The Bastion of the Defensive Wall (Lithuanian: Gynybines sienos bastėja), or Vilnius Artillery Bastion, is a Renaissance-style fortification in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, which now houses a museum of historical artifacts. It consists of three parts: a tower built in the defensive wall, an underground horseshoe-shaped room for cannons, and an underground tunnel connecting the tower and the cannon room.
Seven interesting historical facts about the bastion:
- It was built by the German military engineer, Friedrich Getkant, in the years 1560 and 1610.
- It was damaged in 1655–1661 during the war with Russia but repaired afterward.
- In the 18th century, it suffered from fires, and later became a rubbish dump; its moats were filled up and its walls were covered with earth.
- During the two world wars, German military arsenals were located in the building.
- In the post-war period, it was used as a vegetable warehouse.
- It was excavated and restored in 1967–1970.
- In 1987, a museum was opened in the Bastion displaying weapons of the 15th–19th century: stone cannonballs, old cannons, and plate armor.
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Vilnius Tours & Activities
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Vilnius Artillery Bastion Architecture
The appearance of the defensive wall in Vilnius is related to the wars of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania against Russia and Sweden for Livonia. For better protection and control the city, the Grand Duke of Lithuania Alexander Jagiellon commanded a wall with ten gates and five towers to be built around its perimeter.
The construction of the wall started in 1503 at the expense of Vilnius burghers. It took two decades to encircle the city with a three-kilometer stretch of the brick wall several meters in height. In the first half of the 17th century, a bastion was built in the defensive wall next to Subačiaus Gate.
Today, the Vilnius Artillery Bastion is one of the last surviving parts of the city’s old defensive wall.
The Bastion is a Renaissance-style fortification characterized by its original construction. The main part of the building is the casemate – an underground cannon room; it forms a semicircle around a natural hill.
From the outside, the façade is 8 meters (26 feet) high and built from red and yellow bricks in Gothic bonding. The inner wall is 2.5 meters (8 feet) thick and vertical. The vaults are annular.
The cannon room is 110 meters (360 feet) long, 4 meters (13 feet) wide and 5 meters (16 feet) high, with 13 gun ports, some with old cannons in them, each with a flue above it to let out the smoke. Moreover, there are also niches for gunpowder, and two fireplaces as sources of fire for firing guns.
Visitors to the Bastion are allowed out on to the roof to admire the view. From here you can see the tower of the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Consolation, the bell tower of St. John’s Church, and the white Orthodox Cathedral. On the Gediminas hill is the Upper Castle, and in the distance is the modern New City Center.
The vaults of the Bastion are associated with a legend about the Vilnius Basilisk – a snakelike creature that could turn humans into stone with one look. It is said that sometimes, at nights, a horrific howl can still be heard from the catacombs of the Bastion, where the dragon lived a long time ago.
From 2016, the Bastion of the Defensive Wall houses the permanent exhibition. The artifacts collected from eleven museums present the archaeology of Lithuania under one roof.
The exhibition is made up of an interesting variety of artifacts from the Neolithic period, unique wooden, bone and amber artifacts from the Bronze Age and splendid grave goods from rich burials in cemeteries and barrows from Roman, Migration and Viking Age periods. The second part of the exhibition consists of exquisite medieval jewelry found in Vilnius and other fascinating and rare finds from medieval castles in Lithuania.
Address: Bokšto g. 20, LT-01126 Vilnius, Lithuania
Official website: National Museum of Lithuania