geographical name


Church of SS. Peter and Paul, Vilnius, Lith.—Jon Arnold Images/SuperStock

City (pop., 2004 est.: 553,038), capital of Lithuania. Founded in the 10th century, it became the capital of Lithuania in 1323. It was destroyed in 1377 by the Teutonic Knights but was rebuilt. Vilnius passed to Russia in 1795 and for several centuries was a noted European centre for Jewish learning. It was occupied by the Germans in World Wars I and II and suffered heavy damage. From 1920 to 1939 it was part of Poland; taken by Soviet troops in 1939, it was restored to Lithuania, which the Soviets annexed in 1940. One result of the World War II German occupation was the decimation of the city's Jewish population, which dropped from 80,000 in 1941 to 6,000 in 1945. In 1991 it became the capital of the newly independent Lithuania. An important industrial centre, it also has many historic buildings representing Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles of architecture. The historic centre of Vilnius was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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