Vilnius is not only the largest town of Lithuania but it is the capital of the republic too. It is situated by the confluence of the rivers Neris and Vilnia in a strictly cut and hilly place. The Neris divides the town into two parts. It is thought that the name of Vilnius is derived from the Vilnia stream that flows into the Neris. The founder of Vilnius is considered to be the Grand Duke of Lithuania Gediminas. The name of Vilnius was mentioned in the written chronicles for the first time in Gediminas' letter to the towns of Western Europe in 1323.
The Vilnius settlement started from the contemporary hill of the castle - a 48 metres high rectangle hill by the confluence of the rivers Neris and Vilnia. It is a very old mound of Lithuanian-Baltic tribes which had lived in the 1st thousand years. Before moving the capital from Trakai to Vilnius a wooden castle stood on that hill and quite a big settlement was situated at the foot of it. In the written chronicles of that time the castle was called the Upper castle. It is one of the architectural monuments of Gothic style in Lithuania.
The two legends are spread about the foundation of Vilnius. In one of them it is told that in the valley of confluence of the Neris and Vilnia there rustled very old woods. Once the duke Gediminas came from his Trakai capital for hunting there. As it was growing darker, he decided that it was too late to come back to Trakai and stayed there for night. In the midnight Gediminas saw a serene dream. While walking through a huge wood on the coast of the Neris he reached a high hill. A very big wolf appeared on the hill and howled in a very strong voice. The duke tried to shoot come arrows at the wolf but all the arrows bounced off his iron sides. The animal howled so strongly that it seemed that hundreds of wolves howled together.
His voice echoed through the forests and fields. Having got frightened the duke asked to call the main prophet in order to explain his extraordinary dream. Having listened to the Duke's story, the prophet told the Duke to build a powerful castle on this hill and it should be inseparable like this iron wolf. A large town would develop by this castle. The strong howl of the wolf means a wide popularity and fame in the whole world. The next day the Duke started to found a new town. At first they built a castle which was named the Upper castle.
The second legend tells while laying the foundation the prophets demanded to sacrifice the brightest young man. Only then the town would become famous and unconquerable. The young man who was chosen for this deed stood up at the bottom of the foundation pit said he agreed to lie down under the foundation of the castle in the case the prophets guessed three riddles. What was the sweetest in the world? What was the easiest in the world and what was the hardest? The prophets without any doubt decided that the sweetest was honey, the easiest was a dawn, the hardest thing was the foundation stone. The young man did not agree and explained that the sweetest thing was mother's milk for a baby, the easiest thing was a baby on mother's hands and the hardest thing was mother's sacrificying her only son's heart. They were taken aback by the young woman's wisdom told him to get out of the foundation pit.
But the prophets did not give up. In order to make the castle very strong and unconguerable it was decided to sacrifice the brightest and the most beautiful Lithuanian. Soon such a virgin was found and she agreed to be offered only she asked to pick up a bunch of nicest meadow flowers. As soon as she stepped into the pit a large corner-stone was rolled. How surprised all were to see the girl standing quite safe and fit. Only the stone beat the bunch off her hands.
The hill of the castle on which the castle stands is situated on the junction of the rivers Vilnelė and Neris. The Upper castle is an example of Lithuanian Gothics. Nowadays there is only one tower remaining.