If you visit Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, most guides will take you to a small but really beautiful Medieval church of St Anne’s, which has become one of the symbols of the city.
Most visitors will take a few pictures here and immediately head back to the main crowded Old town street.
If you spare a bit more time, you can spend the whole afternoon enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of this Medieval corner of Vilnius.
Spoiler alert! A tour of Vilnius Old Town can sometimes feel like one big Catholic church crawl and this (small) Medieval corner will be no different.
It's just that churches and monasteries were built from more durable materials and are some of the few buildings that somehow survived tumultuous historical events to our day.
Today they are some of the rarer tangible examples of Lithuanian history, art and architecture.
St Anne's Church
So once you find St Anne's Church following your guide (human or otherwise), first you’ll notice the impressive red brick façade, a unique example of late Gothic style in Lithuania.
Did you know that in order to create this facade the builders used 33 different shapes of bricks?
Tour guides will tell you stories of how Napoleon Bonaparte, when crossing Lithuania on his way to Moscow, was so impressed with this church that he wanted 'to carry it on his palm to Paris'...
...and then the church was assigned to his Cavalry to be used as stables...
History seems to be riddled with funny stories like that :-)
Given that St Anne's Church is now one of the most visited landmarks in the city, surprisingly little is known about its origins, there are a number of legends floating around, with no hard facts confirming them.
Take a few pictures here, but don’t bother going inside, the interior is really very plain and nothing to write home about as its decor hasn't survived to our day.
St. Bernardine Church
Adjacent to St Anne’s church, there’s St. Bernardine Church (full title reads The Church of St. Francis and St. Bernard) and monastery complex.
Actually, the smaller aforementioned St Anne’s Church was first built as a chapel to the larger Bernardine Church, but with time developed into a separate church.
Bernardine Church and a monastery (which houses Lithuania's Academy of Arts) is an interesting example of Gothic architecture with some motley elements from later periods of Renaissance and Baroque.
The history of this church building reflects that of the city itself, where over the centuries wars were fought, fires burnt and occupations were endured.
Whether you prefer just popping in and having a nose about or exploring places properly by joining excursions, which will take you to places that other visitors don’t get to see, this church is definitely worth going inside. They have some impressive wood carved alters really worth a picture or two if you like your art. Click HERE for information about available tours
Bernardine Church has a really relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, a perfect place if you are visiting with children.
Church Heritage Museum
Across the street from St Anne’s and Bernardine Church, you can visit the Church Heritage Museum which is housed in former St. Michael’s Church and its convent.
I know the title of this post reads ‘Medieval Corner’, but this former church is actually a very rare example of a Renaissance building in Vilnius with early Baroque elements.
Completed in the first half of the 17th century, it was sponsored by a very wealthy Sapiegos family and became their last resting place.
If you are someone who wants to dive deeper into religious history and architecture or discover what treasures were hidden in the walls of Vilnius Cathedral during the Soviet Occupation, this is the place where you can do just that.
In addition to the museum, they have regular exhibitions, talks and conferences on various topics, a great way to get some education, especially if it’s raining outside!
Bernardine Garden (Bernardinų Sodas).
As you emerge from these historic and architectural attractions, spend some more time around this locale by visiting Bernardinų Sodas (Bernardine Garden, also marked as City Park on Google Maps) just a short couple of minutes walking distance.
As the title suggests, the park is behind St Bernardine Church which you've just visited, you can't miss it!
So join the locals in relaxing in this beautiful place, enjoy the sounds of river Vilnia as well as the beauty and smells of blooming flowers or autumnal hues.
As you are taking in the colours, smells and sounds of the park, remember you are still in the historic heart of the city, reaching back thousands of years where mythical hills, forests and holy pagan groves later gave rise to Vilnius as the centre for Lithuanian State.
Vilnius loves its green spaces, and Bernardine Garden is one of the most frequented parks in the city, enjoyed by the locals and visitors alike.
Restaurants and cafés in Bernardine Garden.
During the warm season, if you get hungry or thirsty while in the park, you can relax and enjoy some delicious treats in the park’s café.
I remember enjoying a balmy summer's afternoon here indulging in some mouth-watering desserts and sharing life's secrets with a close friend.
There’s also a small café right at the main entrance to the park, open all year round. This place serves some excellent coffee and is usually bustling with the younger crowd, especially students.
So when you are next in Vilnius, discover this Medieval Corner of the city and unwind in its historic gardens.
Visit Vilnius, enjoy your life!
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