Vilnius University is the oldest and largest institution of higher education in Lithuania. It marks the beginnings of science and culture, not only for Lithuania but also, for neighboring countries. It's a place where an educated Lithuanian society formed for over 400 years. Many people who are well-known in Lithuania, Europe and all over the world have studied and taught there – people such as the poet Mathias Casimirus Sarbievius, medical men Jozef Frank and Johann Peter Frank, poet Adam Mickiewicz, historian Simonas Daukantas and Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz.
Vilnius University is proud of its unique architecture, old library and museums which keep the artistic, cultural and scientific heritage. The value of many items kept here is incalculable for Lithuanian, European and world culture. Sufficient to mention that the only copy of the first Lithuanian book, Martinus Mosvidius' Catechisms, is here on display.
It is not by accident that, in the Brussels “Mini Europe” Park where the EU countries present their most famous architectural monuments, Lithuania has as its representation the Vilnius University ensemble.
History of Vilnius University
The oldest higher education establishment in Lithuania and one of the oldest in Eastern and Northern Europe is from 1579. It grew out of the College, founded in 1570 by the Jesuits who came to Vilnius on invitation of Bishop Valerianus Protasevicius. Founding of the library happened in the same year.
On April 1, 1597 King Stephen Bathory issued a privilege for the opening of Vilnius University and Academy. In the autumn of the same year, Pope Gregory XIII granted the status of a university to Vilnius College. At the beginning there were two faculties – the Faculty of Philosophy and the Faculty of Theology. The Faculty of Law opened in 1641 and the Faculty of Medicine opened in 1781.
The university was created after the model of a classical European university. Since Latin had been the language of tuition until the early 19th century, the University was open to lecturers and students of all nationalities. Alongside the multinational population of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – Lithuanians, Poles, Russians – people from Portugal, Italy, Germany, Ireland and Spain worked and studied there from the beginning. Professors were invited from different European countries. Due to religious and cultural tolerance, favorable conditions arose for the development of science.
Even though Vilnius University was far from the European centers of culture, it was nurturing the most progressive scientific ideas.
Logic, Rhetoric and Lyrics
'Logic' by Professor Martinus Smiglecius (1572-1618) was widely used in French and English schools. In the late 17th century, during his examinations at Dublin University, the famous writer Jonathan Swift had to answer questions from Martinus Smiglecius' Logic. Professor Sigismundus Liaukssminas (Zymunt Lauksmin (1597-1670)) made a great contribution to rhetorical science. His book 'Oratorical Practice and the Rules of the Art of Rhetoric' saw 11 editions in Europe throughout the century. The poet Mathias Casimirus Sarbievius, alumnus and professor of Vilnius Academy, was known as 'the Horace of Sarmatia' and received a laurel wreath by Pope Urban VIII. His 'Books of Lyrics' saw dozens of publications in Europe. The title page for the 1632 edition, printed in Antwerp, is by a design of famous Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens.
Constantinus Syrvidus, a founder of the Lithuanian written language and the author of the first Lithuanian language dictionary, studied and later lectured at the University and preached at the St. John's church. Meletius Smotricius, the author of the first Russian grammar, was also an alumnus of the University of Vilnius.
In 1753, the astronomical observatory of Vilnius University was founded. It is one of the oldest observatories in Europe and the oldest observatory in the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The then Rector of the University, astronomer Marcin Poczobutt, a corresponding member of the Academy of Science in Paris and a member of the Royal Society in London, contributed considerably to the flourishing of science. Due to his efforts, Vilnius became one of the centers of astronomical science in the late 18th century. Marcin Poczobutt was one of the first to see the spots on the Sun as early as 1769. The data of the observations of Mercury in 1786-1787 were especially important. On the basis of these measurements, the French astronomer, Joseph Jerome Le Francais de Lalande calculated the orbit of this planet.
Courtyards of Vilnius University
The Grand Courtyard is a complex of buildings of different periods and styles - Renaissance, Baroque and neoclassical united into a harmonious whole. The foundation for the Church of St. John was laid during the 14th century.
Construction of the north and west wings of the courtyard took place during the 16th century. The bell tower arose in the 17th century. The courtyard became fully formed in the early 19th century, when the south wing and Aula (Colonnade Hall) emerged.
Frescoes on the façade pilasters of the north and west wings depict the university coat of arms, portraits of bishop Walerjan Protasewicz, the military leader Jan Karol Chodkewicz, the kings Augustus II the Strong and Stanislaw Augustus Poniatowski, and other university founders and patrons. In the courtyard's arched galleries there are memorial plaques dedicated to the rectors as well as some of the most famous Vilnius University graduates and professors.
The Simonas Daukantas Courtyard name comes from the university graduate and author of the first history of the Lithuanian language in Lithuania, the historian Simonas Daukantas (1793-1864). The courtyard got its first form at the end of the 18th century from buildings donated to the university by Vilnius magnates. On the wall of the north building is a high relief of Simonas Daukantas created by the sculptor Romanas Kazlauskas.
The Mikalojus Dauksa Courtyard was formed in the 18th century and thanks its name in honor of the Catholic priest, administrator and translator Mikalojus Dauksa (1527/1538 - 1613). Today, these buildings house the Faculty of History.