Renaissance Artillery Bastion in Vilnius

by Arūnas
Lietuvos gynybinės tvirtovės
The Bastion of the Defensive Wall, or Vilnius Artillery Bastion, is a Renaissance-style fortification in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, which now houses a museum of historical artifacts.

The bastion (Gynybinės sienos bastėja) 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.

Historical facts about Vilnius Artillery 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.

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 of 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 Defensive Wall of Vilnius at Bokšto street
The Defensive Wall of Vilnius on Bokšto street

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 Subačius Gate.

Vilnius Artillery Bastion: Cannons
Cannons on the roof of the bastion

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.

Vilnius Bastion: An underground tunnel
Underground tunnel
Vilnius Artillery Bastion: A casemate
Casemate is the main part of the bastion
Vilnius Artillery Bastion: Cannons
Cannons

The cannon room is 110 m (360 ft) long, 4 m (13 ft) wide, and 5 m (16 ft) 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.

Vilnius Artillery Bastion: Vew of the city of Vilnius
View of Vilnius from the roof of the bastion
Vilnius Artillery Bastion: A cannon
Cannon on the roof of the bastion

Visitors to the bastion can enjoy the view from the rooftop. From here, you can see many old churches as well as a modern business center.

Vilnius Basilisk

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.

Vilnius Artillery Bastion: The Basilisk
Sculpture of the Vilnius Basilisk

Since 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.

Archaeological Exhibition

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.

Archaeological exhibition
The finds in the exhibition reflect a wide variety of archaeological material from Lithuania
Urns
Urns (ceramic; 5th–4th century BC)
Grave goods of a female
Grave goods of a female (silver, brass, iron; 4th–5th century)
The Artillery Bastion: A Renaissance-style fortification in Vilnius
Coiled caps decorated with bronze rings of a female/ a girl (brass, wool; 10th–11th century)
Archaeological exhibition: Artifacts
Grave goods of a male (brass, iron; 5th–6th century) & Woman’s necklaces (copper alloy, glass, cowry shells, bone; 13th–14th century)
Archaeological exhibition: Padlocks with keys
Triangular padlocks with keys (iron, copper alloy; 17th century)

The Old Town of Vilnius (a UNESCO World Heritage site) is amazing, and the Bastion of the Defensive Wall is one of the main parts of it. Strategically placed on a hill, this restored artillery fortification is surrounded by a nice park. The structure does not look like much outside, although impressive, but once you get inside there is a little and interesting archeological exhibition to see. Worth a visit.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Useful information
Bokšto g. 20
01126, Vilnius
Lithuania

10:00–18:00 (every day, except Monday)

4 € (full), 2 € (reduced).

Vilnius map

Vilnius Artillery Bastion is located on the edge of the Old Town; it is a short walk from the Gate of Dawn.

Booking.com

I hope you enjoyed my Renaissance Artillery Bastion in Vilnius post. If you are interested in history and like visiting historical museums, here are a few more posts that I recommend you read next:

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