The Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania is a palace in Vilnius, Lithuania. It was originally constructed in the 15th century for the rulers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the future Kings of Poland. The palace, located in the lower castle of Vilnius, evolved over the years and prospered during the 16th and mid-17th centuries. For four centuries the palace was the political, administrative and cultural centre of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. It was demolished in 1801. Work on a new palace started in 2002 on the site of the original building and it is still ongoing
In the 13th and 14th centuries there were stone structures within the palace site; some archaeologists believe that a wooden palace stood there as well. The stone palace was built in the 15th century, apparently after a major fire in 1419. The existing stone buildings and defensive structures of the lower castle, which blocked the construction, were demolished. The palace was built in Gothic style. The keep of the upper castle, as well as the palace, were meant to host the coronation of Vytautas the Great. The Gothic palace had three wings; research suggests that it was a two-story building with a basement.
Grand Duke Alexander Jagiellon, who later became King of Poland, moved his residence to the palace, where he met with ambassadors. He ordered the renovation of it. After his marriage to a daughter of Moscow's Grand Duke Ivan III, the royal couple lived and died in there.
Sigismund I the Old, after his ascension to the grand ducal throne, conducted his affairs in the palace as well as in Vilnius Cathedral. During the rule of Sigismund I the palace was greatly expanded to meet the new needs of the grand duke. Another wing was added, as well as a third floor, and the gardens were extended. By contemporary accounts the palace was worth 100,000 ducats. The palace reconstruction plan was probably prepared by the Italian architect Bartolomeo Berrecci da Pontassieve, who also designed several other projects in the Kingdom of Poland. In this palace Sigismund the Old welcomed an emissary from the Holy Roman Empire, who introduced Sigismund to Bona Sforza, his second wife, in 1517.
Sigismund's son Sigismund II Augustus was crowned Grand Duke of Lithuania in the palace. Sigismund II carried on with the development work and lived there with his first wife Elisabeth of Austria, daughter of Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor. She was laid to rest in Vilnius Cathedral. Sigismund II's second wife, Barbara Radziwiłł, also lived in the palace. According to contemporary accounts of the Holy See's emissary, the palace at that time contained more treasures than the Vatican. Sigismund II also assembled one of the largest collection of books and tapestries in Europe.
The palace was remodelled in the Renaissance style in the 16th century. The plan was prepared by several Italian architects, including Giovanni Cini da Siena, Bernardino de Gianotis Zanobi, and others. The palace was visited by Ippolito Aldobrandini, who later became Pope Clement VIII. Another major development took place during the reign of the House of Vasa. The palace was refurbished in the early Baroquestyle during the rule of Sigismund III Vasa. Matteo Castello, Giacopo Tencalla, and other artists participated in the 17th-century renovation.
During the Vasa rule, several notable ceremonies took place, including the wedding of Duke John, who later became King John III of Sweden, and Sigismund Augustus' sister Catherine. The first opera in Lithuania was staged in the palace in 1634. Marco Scacchi and Virgilio Puccitelli were the opera's impresarios.
After the Russian invasion in 1655, the state began to weaken, and that also affected the castle. In August 1655, Vilnius was captured by the Muscovite army. The Polish army recaptured the city six years later, by which time the palace had been destroyed by fire. The palace was greatly damaged and its treasures were plundered. After the recapture of the city of Vilnius in 1660–1661, the palace was no longer a suitable state residence, and stood abandoned for about 150 years. In the late 18th century, after the fall of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, several families lived in parts of the ruined palace. Soon after the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was incorporated into Tsarist Russia, officials ordered the demolition of the remaining sections of the palace. The structure was almost completely demolished in 1801, the bricks and stones were sold, and the site was bowered.
Only a small portion of the walls up to the second floor in the eastern wing survived, that were sold to the Jewish merchant Abraham Schlossberg around 1800, who incorporated them into his house. After the November uprising of 1831, the czarist administration expelled Schlossberg and took over the building. As Vilnius fortress was established, the building became part of the fortress, which by itself was surrounded by the ditch. The Schlossberg's house in 1840 is named as barracks (Polish: Koszary). By the end of 19th century the fortress' ditch on former palace's site was covered with soil and turned into the city's park.
After Lithuania regained its independence following World War I in 1918, the Schlossberg's house became the headquarters of the army. It soon was captured by Polish troops following the Polish annexation of Vilnius. During World War II, it was the office of the German Wehrmacht, and after World War II it was used by Soviet security structures and later transformed into a Pioneers Palace. Pioneers' organisation vacated the building by the 1987 and archeological excavations started on the site as Schlossberg's house was proposed for the People's Friendship Museum.
After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, Lithuania became independent again. In 1994 archeological excavations were put on hold due to lack of funding. In 1994 Lithuanian Institute of History established Castles' Investigation Group that supervised archeological excavations. Schlossberg's house was used as Group's headquarters and housed collection of archaeological material found on the site.
By the end of 1980s archeological excavations covered more and more territory, exposure of excavated basements to environmental factors (e. g. weather) led to decay of the materials (in particular, wooden structures and bricks). To solve this problem, it was decided in 1988 to erect temporary buildings – greenhouses (also as known as "hangars" due to their brownish colour and shape of these buildings). By early 1990s three options of palace site's future were circulating in the public. The first option was about covering excavated basements of the palace with soil, but it was deemed not economical option. Second option was about erecting purpose-built building on palace's site to conserve the ruins, but opponents to this option noted possible visual pollution to the Vilnius Old Town (as it was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994). Third option was about constructing building similar to the original building. Latter option received most attention from politicians and lobbied by President of Lithuania Algirdas Brazauskas. In 1993 architectural design competition was held and out of seven projects, Rimas Grigas design won the competition.
By the half of 1990s, function of the palace in the future was raised. Initially, palace was proposed as future Presidential Palace, but Artists' Palace had been used for that function instead. By the end of the decade, Kazys Napoleonas Kitkauskas suggested to use palace as the National Gallery of Art (former Museum of Revolution has been instead since 2009). In 1999 Lithuanian Art Museum stated that palace's building will be used as residential palace museum.
As part of a programme of nation-building, the Seimas in 2000 passed legislation to reconstruct the palace. The ground was broken in summer of 2002 on the southern part of the site of the original building. By year 2002–2004 and 2005–2006 the palace's project was changed mainly due to archeological findings found on the site and discussions about Schlossberg's house architectural value. Fragments of Schlossberg's house became part of the eastern wing of the restored palace. The building (and museum that was planned to own the building) was partially opened during the celebration of the millennium of the name of Lithuania in summer of 2009, although it was not yet fully completed due to the lack of funding. By the end of July 2009, construction work resumed and the building again became unaccessible for the public.
Several historians who were against the reconstruction provided many arguments for why the reconstruction of the palace was unnecessary. It was argued that the newly built palace would destroy the urban landscape formed over the last 300 years. Vilnius Cathedral would be overshadowed by the palace, and the Gediminas' Tower would not be visible from the side of the cathedral. Also, it was noted that materials and technologies unknown at the time of original construction (e. g. reinforced concrete) have been used. Also, the reconstruction was financed by the state, while many authentic historic buildings are in critical condition.
On 6 July 2013, the part of the palace known as Bloc A was officially opened to the public, 760 years after the coronation of Mindaugas. Since 2014 the part of the palace known as Bloc B is under construction.