One of the oldest streets in Vilnius, Pilies (Castle) Street started from the southern gate of the Lower Castle and led to the Town Hall. It served as a kind of spinal cord to the old town that grew around it. The most picturesque Vilnius lanes – Bernardinu, sv. Mykolo, Literatu and Skapo – branch off to the right and left of Pilies Street. It has many graphic courtyards, mazy nooks and impressive buildings. The university campus is adjacent to Pilies Street on the right. Pilies St. has always been commercial. It ends in front of the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Paraskeva and is called Didzioji from that point. This division appeared in recent times: it always used to be either one street bearing two names, or these names were used in different periods. >From the crossing with Subaciaus St. Didzioji St. turns into Ausros Vartu St. All three streets form one road, around which the most interesting old town monuments are placed.
Many buildings on Pilies St. have high historical and artistic value. No. 4 – the Capitulary House built in the 1st half of the 16th cent. Until 1939 it belonged to the capitulary of the Vilnius Cathedral. Restored in the early 17th cent. A monumental Renaissance attic (after 1616), nearly as high as the lower part of the building, is reminiscent of the attics of the Lower Castle and the Old Arsenal (reconstructed). The severe simplicity of the attic harmonizes with its decorativeness. No. 6 – a residential house built in the late 16th – early 17th cent. and connected by an arch across Bernardinu St. with a house in front. The facade is asymmetrical, windows of the first floor have Renaissance edgings. Once there was an attic above the two-storey part, on which the present roof was built in the middle of the 18th cent.
No. 8 – Zawadski’s bookshop. This brick house existed since the early 17th cent., was reconstructed after the 1748 fire, and in 1800 the second floor was built on. In the 1st half of the 19th cent. a bookshop of the famous printer Jozef Zawadski operated on the ground floor. Later the Blessed Bishop Jurgis Matulaitis lived on the 2nd floor. Classical elements dominate the facade, and there are some mural paintings of the same style inside the building.
No. 10 – a residential house of the early 16th cent. From 1575 it belonged to the founder of Vilnius University, Bishop Walerian Protasewicz, and later to the capitulary of the Cathedral. In 1812 the duke and military leader Joseph Poniatowski lived there. The house has some Gothic and Classical features.
No. 12 – formerly two separate Gothic houses: the north one stood sideways to the street, and the end of the south one faced the street. Both were built before 1514 and belonged to goldsmiths, a surgeon and pharmacists; during the 1655–61 war with Moscow they were damaged and handed over to the capitulary of the Cathedral, which had them rebuilt in the Baroque style. They were severely damaged during the Second World War, renovated in 1957–60 and 1986. Decorative Gothic facades and cylindrical vaults in the basement and on the ground floor have been reconstructed.
No. 22 – the house of the Medical Collegium. A Gothic building belonging to Duke Constantine Ostrogsky and later to the great hetman of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Christopher Radziwill is mentioned in historical sources in 1561. In 1683 the house was bought by the university, and in the 18th cent. it was expanded and restructured by connecting several possessions. It had an auditorium for medical lectures, an anatomical showroom, a chemical laboratory, professors’ apartments; there was a botanical garden and a greenhouse in the courtyard. Besides other professors, this house was home to Euzebiusz Slowacki and his son, the poet-to-be Juliusz Slowacki. On Euzebiusz’s death his widow married the professor of medicine August Becu. Having played a deplorable role in the case of the Philomats, August Becu was eventually struck down by lightning (Adam Mickiewicz mentions this event in The Forefathers’ Eve). Juliusz Slowacki spent about 15 years of his childhood and youth in this house (1811–14 and 1817–28).
While living there, he graduated from the university and wrote his first works; his life in Vilnius is described in his later poem An Hour of Reflection. A memorial plaque to the poet is set up in the courtyard, and a niche holds his bust on a swan’s wings (1927). In 1923–34 another famous Vilnius citizen – the artist, scenery designer and public figure Ferdynand Ruszczyc, on whose initiative the bust was built, lived in Slowacki’ former apartment. No. 24 – Hotel “Narutis”. The Gothic 16th cent. house was reconstructed in the early 19th cent. and acquired some Classical features. In 1830–35 the house was home to the Polish writer Jozef Ignacy Kraszewski who drew on Lithuanian history and mythology in his writing and maintained contacts with figures of the Lithuanian national revival movement. The house was rebuilt and partly restructured with imitations of Gothic elements in 1967.
No. 26 – Sztral’s house. Having acquired this house in the late 19th cent., Kazimierz Sztral reconstructed it according to architect Aleksei Polozov’s project in the style of Historicism. The first floor with statues symbolizing agriculture and fishing is very decorative; niches on the second floor hold two male busts. From the late 19th cent. till 1939 the building housed the famous “White Sztral” cafe. On the second floor the Lithuanian Council used to hold its meetings in 1917–18. On February 16th 1918, the Act of Lithuania’s Independence was signed in this building.
No. 28 – merchant Schwarz’s house. The history of the building goes back to the 16th cent. Christopher Schwarz bought the dilapidated house in the mid-17th cent. Having repaired it, he sold it to the Academy, which accommodated its students there. Its next proprietor Andrzej Wiszniewski expanded the house. The present neo-Baroque facade with male and female sculptural heads dates from the late 19th or early 20th cent.
No. 30 – the house of the barbers’ guild (17th cent.) in the early 20th cent. belonged to Abraham Itzikovich and was renovated with his funding. The ground floor was adapted for commerce – before the Second World War Itzikovich ran an antique shop. The facade and the interiors bear distinct marks of Historicism and Modernism: particularly distinguished is a bay with high tapering windows and a balustrade.
No. 32 – the “Victoria” house. Buildings in this place are known since the 16th cent. The house acquired its Baroque appearance in the 18th cent., the facade was transformed in 1911. In the early 19th cent. it housed two wine cellars and the “Victoria” cafe frequented by the Philarets. Its courtyard with arches, dormer windows and an open staircase is particularly decorative and typical of Vilnius.
No. 38 – Syrkin’s house with an arch in the courtyard; from 1865 it held a bookshop, and in 1903–15 – a printing house that produced publications in the Jewish, Lithuanian, Polish and Russian languages. Unfortunately, in the process of expanding his bookshop, Syrkin destroyed the Renaissance vaults of the building and unique 17th cent. mural paintings (part of them has survived on the premises of the present shop).
Sv. Jono gatve
sv. Jono St. branches off from Pilies St. at the Church of St. John (the buildings are numbered from Universiteto St.). One of the oldest streets in Vilnius, it is known since the middle of the 16th cent., but is undoubtedly older. Once the oldest Vilnius marketplace with the first town hall was located here. Already before Lithuania’s Christianization (1386) Grand Duke of Lithuania Jogaila granted a privilege to build the Church of St. John on this marketplace. The most influential Lithuanian noblemen Radziwills, Pacs, Sapiehas, university professors, craftsmen and merchants lived on this street. The university campus was formed in the course of centuries on the north side of sv. Jono St. In the 16th cent. nearly all houses on this street were brick, while the street itself and quite many of its courtyards were stone paved; some houses used to receive water through wooden pipes from the Vingriai springs.
No. 3 – the Pac estate. The history of the building goes back to the 16th cent. Since 1628 it belonged to the Pac magnate family. In 1783 the dilapidated building was bought, renovated and decorated by the Chancellor of the Grand Duchy Alexander Michael Sapieha. After the suppression of the 1831 uprising, the palace that at that time belonged to the artillery general Francis Sapieha was confiscated and handed over to the governor’s office. Until the early 20th cent. a printing house that produced mainly Polish and Russian publications operated in the palace; the first Lithuanian publication – the tsar’s manifesto about the abolishment of serfdom – appeared in 1863. In 1959, 1965 and 1986 the palace was renovated. Now the building houses a community centre, a gallery, a theatre etc.
No. 5 – the Pharmacy house. Georg Schulz’s pharmacy operated in this house since 1639. In 1655, during a raid by the Russians the house was burned down, and its proprietor was killed. In 1781 pharmacist Koszyk acquired the ruined building and reconstructed it. In the late 19th cent. merchant Moshe Antokolski renovated the house according to architect Aleksei Polozov’s project and rendered it its present appearance. After the merchant’s death in 1902, the house was parcelled out among his numerous descendants; one part was given to artist Lev Antokolski.
No. 7 – Ertl’s house. The building is mentioned since the 1st half of the 17th cent.; in 1691 it was acquired and renovated by Georg Ertl, a master who was commissioned to rebuild the Church of St. John destroyed during the 1655–61 war, and who later became an elder of the stone masons’ guild. The facade was reconstructed in the late 19th cent. It is trimmed with a coarse-grained stucco band; on the roof, in the middle of the facade, is a decorative pediment with a semi-round arch. No. 9 – Strojnowski’s house. Built before 1645, most probably by the master of the saddle-makers’ guild Martynas Ladzikas. In the 19th cent. it belonged to the university rector Hieronim Strojnowski.
No. 11 – Rusiecki’s house. Two buildings on this site are mentioned as early as 1593: one was Gothic, the other Baroque. The house acquired its present appearance, partly Baroque, partly Classical, in the late 18th – early 19th cent. From 1887 artist Boleslaw Rusiecki, and later his relatives lived in this house.
No. 13 and 15/23. The Radziwill estate – cardinalate, whose history goes back to the 15th cent. In 1541 it was leased to Marshall Nicholas Radziwill the Black and later to the Radziwill family that ruled the palace for ca. 400 years. Only part of the original building (No. 13) has survived; another part was pulled down after the Second World War, and a new large house with a gallery along Pilies St. was built on that site.
The western boundary of the campus goes along this street; the oldest university building with Gothic elements stands there. In front of it is a gate to the courtyard of the Presidential Palace and several interesting buildings.
No. 2/18 – the Brzostowski estate. The first building in this place is known since 1595 (part of its Gothic walls has survived). In 1667–69 a plot of land with buildings was bought by a diplomat, later the Trakai voivode Cyprian Pawel Brzostowski. He connected the remnants of buildings destroyed during a war with Moscow into one palace. In 1760 the palace became a possession of Pawel Ksawery Brzostowski who had established the famed Pawlow Republic in the vicinity of Vilnius, in Turgeliai (it was a community of peasants exempt from corvee with its own constitution, coat of arms and money, which existed 30 years). The exterior and interior of the palace was decorated by architect Martin Knackfuss in 1769. Later the palace belonged to the Samogitian elder Jokubas Nagurskis, and in the 19th cent. to the Ogifski family. The expressive facade of the palace combines features of late Baroque and Classicism. There is a relief coat of arms of the Nagurskis family at the top of the entry tympanum.
No. 4 – Alumni house. It was the Ecclesiastical Seminary founded by Pope Gregory XII in 1582. A three-storey palace with arcades was built in 1622. The arcades look similar to the arcades in the Great (Skarga) courtyard of the university. They are reminiscent of Italian Renaissance and early Baroque. It is one of the most beautiful courtyards in Vilnius. The street facade was once decorated with frescoes – portraits of 47 popes, painted over in the middle of the 19th cent. The Alumni house was closed down in 1798, and later belonged to the university and private individuals. In the times of Soviet occupation it was abandoned, and it was not until 1984 that the building was renovated. A cafe was set up under the arcades. On passing through the west gate, an excellent view of the south facade of the Presidential Palace and its horseshoe-shaped courtyard is exposed.