The world’s first city museum was established in Paris in 1866, but the trend for city museums swept through the West in the early 20th century. The idea for a museum devoted to Vilnius was not unusual, its origins date back to Imperial Russian times. The first known mention of a museum about the city dates from 1912. However, steps to develop the idea only began in the interwar period.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, a group of intellectuals, academics and lovers of the city, in what was then Polish Vilnius, decided to set up a city museum. Their dream very nearly became a reality: newspapers informed readers in 1929, 1930 and 1933 that the city intended to allocate 10,000 zloty for a museum. Various sites were considered, from the Town Hall and the Sluszko Palace, to part of the Franciscan friary on Trakų Street that was being used as an archive at the time.
The very beginning of the Vilnius Museum can be narrowed down to 15 March 1933. On that day, the question of founding a museum was discussed in the office of Wiktor Maleszewski, the president (mayor) of the city. The meeting was attended by Jan Bułhak, the chairman of the Vilnius Appreciation Society, Michał Brensztejn, a curator with the Museum of the Lovers of Science, Stanisław Lorentz, a conservationist of the voivodeship, and several others.
The limited available resources meant that the vision of these enthusiasts could not be approved at the time. However, several years later, in 1939, the city acquired a building for the Museum on what is now Konstantino Sirvydo Street. As the Museum was becoming a definite reality, residents started offering it various artefacts.
This is the beginning of the Museum’s collection, which includes various items relating to the capital’s history. However, with the outbreak of the Second World War, it never had the chance to open to the public. The idea of the Museum has constantly come up and disappeared again, so almost a hundred years have passed since the first attempts to found an institution about this constantly changing city for it to become a reality.
The principles of the Museum are based on the ‘Vilnius City Museum and Research Centre’ feasibility study, carried out in 2018 by a team of researchers that included the art historian and cultural manager Dr Rasa Antanavičiūtė, the architectural historian Dr Marija Drėmaitė, and the historian Dr Karolis Kučiauskas.
The opening of the Vilnius Museum was spurred on by the approach of a significant date: in 2023, Vilnius will celebrate the 700th anniversary of its first mention in written records.
At last, Vilnius has a museum of its own. This opens a new page in the story of the city’s museum.