OPEN DOORS: For several hundred years, the Palace of the Grand Dukes was the center of the state. Speaking in modern terms, it housed the parliament, ministries, courts, library, university and other institutions of state and culture, says Vydas Dolinskas.
VILNIUS - Finally, after a long wait, the palace is open to everyone. The Grand Dukes Palace has finally opened its doors after its rebuilding, which took ten years in the making. On July 6, the day of Mindaugas’ coronation, there was the official ceremony, in which many national politicians, heads of state and foreign dignitaries participated. In her speech, Dalia Grybauskaite, president of Lithuania said: “The Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania is a symbol of Lithuanian statehood. It signifies the continuity of our state and the strength of our nation.” In fact, this big monument represents one of the most important monuments, not only for Vilnius, but also for Lithuania in general.
Vydas Dolinskas, director at the National Museum’s Palace of the Grand Dukes, said to The Baltic Times that “Today the restored Palace must be understood also as a place and way to bring nearer Lithuanian history, culture and heritage for Lithuanians and guests, as an active educational, cultural and tourism information center, where everybody can meet [their own] interests. This is, in his opinion, always a place of historical culture, where is revealed layers of heritage of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and in the European context existence of the state of Lithuania.”
“I do not mean to insult anyone, but I daresay that the Palace of the Grand Dukes, in its stately and ethno-cultural meaning, is the most significant building in Lithuania. It is a perceivable, tangible sign of the presence of our state and nation in Europe and history,” said the director.
During 2000 – 2001, the Parliament took the decision about the reconstruction of this Great Palace. Before this, there was some discussion about it as there were some people against the rebuilding. In their opinion, it would have been too expensive for Lithuania. Now we can admire the residence of the Grand Dukes.
It’s true that this is a reconstruction, and not the original. This is because in 1795 the Russian empire enforced a policy to destroy all signs of the Lithuania state. From 1799 to 1801, the Russian administration started to tear down parts of walls which remained, evidence of their intention to destroy every icon of Lithuania’s identity. When the population rebelled against the “Invader Government,” in 1831, the czar decided to destroy everything, including the foundations of the palace.
Only in recent years, from 1987, has there been some archeological excavations on the Palace grounds. Today, in all rooms, can one see much of the original items, such as furniture, paintings, decorative works, jewelry and more, which the archeologists located over the years. Now, in fact, among the sections tourists can visit, only the ceilings are to be finished where, in the future, there will be painted frescoes.
Dolinskas says that officially this is just part of the Palace that is finished (nearly 53 percent). But the same situation happened also in the past: our dukes built residences in some years, though things were complicated by decoration styles, or lack of money, illness or death. But this didn’t prevent carrying on with life in the Palace. The biggest problem is when unfinished work remains unfinished.
When the reconstruction will be finished and new parts of the building will be open, there will be additional tours. One tour will be dedicated to the musical, and everyday, life of the Palace, and will feature a multi-purpose hall for concerts, plays, exhibits and educational programs. Another tour will lead visitors through the temporary exhibition center, which will meet international standards and will focus on exhibits dealing with European and Lithuanian culture from the era of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. There will be public spaces for State ceremonial events, conferences and seminars, as well as educational programs. Visitor services will include a cafe-restaurant serving traditional national dishes and drinks, and wine cellar.
The entrance is close to St. Casimir’s Church and the tours start at the original basement level, which the visitor can admire, through a transparent glass walk the foundations of the Palace. Then the exhibition goes forward to the first and second floors in which are shown the historical and architectural development of the palace. A second tour brings visitors along 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 to the early Baroque. The tour ends at the special Treasury Hall, featuring the treasuries of the Grand Dukes and of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
Bernardino Buongiovanni, the papal legate who visited this Palace during its maximum splendor (XVI – XVII centuries), said that he had never seen a treasure like Grand Dukes’.
In particular, in this half-year when Lithuania sits at the head of the European Union council - the EU Presidency - this new opening means that not only has an important and significant monument been opened to the public, but it is also an inspiration for the government and for the Lithuanian people. “It is quite symbolic that the reconstructed Palace of the Grand Dukes opens its gates in the context of the Presidency.” Said Dolinskas.
He continues: “Moreover, the Presidency is an excellent launching platform. Politicians and diplomats, tourism professionals agree that you cannot buy the publicity that Lithuania and the Palace are going to get during the Presidency. Therefore, the opening of the reconstructed Palace coincides with Lithuania’s return to active European politics and represents the historic continuity of Lithuania’s role.”
“From the times of the letters of Gediminas to 2013, for 690 years, the door to Vilnius has been open to all Europe,” continued President Grybauskaite, adding “I hope that this icon of our glorious past will again stand as a political, cultural and historical center of Lithuania and the Old Continent. May the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania serve as a palace for each and every Lithuanian and may it instill a feeling of ever stronger pride in our state and its history.”
The Museum is open from Tuesday to Friday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., but pay attention, because the last visitors are admitted one hour before museum closing time. On Saturdays and Sundays, and before national holidays, the schedule is from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Palace is closed on Mondays and during Lithuanian national holidays.