About The Gate of Dawn
The Gate of Dawn, translated as Aušros Vartai, was originally one of 9 city gates that guarded the city of Vilnius in Lithuania as part of its 16th century city wall. Today, the Gate of Dawn is the only surviving city gate – the other eight having been destroyed by the Russians in the 18th century – and is one of the city’s most important cultural monuments.
Like many such gates the Gate of Dawn houses a chapel, however, it is the icon of The Blessed Virgin Mary housed in the chapel of this particular gate which makes it unique.
Known by some as the Vilnius Madonna, this painting is revered by members of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic faiths, many believing it was the chapel of the Gate of Dawn that spared it from destruction.
The Gate of Dawn history
The Gate of Dawn was built between 1503 and 1522 as part of Vilnius’ defensive fortifications. The gate was the city’s tallest, and was located at the weakest point in the fortifications to ward off attack.
In 1799, the Russians destroyed much of the Vilnius wall including all of its gates but one – the Gate of Dawn. Locals believed the Russians spared the gate as the house of the blessed painting of the Virgin Mary. There is no clear history of when the painting appeared in Vilnius, although research in 1927 found it to be of 16th century Italian origins.
The gate’s appearance and name changed many times over the centuries: first known as the Medininkai Gate, later the Sharp Gate. Its current name likely stems from the painting, as Mary is figuratively linked to dawn.
The Gate of Dawn today
Today, the late classical-style gate continues to stand at the entrance to the Old Town, guarding the precious painting inside. The chapel, directly above the gate’s arch, similarly continues to operate as a place of worship, with 8 annual feast days held there, as well as group prayers for the city, Mass and confession.
You can climb the staircase to the chapel (please bear in mind photography is not allowed during services) before wandering through the church at the bottom afterwards. Walking through the Gate of Dawn is undoubtedly a great place to start any trip of historic Vilnius.
Getting to The Gate of Dawn
You can reach the Gate of Dawn on one of the city’s hop-on-hop-off buses, otherwise, buses 11, 13, 31, 34 and 74 all stop at Aušros vartai in front of the gate. From Vilnius Train Station, which links to all major railways in Lithuania, the Gate of Dawn is only a 10 minute walk.
As the largest of the three Baltic states, Lithuania has experienced a changeable history under the rule of a variety of political and cultural systems. Here's a selection of 10 of the best sites you shouldn't miss.