VILNA, or WILNO, a town of Russia, capital of the government of the same name, 436 m. S.S.W. of St Petersburg, at the intersection of the railways from St Petersburg to Warsaw and from Libau to the mouth of the Don. Pop. (1883) 93,760; (1900) 162,633. With its suburbs Antokol, Lukishki, Pogulyanka and Sarechye, it stands on and around a knot of hills (2450 ft.) at the confluence of the Vileika with the Viliya. Its streets are in part narrow and not very clean; but Vilna is an old town, rich in historical associations. Its imperial palace, and the cathedral of St Stanislaus (1387, restored 1801), containing the silver sarcophagus of St Casimir and the tomb of Prince Vitoft, are fine buildings. There is a second cathedral, that of St Nicholas, built in 1596-1604; also several churches dating from the 14th to the 16th centuries. The Ostra Brama chapel contains an image of the Virgin greatly venerated by Orthodox ks and Roman Catholics alike. The museum of antiquities valuable historical collections. The ancient castle of the Jagcllones is now a mass of ruins. The old university, founded in 1578, was restored (1803) by Alexander I., but has been closed since 1832 for political reasons; the only departments which remain in activity are the astronomical observatory and a nu'dical academy. Vilna is an archiepiscopal see of the Orthodox Greek Church and an episcopal see of the Roman Catholic Church, and the headquarters of the governor-general of the Lithuanian provinces and of the III. army corps. The city sses a botanical garden and a public library, and is adorned with statues to Catherine II. (1903), the poet Pushkin and C'ount M. Muraviev (1898). It is an important centre for trade in timber and grain, which are exported; and has theological seminaries, both Orthodox Greek and Roman Catholic, a military school, a normal school for teachers and professional schools. It is the seat of many scientific societies (geographical, medical and archaeological), and has a good antiquarian museum and a public library.
History. The territory of Vilna has been occupied by the Lithuanians since the 10th century, and probably much earlier; their chief fortified town, Vilna, is first mentioned in 1128. A temple to the god Perkunas stood on one of its hills till 1387, when it was destroyed by Prince Jagiello, after his baptism. After 1323, when Gedymin, prince of Lithuania, abandoned Troki, Vilna became the capital of Lithuania. The formerly independent principalities of Minsk and Lidy, as well as the territory of Disna, which belonged to the Polotsk principality, were annexed by the Lithuanian princes, and from that time Vilna, which was fortified by a stone wall, became the chief city of the Lithuanian state. It was united with Poland when its prince, Casimir IV., was elected (1447) to the Polish throne. The plague of 1588, a fire in 1610 and still more the wars between Russia and Poland, which began in the 17th century, checked its further growth. The Russians took Vilna in 1655, and in the following year it was ceded to Russia. The Swedes captured it in 1702 and in 1706. The Russians again took possession of it in 1788; and it was finally annexed to Russia in 1795, after the partition of Poland. Its Polish inhabitants took an active part in the risings of 1831 and 1863, for which they were severely punished by the Russian government.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)