a Pole and a Lithuanian, in which he defended Lithuania’s right to an independent state, tried to prove the Roman theory of the origin of Lithuanians, and promoted patriotic feelings among the citizens of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It was chosen by the Vilnius University Philo-logy Department’s Prof. Eugenija Ulčinaitė.
Many high officials and dignitaries attended the symbolic opening. After listening to welcoming speeches in Cathedral Square and watching the raising of the historic flag and unveiling of the ceremonial portal, they walked through that portal into the Great Courtyard and stood on a red carpet to listen to the songs sung by the Kaunas State Choir under the direction of Prof. Petras Bingelis and to hear more about the reconstruction and the history of the palace from the palace guides.
The Lithuanian dignitaries included: the President of the Republic of Lithuania Valdas Adamkus and his wife Alma, Speaker of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania Arūnas Valinskas and his wife Inga, Prime Minister of the Republic of Lithuania Andrius Kubilius and his wife Rasa, former President of the Republic of Lithuania and current Chairman of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania Restoration Coordinating Commission Algirdas Brazauskas and his wife Kristina, Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Lithuania (Parliament) Vytautas Landsbergis and his wife Gražina as well as other government officials.
Among the visiting dignitaries were: the King of Sweden Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, the Queen of Denmark Margrethe II, the King of Norway Harald V, the President of the Republic of Poland Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria, the President of the Republic of Latvia Valdis Zatlers and his wife Lilita, the President of the Republic of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko, the President of the Republic of Iceland Olafur Ragnar Grimsson and his wife Gudrun Katrin THorbergsdottir, the President of the Republic of Finland Tarja Halonen and her husband Pentti Arajärvi, the President of the Republic of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili and his wife Sandra Elisabeth Roelofs, Special Envoy from the Apostolic See and Pope Benedict XVI, former Vatican Secretary of State and current Dean of the College of Cardinals Angelo Sodano, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Estonia Andrus Ansip and his wife Anu, the Minister of Culture of the Republic of Belarus Pavel Latushko, the Minister of Defense of the German Federal Republic Franz Josef Jung, the Minister of Culture of the Russian Federation Alexander Avdejev, and other high officials who were invited to Lithuania’s Millennium celebration.
The history of the palace and its reconstruction was not only told by the guides but also very enthusiastically by the great supporter and enthusiast of the palace, former President Algirdas Brazauskas. The members of the Swedish royal family spent the longest time in the courtyard – remembering the heirs of the Vasa dynasty who had lived there. It is probably very rare in world architectural history that fifteen monarchs and heads of state would attend the opening ceremonies for a building. This ceremony marked the beginning of a new stage of development for the palace.
On July 7, 2009, the palace opened its doors to its first visitors – because of the ongoing construction work, only to organized groups. During the month that the construction workers were on vacation, over 20,000 visitors from Lithuania and abroad as well as government officials were able to get a glimpse of parts of the reconstructed building, see the original walls, and learn more about the results of archaeological investigations and plans for future didactic exhibitions and educational programs. Such a successful start for the new National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania is very heartening. Former negative and very-politicized opinions held by some of the public and media began to change when they could see with their own eyes what was actually being done and what is planned for the future. The visitors were interested and intrigued. This gives us hope that this new museum and historical residence will become one of the most important centers for culture, history, education, tourist information, and ceremonial events in the city and the country. In the near future, with adequate funding, the Museum will be able to plan and open attractive and informative exhibitions, properly open to the public, and begin its important public mission.
An outline of the historical development of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania
The research findings of the last 20 years show that in the area where the palace once stood, between the Cathedral and the Upper Castle, there were already people living in wooden buildings in the 6th-8th centuries. Over time the settlement became a castle. From the second half of the 13th century, brick construction was begun in this area. Some researchers argue that this was done during the reign of King Mindaugas (1236/1253–1263). Especially many brick buildings were built during the reigns of the Grand Dukes Vytenis (c. 1295–1316) and Gediminas (1316–1341) when the Gediminid family dynasty was coming into power. From the beginning of the 14th century, in the place of the future palace, there was already a brick castle with fortified brick walls and towers as well as other buildings along the walls and in the central courtyard. This small fortified lower castle was located inside the large complex of the Lower Castle, which was also fortified later by brick walls and towers. Over time the fortification walls and towers of the small lower castle were torn down and replaced by new wings of the grand ducal palace.
Due to the scarcity and fragmented nature of written sources, and not enough archaeological and architectural evidence, it is difficult to say what construction initiatives were undertaken during the rules of the Grand Dukes Algirdas (1345–1377) and his son Jogaila, Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1377, who became Ladislaus II Jagiello, King of Poland, from 1386, ruling until 1434. But we probably can deduce from the fact that Jogaila took an active interest in construction activities in Krakow that he was also interested in the construction and development of his castles in Vilnius and elsewhere. Further modernization of their residences in the Upper and Lower Castles in Vilnius no doubt took place. A brick wall with towers was built around the Lower Castle. It is very likely that inside the Lower Castle there was also a residence for the rulers.
A 1413 document mentions that Grand Duke Vytautas (reigned 1392–1430) lived “in castro inferiori Wilnensi in caminata lignea” – in the lower castle of Vilnius in a wooden hall with a hearth. After the fire of 1419, he reconstructed the Vilnius castles and rebuilt and expanded the Cathedral, where in 1430 he planned to be crowned king of Lithuania. Until the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th centuries the residence of the grand dukes in the Lower Castle had to compete with similar residences in the Upper Castle and in the Island Castle of Trakai. In order to maintain the integrity of the State, the rulers traveled all over the country, never staying long in one place.
At this time there is not enough information to determine precisely where the Grand Duke of Lithuania and Polish King Casimir Jagiellon (1440–1492 Grand Duke of Lithuania; 1447–1492 King of Poland) and his wife, Elisabeth of Austria (Habsburg), resided during their frequent visits to Vilnius. They also liked to stay in the Island Castle of Trakai. They looked after the construction of the Vilnius castles and funded the construction of a royal chapel at the Vilnius Cathedral (1474).
When Alexander Jagiellon, the son of Casimir, became Grand Duke of Lithuania in 1492 (also King of Poland 1501–1506), life in the Vilnius castles changed radically, even though there is little information about this in written sources. The fact that Alexander resided in Lithuania, the growing administrative needs of his vast estate and nation, and his marriage to Helen, the daughter of the Grand Duke of Moscow Ivan III (reigned 1462–1505) – all necessitated the expansion of his residence to meet not only domestic, but also increasing ceremonial needs. That is why it is thought that at the end of the 15th century Alexander started to rebuild the old medieval walled castle (within the Lower Castle) into a late Gothic palace which would meet his new needs and requirements. The main residence of the rulers was probably transferred from the Upper Castle to the Lower – making life and governance easier.
As the remains of the foundation stones in the southern and eastern wings of the current palace show, Alexander’s residence probably consisted of two wings shaped in the form of an “L”. They were either two or three stories high. In the courtyard, near the eastern wing, there were probably wood-covered galleries supported by very strong brick columns. To the west and north, this “L”-shaped residence was surrounded by the fortified walls of the earlier medieval castle. Archeological findings reveal that in the interior of this residence there were decorative glazed ceramic tile stoves and multi-colored glazed ceramic floors. The halls were vaulted; the ribbing made from molded bricks. Molded bricks were also used to form the entrance archivolts and jambs. The walls, vaults, ribs, and entrance jambs were plastered and covered with decorative polychromatic frescoes.
Early in the reign of the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Sigismund the Old (1506–1548), the brother of Alexander, several big fires swept through Vilnius and the palace. According to the testimony of one of the couriers of Bona Sforza, Italian duchess and wife of Sigismund the Old, extensive reconstruction of the Vilnius castles took place between the fires of 1520 and 1530, including the ceremonial halls in the southern and eastern wings of the palace. This reconstruction cost 100,000 ducats. The reconstructed part was not damaged by the later fire. Perhaps this elaborate and expensive reconstruction was related to the ceremonies that took place there in 1529, when Sigismund Augustus, the only son of Sigismund the Old and Bona Sforza, was proclaimed Grand Duke of Lithuania.
The palace continued to be expanded and remodeled. Sigismund the Old and Bona Sforza added a three-story tower with living quarters to the northern end of the eastern wing. All of this was done in Renaissance style, but the principal architect is unknown. It is known that the architect and sculptor Bernardino Zanobi de Gianotis from Rome or Florence worked on the palace. The Florentine Renaissance architect, Bartolomeo Berrecci, who was one of the chief architects of the Renaissance Wawel Royal Castle, visited Vilnius in order to get approval from Sigismund the Old of the plans for the Sigismund’s Chapel at the Wawel Cathedral. The stonemason Benedict from Sandomierz (or Benedykt Sandomierzanin), who had worked for Sigismund the Old in Krakow, also worked for him in Vilnius. Both Berrecci and Sandomierzanin could have contributed to the reconstruction of the Vilnius palace. Construction work was supervised by the German engineer and caretaker of the Lower Castle, Ulrich Hosius (Ulricus Hosius).
Stone was used for the first time to frame the windows – a coarse textured conglomerate from Bystrica (40 km. east of Vilnius). The rough surfaces were covered with a coat of plaster before being painted in various colours. The Renaissance room interiors were furnished with fancy tile stoves made of various coloured glazed tiles with floral ornaments, mythological and allegorical creatures, didactic scenes as well as the coats of arms of the Lithuanian and Polish rulers from the Gediminid-Jagiellonian dynasty, the Sforza family, and the Lithuanian nobility. The floors were also covered with similar colourful glazed ceramic tiles.
In 1539, mention is made of a garden near the palace. Bona Sforza gave orders to build a staircase from the apartments of her ladies-in-waiting to the garden. One can conjecture from the layout of the western end of the south wing, the spiral staircase in the wall of the end room, and the turret with a privy that the private apartments of the rulers during the times of Alexander Jagiellon and Sigismund the Old were on the second floor in the western end of the south wing. The ceremonial halls could have been on the third floor, if it was built by then, or on the second floor, where the south and east wings come together. Here, next to the stairwell, is the largest hall of the second floor, which, until the 17th century, was the place for major celebrations and performances. In the written records it is referred to as the hall of the “lower floor.” It was probably during this time that open arched, Italian Renaissance palazzo-type galleries were built in the courtyard along the wall of the south wing.
A new phase of expansion of the Renaissance palace is associated with the rule of Sigismund Augustus (1529–1572 the Grand Duke of Lithuania; 1548–1572 the King of Poland). In 1544 he was named vicegerent (ruler in fact) of Lithuania by his father Sigismund the Old and in that same year came to Vilnius with his wife, Elisabeth of Austria (Habsburg). Massive construction work began immediately at the palace and auxiliary buildings, with the most intensive building period being 1547–1548. Construction continued until about 1553. Sigismund Augustus’ goal was to build a new residence (Domus nova) next to the old residence of his parents (Aula regia antique). Thus the new northern and western wings came into being and joined with the older southern and eastern wings to form a palace with an enclosed courtyard. The Palace of the Grand Dukes was to become the ceremonial residence for the Gediminid and Jagiellonian dynasties – the place from which they sprang. Sigismund Augustus also built a summer residence in Viršupis (northeast of Vilnius) and had plans to reconstruct the Island Castle of Trakai.
The chief architect of Sigismund Augustus’ construction work was the Italian architect, sculptor, and stonemason Giovanni Cini from Siena. In 1534 he signed a contract to renovate the Vilnius Cathedral and in 1545 came to live in Vilnius. He was helped by his brother Bartolomeo, a stonemason. Others who worked there for several years were: the Flemish architect Frederik Unstherffe, the Polish stonemason Benedict from Sandomierz, and the architect and military engineer Job Breitfuss, who became the caretaker of the castle and chief supervisor for all of Sigismund Augustus’ construction work. The chief carpenter was Marcin from Poland. The room interiors were decorated by the sculptor Donatus, probably from Hungary. The room friezes and other artwork were painted by the German master Gerhard Sweiger, who lived in Vilnius. Other painters were Anton Wiede, a German from Gdansk, and maybe the Italian Giovanni da Monte. The supervisor of interior decorations was a Hungarian, Michael from Kezmarok (now Slovakia). At that time in Vilnius there were many local Lithuanian and Polish craftsmen (furniture makers, carpenters, joiners, metalworkers and others) as well as goldsmiths, gunsmiths, armorers, gardeners, water system experts and other craftsmen and specialists from Italy, Hungary, Bohemia, and Germany.
Expensive materials were used for the palace walls. Sandstone for the floors of the rooms was imported from Livonia and Sweden, metalwork from Poland and Austria, and glass from France. Stone from Bystrica continued to be used. Quite a few architectural fragments made of this stone were found during the archaeological excavations in the palace and in the area of the Sts. Anne and Barbara Church, which Sigismund Augustus built as a family mausoleum.
The Renaissance palace built by Sigismund Augustus in Vilnius became not only a political, administrative, and diplomatic center but also a center for culture and the arts, and its influence spread far beyond the Lithuanian capital. The palace contained rich collections of tapestries, paintings, and other works of art, weapons, armor, hunting trophies, and a huge library as well as a collection of treasures and jewels that impressed the papal legate Bishop Bernardino Buongiovanni, who then spread the news of the treasures he saw in 1560 throughout Europe. This palace was witness to the romantic love story of Sigismund Augustus and Barbara Radziwiłł. The Council of Lords and the Parliament of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania met here. The Statutes of Lithuania (the code of laws of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania) were compiled and edited here. The Lithuanian Metrica (chancellery records of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania) was kept here as well as the treasuries of Lithuania’s rulers and of the Grand Duchy.
After the Union of Lublin in 1569, which created a joint state, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Palace of the Grand Dukes, together with the residences in Krakow and Warsaw, became one of the main residences of the jointly elected rulers of this new State. The Polish King and Lithuanian Grand Duke Stephen Batory (reigned 1576–1586) spent most of his time in battle and reconstructing Hrodna Castle (now in Belarus) in the late Renaissance style. Nevertheless, he received the Papal legate Cardinal Ippolito Aldobrandini, the future Pope Clement VIII (1592–1605) whose 1602 Bull proclaimed the canonization of St. Casimir, in the luxurious Vilnius palace. Batory also convened the Lithuanian Convocations there. At the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th centuries there is mention that the Italian stonemason Pietro Peregrino worked in the Vilnius castles.
The palace continued to flourish during the rule of the Swedish Vasa dynasty with new construction initiatives undertaken by Sigismund Vasa (reigned 1587–1632) and Ladislaus (reigned 1632–1648). The marriage of Catherine Jagiellon, the sister of Sigismund Augustus, to the Duke of Finland and later King John III (1568–1592) of Sweden took place in the palace in 1562, and paved the way for the Vasa dynasty to accede to the throne of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
After the fire of 1610, the palace was rebuilt in Northern Mannerist style, as evidenced by archaeological finds. The repairs were overseen by the Vilnius castle caretaker Peter Nonhart and the architect and carpenter William Pohl. Leon Sapieha (1557–1633), Grand Chancellor of Lithuania, supported the reconstruction project, which was funded by the Lithuanian Treasury. A very important new historical source for understanding the nature and extent of the repairs and reconstruction of the palace during this period is the July 31, 1631 Treasury receipt issued by the Grand Treasurer of Lithuania, Stephen Pac, to Peter Nonhart for work done in the Lower Castle from March 20, 1624, through December 31, 1630. This is the most extensive and detailed statement of expenses found to date.
The second phase of the reconstruction project began in 1624 and included the building of St. Casimir’s Chapel next to the Cathedral (1624–1636). Early Italian Baroque was the new dominant style and it was introduced in Vilnius by the Italian brothers Costante and Jacopo Tencalla – architects, sculptors, and stonemasons. Earlier they had worked in Rome with the Italian architect Carlo Maderno (1556–1629), one of the fathers of Baroque architecture. Various materials – sandstone, limestone, marble – for the exterior and interior decorations (window frames, portals, hearths, and floors) were imported from Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy. Decorative oil paintings on canvas (plafonds) by the Flemish artist Christian Melich were attached to the ceilings. Their frames were carved and gilt by Gabriel Lorentz. More colorful tile stoves as well as new paintings appeared in the rooms. The palace became a luxurious Baroque residence for the rulers of the Vasa dynasty, where important political decisions regarding international relations in Central, Eastern, and Northern Europe were made, where important delegations from many European nations and the Middle East were received.
In 1636, the first opera in Lithuania was staged in the palace – Il Ratto di Helena (The Abduction of Helen). The libretto was written and published in Vilnius by Virgillio Puccitelli, secretary to Ladislaus Vasa, and the music was probably composed by the famous Italian composer and conductor Marco Scacchi, who was working in Vilnius at the time. The palace became a center for the dissemination of Baroque culture and art among the nobles of Lithuania and church dignitaries. Historical evidence and the localization of archaeological finds reveal that the floor with the antechambers and main audience hall of the palace (the piano nobile) during the time of the Vasas was the third floor of the south wing. The men of the royal family had apartments in the west wing and the women in the east wing. St. Casimir’s Chapel next to the Cathedral was not only a place for keeping and worshipping holy relics but also the royal chapel. The second-floor gallery of the chapel was connected to the palace by a short bridge. As the archaeological evidence shows, the palace kitchen was in the north wing.
In 1655 Vilnius was attacked by the Muscovite and Cossack army and occupied for six years. During these years, the palace was plundered, ravaged, and burned. It was never rebuilt and never again served as a residence for the rulers of Poland and Lithuania, even though the Lithuanian nobility often urged that the palace be rebuilt so that their common ruler could spend at least a third of his time there. Even in ruin the palace did not lose either its symbolic or practical meaning for the functioning of the old Lithuanian State.
During the 18th century, what remained of the palace was inhabited by townspeople and petty nobles. At the end of the century there were plans to establish some state commissions there. But the partitions of the Commonwealth ended any hopes that the historical residence of Lithuania’s rulers would ever be returned to its former glory.
At the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, at the behest of the Russian Tsarist administration, the ruins of the palace were torn down as a visible symbol of a fallen state, the residence of its rulers and center of government. Understanding the meaning of this very strong symbolism – the destruction of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – in the heart of the capital of Lithuania, romantic artists (from Pietro Rossi to Karol Raczyński, Józef Jerzy Oziembłowski, Marceli Januszewicz as well as unknown artists up to Juozapas Kamarauskas) throughout the 19th and into the 20th centuries pictured the Vilnius Cathedral from the South together with the non-existent Palace of the Grand Dukes as a reminder of the Gediminid and Jagiellonian dynasties. Romantic writers and historians such as Teodor Narbutt, Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, Michał Baliński, Michał Homolicki, the prelate Jan Kurczewski, and other authors also remembered the palace in their works.
Research, reconstruction, and functions
Sporadic archaeological investigations have taken place in the Vilnius Castle territory since the beginning of the 20th century, but interest in the Palace of the Grand Dukes intensified only at the end of the century. Already in 1983 there was an idea to reconstruct the palace in Renaissance style and use it as a national art gallery. More concrete and consistent plans for research and investigation of the territory and for the reconstruction of the palace were developed when Lithuania started breaking away from the Soviet empire in 1987.
The first investigations were carried out by the Design and Restoration Institute (Projektavimo ir restauravimo institutas), later by the Lithuanian History Institute, and since 1993 by the specially established Castle Research Center Lietuvos pilys. For many years, this complex research program – combining archaeology, architecture, history and art history – was led by the archaeologists Dr. Vytautas Urbanavičius and Dr. Albinas Kuncevičius, the architect Dr. Napaleonas Kitkauskas, and the art historian Stasys Samalavičius, later by the archaeologist and geologist Eduardas Kauklys. Archaeological investigations were carried out by Gintautas Striška, Gediminas Gendrėnas, Dr. Gintautas Rackevičius, Egidijus Ožalas, Povilas Blaževičius, Ėrika Striškienė, Dr. Daiva Steponavičienė and others.
While the research work was going on, various ideas for the reconstruction of the palace and its functions were being floated. There was even an idea to house the Presidential Palace there. In 1999, at the request of the Minister of Culture, the director of the Lithuanian Art Museum, Romualdas Budrys, formulated the first guidelines and a vision statement regarding the use of the reconstructed palace as a multi-functional cultural, ceremonial, museum, and educational institution. In 2000, the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania passed a law authorizing reconstruction of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, and the following year the Government of Lithuania formally adopted a resolution confirming the conceptual plan for the reconstruction and use of the palace.
The architectural group of the Design and Restoration Institute, led by the architects Rimas Grigas (until 2008) and Ričardas Bitovtas (since 2008), won the bid to reconstruct the palace. The architect Audronis Katilius was appointed project coordinator and the longtime researcher of the Vilnius castles, Dr. Napaleonas Kitkauskas, head of research. Architect Vida Povilauskaitė coordinated the design of the interiors, while architect Rūta Klimavičienė and design specialist Jonas Gerulaitis worked on the exhibition spaces. The main design concepts of this group were the following. First of all, they wanted to conserve and display as much as possible of the authentic ruins of the palace and clearly delineate them from the reconstructions. They also wanted to reconstruct as historically accurate as possible the interiors of the historical residence, which would represent the major architectural styles prevalent during the life of the palace – namely, Gothic, Renaissance, and early Baroque. These interiors had to be adapted for the proper display of rare and valuable antique furnishings, for visitor traffic, and for ceremonial events.
The PST Construction Company (Panevėžio statybos trestas) with its designers and researchers was chosen to do the construction work. They formed a special subsidiary, Vilniaus papėdė, under the directorship of Aloyzas Bertašius, to do that work. The Vilnius Castles Directorate (Vilniaus pilių direkcija), under the direction of Saulius Petras Andrašūnas, was set up to act as contracting agent.
In 2002, the Ministry of Culture charged the Lithuanian Art Museum to draw up a plan for the reconstruction of the palace interiors, their adaptation to museum and education functions, and to put it in place by 2005. The outline of the plan – drawn up Romualdas Budrys, Vytautas Balčiūnas, Dr. Vydas Dolinskas and Aleksandras Kulikauskas – was presented to the Ministry in 2003. A separate division, later re-organized into a branch of the art museum, was established in 2004 to put the plan into practice. The first staff included Remigijus Černius, Daiva Mitrulevičiūtė, Dalius Avižinis, and others.
All of the work associated with the palace’s reconstruction was at first coordinated by the Ministry of Culture. Later, a special commision – the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania Restoration Coordinating Commission – was formed and since 2006 led by the former President of Lithuania Algirdas Brazauskas. Already in 2005, the Commission enlisted the aid of several dozen of the best experts from Lithuania and abroad – art historians, architects, conservators, historians, and museum professionals. All of the institutions mentioned above work closely together and coordinate their activities. Lithuanian and foreign consultants have often been invited. Five research trips to other European historical residences, which could provide analogous or comparative type of information, were organized.
We received the most expert advice from Lithuanian historians, art historians, museum professionals, and conservators – such as, Dr. Edmundas Rimša, Prof. Eugenija Ulčinaitė, Dr. Rūta Janonienė, Prof. Mečislovas Jučas, Dr. Ieva Kuizinienė, Prof. Aleksandra Aleksandravičiūtė, Dr. Jūratė Trilupaitienė, Dr. Jūratė Senvaitienė, Dalia Valujevičienė, Rimvydas Derkintis, the artist Arvydas Každailis and many others. We also received help from cultural experts living abroad – such as the Lithuanian-Americans Prof. Paulius Kęstutis Žygas, Dr. Ramūnas Kondratas, and Beatričė Kleizaitė-Vasaris; from our colleagues in Italy, such as the Director of the Castello Estense in Ferrara, Dr. Marco Borella; our colleagues in Germany, such as the Director of the Dresden Residential Castle, Prof. Dirk Syndram; from our many colleagues in Poland, such as the Director of the Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow, Prof. Jan Ostrowski, the Director of the Warsaw Royal Castle, Prof. Andrzej Rottermund, Prof. Jerzy Lileyko († 2009), art historians Jerzy T. Petrus, Krzysztof Czyżewski, Stanisława Link-Lenczowska, Dr. Kazimierz Kuczman, Piotr Jacek Jamski, and Dr. Meinolf Siemer, the architect and conservator Piotr Stępień and many others.
Since 2002, there has been an intense search for historical sources in Lithuania and abroad that would help document the palace and life in the Vilnius Lower Castle complex. Archaeological work and architectural research continues. Every year more and more new information and artifacts are found, which allow us to reconstruct and decorate the palace more accurately. As a result of our investigations and findings, we will be able not only to correct but in essence rewrite much of early Lithuanian history – that of the Gothic, Renaissance and early Baroque periods, especially when brick architecture was first introduced. We will be able to take a new look at court life and cultural development in Lithuania during these times.
A great deal of help has come from the Palace Restoration Foundation, which was established in 2000 and is now led by Algirdas Vapšys, Edmundas Kulikauskas, and Indrė Jovaišaitė. The Foundation not only raises money for the reconstruction of the palace in Lithuania and in the diaspora, but as opportunities arise, promotes the idea of the need for reconstructing the palace, organizes various kinds of public manifestations, and supports the palace’s publication program, the restoration of important artifacts, exhibitions, and educational activities. In 2005, the Foundation started raising money for the acquisition of important historical artifacts and furnishings for the interiors of the palace.
Reconstruction of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania officially began on May 10, 2002, and it was decided then that this reconstruction project could become one of the most important accents of Lithuania’s Millennium Programme – a memorial to the Millennium. In deliberating about the mission, purpose, and functions of the reconstructed palace, the conclusion was reached that the reconstructed historical residence should house a national museum that would serve multiple purposes: present the nation’s history and cultural heritage in its broad European context, educate the public, provide a venue for state ceremonial events, and serve as a tourist center. Such a national museum was formally established on January 1, 2009.
In order to carry out the cultural and educational mission of the new National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, four tour routes related to the historical functions of the palace have been laid out. The first tour will acquaint the visitors with the very rich and important archeological findings – both the ancient ruins and the excavated artifacts. Employing models, iconographic materials from all over the world, and written labels, we will inform the visitors about the history of the palace and its architectural features. This exposition will be in the underground of the South Wing and in halls on the first and second floors of the South and East Wings. It will be a kind of archaeological and architectural preserve, where different kinds of communication media will be used to help contextualize and integrate those archaeological findings into a story of the historical development of the palace territory from the earliest times until its reconstruction today. Visitors will be able to use individual computer terminals to learn more about the history of Lithuania and its cultural heritage, about the Vilnius castles, about Lithuania’s rulers and magnates; find biographical information about artists and other well-known cultural figures. This didactical exhibition will take up about a third of the museum’s exhibition space and will also recognize those who made significant contributions to the reconstruction of the palace.
The second tour will bring the visitors into the ceremonial halls, which have been reconstructed in such a way as to show the evolution of architectural styles – from the late Gothic to the Renaissance and the early Baroque. The goal is not only to show the evolution of architectural styles but also to describe the different functions that took place in each of the halls and rooms – guard rooms, antechambers, audience halls, chancellery offices, private apartments with private offices and bedrooms, and so forth – to show what life was like there. These halls and rooms are located on the second and third floors of the South, East, and West Wings. These halls and rooms will be decorated and furnished with authentic art objects from the 15th–17th centuries, of the type and style that could have been at the palace based on extensive research, as well as Lithuanian treasures. This particular tour will end in the hall representing the State and Grand Duke treasuries. This display of the interiors will consist of about 20 halls and will also take up about one-third of the museum’s space. These halls will also be used for cultural, musical, diplomatic, protocol, and other ceremonial events.
Both of these tours are meant to complement each other, giving the visitor a well-rounded view of the development of the palace, its role in Lithuanian history and culture as well as its political and artistic ties with the rest of Europe and Asia. Each of these tours will showcase different kinds of exhibits and will use different modes of presentation but together will form a duet. This is quite typical in many European castles and historical residences where time and the ravages of war have destroyed the original structures and their furnishings. The reconstructed buildings must compensate for that by serving more functions and telling a bigger story of the city, country, or state in which they are located. In this way, the mission of the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes is similar to many others in Europe.
The other two routes are supplementary, special tours. The third tour is dedicated to the musical and everyday life of the palace. There will be a multipurpose hall for concerts, plays, exhibits, and educational programs. It will be a place for staging concerts and historical operas, for hosting conferences and seminars, and holding ceremonial events. It will be located in the northern part of the Northwest Wing. Historically, at least in the 17th century, this was where the palace kitchens were located. The fourth tour will lead visitors through the temporary exhibition center, which will meet international standards for traveling exhibitions. The major focus of the exhibits there will be European and Lithuanian material culture from the era of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In addition to traveling exhibitions, this will be a place for changing exhibitions – thematic, chronological or typological – from the Museum’s own large collection. This space will also be located in the Northwest Wing.
There will be place in the reconstructed palace for a tourist information center, a café-restaurant serving traditional national dishes and drinks, a bookstore specializing in the humanities, and a souvenir shop. The infrastructure for all of these and other visitor services will be located underground – under the Great Courtyard. Ticket booths, an information desk, coat-check room, an auditorium as well as toilets and other visitor amenities will also be located there. In this way we hope to maximize the amount of space for exhibitions and public programs. In addition, by locating the visitor terminal or vestibule under the Great Courtyard, we will be able to show some of the earliest ruins of the Vilnius Lower Castle walls. All of the four tour routes will begin and end there. In this way, the visitor will be able to plan his or her own visit to this historical residence and museum.
The collections of the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, which will be displayed in the thematic exhibitions mentioned above, are being formed based on exhibition needs, the different functions of the museum, and the availability of historical objects. The archaeology collections (about 300,000 objects) are truly impressive and make up the bulk of the Museum’s collections. Most were collected during 1987–2009 by the Castle Research Center Lietuvos pilys. One of the most important and impressive collections is the 15th–17th century collection of tiles, especially stove tiles, which in terms of numbers and variety has no equal in Europe. The numerous architectural details found during the excavation of the palace form the basis for the recreation of the exteriors and the interiors of the palace.
In order to provide furnishings for the interiors, the Lithuanian Art Museum began in 2003 to collect furniture, tapestries, paintings and other art objects from the Gothic, the Renaissance, and early Baroque periods as well as Lithuanian treasures. The acquisition of most of these valuable objects was financed by the national government or the Palace Restoration Fund. Some were acquired as gifts. Among the highlights are: the 15th–17th c. collection of Italian, French, and German furniture; the 16th–17th c. collection of tapestries, including the unique tapestry with the coat of arms of Sigismund Augustus; glass goblets that belonged to Augustus the Strong, the Elector of Saxony, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania; and, a collection of rare books and maps related to Lithuanian history.
Some of the museum’s archaeological findings, furnishings, and other artwork have been on display since 2004–2005 in the Museum of Applied Art. They were also shown in traveling exhibitions in Germany (1992–1993) and Poland (2006–2007), where they were accompanied by catalogs or brochures.