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Legend about Vilnius city foundation

Original version
The legend of the founding of Vilnius shows that while hunting the Grand Duke of Lithuania Gediminas stayed overnight in a place where Vilnius now stands. While he was asleep, Gediminas had an unusual dream in which he saw an iron wolf at the top of the mountain . In the morning the Duke consulted the pagan priest Lizdeika about it.  He told the Duke that the dream was a direction to found a city among these hills and  the howling of the wolf, represented the fame of the future city. So the Grand Duke of Lithuania, immediately started to build the future capital, and took it the name – Vilnius – from the stream of Vilnia.
Main characters
Grand Duke of Lithuania Gediminas, pagan priest Lizdeika, iron wolf.
Connected artistic / architectonic / historical heritage
Besides being the founder of Vilnius and Trakai, Gediminas was also one of the most famous rulers of Lithuania. His fame can only be compared to the fame of his grandson Vytautas the Great. Gediminas lived between 1275 and 1341 and ruled the Grand Duchy of Lithuania for 25 years. He moved the capital of Lithuania from Trakai to Vilnius. He was better known as a diplomat who attracted the attention of Europe to Lithuania than as a military chief. It was in the letters of Gediminas to Western Europe that the name of Vilnius was mentioned for the first time in 1323. This year is considered to be the year of the founding of Vilnius. Gediminas succeeded in expanding the state borders and the sphere of influence of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania far to the east and south. Under the rule of Gediminas, Vitebsk and Volyn were annexed while the lands of Kievan Rus fell into a vassal dependence of the Duchy. On their trip west, the army of Gediminas even approached Berlin. The area of the Lithuanian state doubled during the times of Gediminas
Local traditions or historical connections
The city was first mentioned in written sources in 1323 as Vilna, when the Letters of Grand Duke Gediminas were sent to German cities inviting Germans (including German Jews) to settle in the capital city, as well as to Pope John XXII. These letters contain the first unambiguous reference to Vilnius as the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Vilnius has even an exact date 1323 January 25 which people of Vilnius considers as an cities birthday date and each year there are lots of events through out the city to celebrate it. For example – light shows in the main square or art installations in the streets, eating cake and so on. Iron wolf is one of the cities symbols, one of the examples it became a mascot for Vilnius basketball team. (For Lithuanians basketball is second religion) Vilnius not only became the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which in its peak was the biggest country in Europe starting from Baltic sea and reaching Black sea, but became a center of education and art in Eastern Europe, that’s why in 1579 The University of Vilnius was founded, which is continually work as one of the oldest and most famous establishments of higher education in Eastern and Central Europe.
Didactical Relevance
Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, as well as the biggest city in country. It is essential to every Lithuanian to know the history of its country and capital city, because it is usually a place where key decisions are made. Countries capital usually is the engine of new ideas and tendencies that spread through the country. Legend itself tells about those times when Lithuania was a pagan country and how important was nature signs, knowledge and respect for pagan druids and that even the ruler was discussing important things with him. Legend of establishment of Vilnius lets us understand what kind of ruler was Great Duke Gediminas who is considered one of the best diplomat of its time. He understood the importance of being known and open to western world for Grand Duchy of Lithuania to grow and fulfill his dream that druid Lizdeika explained to him.
Didactical Activity
Direct visit to Vilnius city where on the hill of Gediminas stands the remains of Upper Castle where only one tower is reconstructed and is called Gediminas tower. Inside of it there is exposition of the Vilnius Castle Museum displays reconstruction models of Vilnius castles of the second part of the 14th and the beginning of the 17th centuries, armament, iconographic material of old Vilnius. On one of the floors there is interactive installation where students will experience the changes of Vilnius city trough ages. An observation deck on the top of the tower is the best place from which to appreciate a magnificent panorama of Vilnius. This can lead to many connections with specific subjects: e.g. history – Grand Duke Gediminas as ruler, art – architecture of the city, literature – why it was chosen to have a story of iron wolf and what it shows about the importance of nature animals in pagan days; geography – why Vilnius was chosen to become the capital, what other Lithuanian cities have an animal as their symbol and etc. Virtual visit is possible, then we can do the same and modified activities in classroom – drawing, reading, writing, finding on the map.


Grand Duke Gediminas: The Founding of Medieval Lithuania's capital Vilnius (Kadaise Lietuvoje)
A short animated film about the mythology of pagan Lithuania and the founding of Medieval Lithuanian capital Vilnius. According to the legend: "Gediminas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania killed a proud and powerful aurochs while hunting and afterwards dreamed a howling iron wolf. The pagan priest Lizdeika prophesied: "A capital will arise here, power and beauty of which will be legendary throughout the world. It's glory will be as mighty as the howl of the iron wolf..."
Video on Vilnius


The letter to Western cities where Vilnius is mention for the first time
Iron wolf the inspiration for founding the city according to the legend
Vilnius from above
Old Vilnius
Artfact of old Vilnius
Founder of Vilnius

External Sources

Vilnius. Jerusalem of the North.
Description of places in Vilnius to visit from religious perspective as well as mentioning the Iron wolf legend
Fact and fiction in the founding legend of Vilnius
Article about reasons for founding capital of Lithuania Vilnius including legend, political and historical reasons
Iron Wolf The Symbol of Vilnius City
The Legend of the founding of Vilnius

PDF version of the legend in national language