In the east of the country, surrounded by hills, the Lithuanian capital Vilnius lies 250 km from the Baltic Sea on the confluence of the Neris and Vilnia Rivers. Variously under Polish, Russian and German occupation, Vilnius became the capital of independent Lithuania in 1991.
Archaeological evidence suggests the area now Vilnius has been inhabited for three millennia (with a castle dating from the fifth century), although the official founding dates from the city’s first mention in a 1323 missal written by Grand Duke Gediminas. The duke built a city around two castles, with fortifications to ward off forays by Teutonic and Livonian Knights. Soon, Vilnius replaced Kernave as Lithuania’s capital. Over the next two centuries, Vilnius expanded and prospered becoming an important trade centre. The growth in industry led to a flurry of building, and Vilnius became one of the largest European cities. A city wall was constructed to defend against Tatar invasions.