True Lithuania

Palace of the Grand Dukes opened in Vilnius

On July 7th, 2013 the Palace of the Grand Dukes (Valdovų rūmai) has been opened to the general public in Vilnius Old Town. This is the reconstruction of the original Renaissance palace of 1520 which stood at the same location near Vilnius Cathedral and housed the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. The original palace has been damaged by the Russian invasion in 1655 and completely torn down in 1801 under the Russian Imperial occupation.

Rebuilt palace is now a museum. Ruined basements are authentic while the newly-built interiors are supposed to represent different eras. However, the only difference between the rooms is ceilings and furnaces with all the walls plain white. Exhibits are a mixed stock of mostly authentic archeological finds and mostly replica furniture. Plaques provide Lithuanian and English history of the Grand Duchy.

Palace of the Grand Dukes with Grand Duke Gediminas statue nearby. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The Palace project has been highly controversial and suffered time and cost overruns. The construction, first envisioned in 1988, started in 2002 and was planned to be completed by 2009 when the nation celebrated a millennium since the word "Lithuania" has been mentioned for the first time in a surviving written record.

However even today the Palace is only partly completed as a second wing will have to be built for additional 75 million Litas. The true costs of the construction have been higher 3,6 times than planned at first, leading to fruitless criminal investigations.

Other points of criticism for the Palace have been its doubtful authenticity, lack of unified vision for its purpose and the fact that a 19th-century merchant's house had to be demolished to free the construction site.

The Baroque throne room has a replica throne and an authentic chest of drawers (right), but its plain walls are far from baroque opulence. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

For its proponents, the rebuilt Palace is a potent symbol of the reborn nation, a monument to Lithuanian unity and culture. Under this premise, the project attracted donations from Lithuanian Americans and various companies. Still however it was the taxpayer who covered most of the bill and the true patriarch of the project was late Algirdas Brazauskas, a former communist party member who turned Socialdemocrat post-independence; his quotation now proudly hangs at the entrance and his hunting trophies will be exhibited inside.

For its detractors, the Palace continues to be a white elephant and a symbol of Soviet-style embezzlement, cronyism, and pompousness.

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