A frescoed history at Littera bookstore, Vilnius University

(Last Updated On: January 24, 2022)

Littera bookstore on the campus of Vilnius University is a one-stop shop for learning the university’s history through art.

Littera Vilnius University bookstore - Exploration Vacation

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 Vilnius University bookstore - Exploration Vacation

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.

Littera Vilnius University bookstore - Exploration Vacation

(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.

Littera Vilnius University bookstore - Exploration Vacation

Littera Vilnius University bookstore - Exploration Vacation

Kmieliauskas also “hung” portraits of famous university professors, alumni, and patrons along the bottom of the arches that support the ceiling.

Littera Vilnius University bookstore - Exploration Vacation

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.

Resources

2016 Baltic Travels 

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4 thoughts on “A frescoed history at Littera bookstore, Vilnius University”

  1. I’ve heard about this bookstore and I am planning to visit it when I go to Lithuania. It looks really beautiful. I did a lot of research about Vilnius as I was supposed to go there last summer. The plan fell through because I decided to go to Riga instead. Time was two short for both Latvia and Lithuania. Great pictures, like always.

  2. You’ll really enjoy Vilnius – lots of great architecture. We tried to do both Latvia and Lithuania and Latvia really got shortchanged; you made a good decision to focus on just one. But Lithuania is wonderful, we spent a bit of time in Vilnius, along the Curonian Spit, and places in between. We really enjoyed our time there and recommend it!

    1. It would be a wonderful place to read – when it isn’t filled with gawking tourists. (Although there were a few people in there reading and somehow ignoring all of us!) They do have a few English language books and some illustrated books, so you could find something to get lost in.

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