History of Vilnius
Vilnius seems to be of prehistoric origin, the exact year of foundation is unknown. The settlement became inhabited by Slavs, and - from the 11th century - by Jews. Vilnius became a centre for trade between Europe and the Baltic nations and Russia. Vilnius was a member of the Hanseatic League, a loose political union of North German and Baltic cities.
In the years of the Polish-Lithuanian Union Vilnius was in constantly growth. The University of Vilnius was established in the 16th century and soon developed into the most notable cultural centre of the Union. In the 17th century Vilnius was burnt up in the wars between Russia and Poland, yet it recovered it's former size in the coming decades. By the 19th century Vilnius was one of the largest cities in Eastern Europe.
After the partitioning of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Vilnius was annexed by Russia and the city walls were destructed. Russian influence weakened after the Grand Revolution, and Vilnius became a centre of national rebirth.
Although Lithuania retained independence after the First World War, the belonging of Vilnius was debated by Poland in a war between Pole and Lithuanian forces. After only four years of democratic governments an authoritarian regime took control of the country in a military coup. In the years of the Second World War Lithuania became a battlefield of the German and Soviet forces, until the victory of the latter. After the Second World War Lithuania became a part of the Soviet Union, under communist regime.
Lithuania became independent from the collapsing USSR in 1991, the Soviet Troops left the country in 1994. The democratic government denationalized the state property, liberated the market and successfully reoriented the country to the Western states. Lithuania has been a member of the European Union and the NATO since 2004.