Vilnius University one of the oldest and most famous establishments of higher education in Eastern and Central Europe, was founded in 1579. Functioning for a long time as the only school of higher learning in Lithuania, it was a preserver of cultural and scientific traditions, and has played a significant part in the cultural life not only of Lithuania, but the neighbouring countries as well. During more than four centuries of its existence, the University of Vilnius has seen periods of growth and decline, revival, and closure.
In 1579 , King Stephen Bathory's charter transformed the Jesuit college, founded in 1570, into an establishment of higher education, Academia et Universitas Vilnensis Societatis Jesu, the transformation being confirmed by Pope Gregory XIII. Although being away from other European cultural centres, the University equalled other famous European Universities and had outstanding professors and students, to name but a few: the poet Mathias Casimir Sarbievius, the famous professor of rhetoric and philosophy Žygimantas Liauksminas, the author of the first history of Lithuania Albertas Vijūkas-Kojelavičius, professor Martin Smiglecki, whose book Logics was very popular in the United Kingdom and France, and many others. The first book in the Lithuanian language on the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was published at the University. In 1753, the Astronomical Observatory was set up.
In 1773, the Jesuit Order was dissolved in Europe, and the University was taken over by the secular authority. After Lithuania was annexed by Russia, the University was renamed into Vilnius Principal School. In 1803, the University received a new statute and the title of the Imperial University of Vilnius. Many famous names were associated with the University at that period: the famous medical men from Vienna Johann Peter Frank and his son Joseph Frank, the historian and public figure Joachim Lelewel, the poets Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Slowacki, historian Simonas Daukantas, et al. As a number of students and professors became engaged in the anti–tsarist movement, the University was closed down in 1832 according to the order of Tsar Nicholas I.
Vilnius University was not reopened until 1919. Vilnius and its region were then annexed by Poland, and the University functioned under the Polish auspices until 1939 by the name of Stephen Bathory University. Among students of the University at that time was the future Nobel prize-winner Czeslaw Milosz.
In 1939, the University was brought back under the control of Lithuania, but in 1940 after the Soviet occupation it was reorganized according to the Soviet model. In 1943, the University was closed down by the Nazis, and resumed its activities in the autumn of 1944. Though restrained by the Soviet system, Vilnius University grew and gained force. It started to free itself from the Soviet ideology in 1988 even before Lithuania regained independence in 1990. The University got back its autonomy and adopted its own statute.
Currently, Vilnius University has over 22,000 students and over 2,300 teaching and research staff. The university has 14 faculties, five institutes, 3 university hospitals and 4 study and research centres. It has one of the richest libraries in Europe, an Astronomical Observatory, a Botanical Garden and the Church of St. Johns’. Vilnius University has taken upon itself the responsibility for maintaining the highest level of research and studies, fulfilling the needs of the state and society for higher education.
Vilnius University is one of the few universities in Europe which has preserved the original purpose of the buildings since its establishment in the 16th century. It was not by accident that the old campus of Vilnius University, one of the oldest in Eastern and Central Europe, was selected to represent Lithuania in the Brussels Park “Mini Europe” as the most valuable architectural and historical object in Lithuania.
More information: http://www.vu.lt/en