Littera bookstore on the campus of Vilnius University is a one-stop shop for learning the university’s history through art.
An unusual bookstore on a historic campus
Established in 1579, Lithuania’s Vilnius University is among Europe’s oldest universities. It is also one of a very small number where the historic campus remains largely intact. This makes it a wonderful place to explore.
One obvious place to begin exploring the University is the campus bookstore, Littera. That’s not because you can get tourist information and trinkets at Littera (there are basically none, as this is a campus bookstore with popular literature in Lithuanian, scientific books, books authored by university faculty, and university souvenirs), but because it allows an immediate connection to the university’s past through its painted ceilings.
Littera bookstore itself is rather small. And dark wood and rows of books make it feel smaller still. It is cozy. Or rather, it would be cozy if not for the jumble of figures floating just overhead.
(Even if the bookstore were completely empty, you’d never be alone!)
Although the vaulted ceilings are not really very large, the frescoes that fill them expand the room outward, upward, and into the university’s storied past.
A celebration of Lithuanian history
Lithuanian artist Antanas Kmieliauskas created Littera’s sprawling frescoes in 1978 for the 400th anniversary of the founding of Vilnius University. His work was part of a larger project intended to use the university’s interior spaces – which were no longer in their original form – to reflect the school’s history. And, perhaps, to tweak their much-hated Soviet overlords.
In Littera, Kmieliauskas created scenes representing the university’s historic areas of study, which include astronomy, medicine, botany, music, and art. Each includes symbols of the discipline depicted, an allegorical figure, and what seem to be stylized representations of actual professors and students – all of which appear to be slowly drifting toward the top of the vaulted ceiling.
Kmieliauskas also “hung” portraits of famous university professors, alumni, and patrons along the bottom of the arches that support the ceiling.
It’s a lot to take in. But then, the university has been here for a very long time and has quite a story tell.
See the frescoes of Vilnius University for yourself
The frescoes Antanas Kmieliauskas created for Littera are just one of several projects created by various artists to celebrate the university’s 400th anniversary. Just next door and up the stairs, Aisciai Hall features “The Seasons” by Petras Repšys. (Although these are also frescoes, they are very different in style.) There are also two halls with frescoes included in the university library tour (advance registration required). Other areas with frescoes are not open to the public.
Frescoed Aisciai Hall at the University of Vilnius
Vilnius University’s historic campus is located in the old town area of Vilnius, Lithuania. The campus grounds and buildings are open to visitors on a limited basis. (A portion of the campus and a few buildings are open during certain hours.) There is a small charge to enter the grounds. There is an additional charge to take in the view from the campanile of St. John’s Church, which is only open between April and October. Tours of the historic library are also available for a small charge.
The University is a popular tourist destination in the heavily-touristed old town. Expect crowds whenever you visit, especially in small spaces like Littera. There are regular discussions of how to manage tourism in Littera, as it is a problem, so, while you are there, buy a book or university souvenir as a small thank you for keeping this space public.
- See the Vilnius University Museum and the Go Vilnius websites for information on visiting Vilnius University.
- Take a virtual tour of the university’s historic buildings using an interactive graphic of the Vilnius University Architectural Ensemble.
- Take a 360 tour of Littera at Kosto Šukevičiaus’ panorama page.