Photo by Džoja Gunda Barysaitė
The years of the history of the Palace can be counted since the issuance of the edict by Grand Duke Jogaila on 17 February 1387.
After Lithuania converted to Christianity in 1387, Grand Duke Jogaila founded the Vilnius Diocese and donated to it a plot of land next to " Goshtautas' park on the edge of the city of Vilnius". It indicates that the land of the Bishop must have been included into the territory of the present Palace complex. The first Bishop of Vilnius, Andrius Vasila (1388-1398), built a palace that was decorated, rebuilt and expanded by its successive hosts. Documents on the Bishop Palace testify that in 1536-1555, during the days of Bishop Paulius Olshenishkis who was one of the most wealthy bishops, the Palace was the next most impressive edifice after the Royal Castle. In the 16th century, the Palace was surrounded by a huge park which surpassed even the renown in Central Europe parks of the Radziwills in plants and equipment.
The last to live in the Palace was Bishop Masalskis (1730-1762). Upon his order the Palace complex was partially reconstructed by the Lithuanian architect Stuoka-Gucevichius.
In the 17th-18th centuries, the Palace suffered from wars and disturbances. Fires of 1737 and 1748 added to its destruction - the archives of the bishop which included documents on the property of the bishop and his jurisdiction in Vilnius perished in the fire of 14 June 1748.
After Lithuania was included into the Russian empire at the end of the 18th century, the Bishop Palace became a temporary residence of the Russian Tsar and noblemen. The splendour of the Palace was enjoyed by Tsar Pavel I in 1796, Stanislav August Poniatowski in 1797, and future King of France Louis XVIII in 1804.
In the 19th century, the Palace became the official residence of the Russian Governor-Generals. Governor-General Muravyov who earned the notorious name of "Gallows" in Lithuania, as well as twice Governor-General of Lithuania, in 1800-1801 and 1809-1811, General Kutuzov lived and worked in the Palace. General Kutuzov visited Vilnius third time to attend the celebrations of the victory over Napoleon at the end of 1812. The highest military award of Russia - the Order of St. George, First Class, was conferred on him in the Palace.
In 1812, Russian Tsar Alexander and French Emperor Napoleon (28 June - 16 July ) lived in the Palace. An early 19th century etching depicts Tsar Alexander I at the celebrations of the victory in Russian - French War in the Palace in 1812.
In 1824-1834, the Palace was reconstructed to the design of the renowned architect Vassily Stasov of the Tsar Court in St. Petersburg and acquired the present-day shape.
In 1920, before the loss? of Vilnius district, the Palace housed the Foreign Ministry of the Republic of Lithuania and ELTA news agency. Later, during the period between the two World Wars, it again became the venue of solemn events. Marshal Jozef Pilsudski also lived in the Palace.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, the Palace was turned into the Officers' House of the Soviet Army; the White Hall of the Palace was used for dancing balls. In the '60s, it received new hosts and became the Artists' Palace. In 1991, after the re-establishment of the independence of Lithuania, part of the building housed the Embassy of France.
In the autumn of 1995, archaeological excavation was started on the territory of Palace and 1 500 sq. metres were unearthed. A number of artefacts dating from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries were discovered. The earliest archaeological finds discovered in the courtyard of the Palace date from the Bronze Age and the early Iron Age.
In adapting the Palace to the needs of the Seat of the President of the Republic of Lithuania, two major concepts of decor were followed. Premises wherein the decoration has survived or written knowledge on it was available (e.g. polychrome decoration) were restored following the authentic design. No decoration survived in the premises on the ground floor, therefore, a decision was made to furnish and equip it in contemporary style, but make use of materials typical of Classicism (e.g. mahogany) emphasising the function of the premises. Restoration of the decoration of the main ceremonial halls was based on its descriptions in historical documents and on the material of research. Decoration of the first floor premises in the western flank was designed anew since it was totally destroyed during previous reconstructions. However, historical data on the furnishing of the Palace in the 19th century was available and was resorted to while furnishing the Palace with the authentic late Classicism pieces of furniture and their copies manufactured by the masters of Lithuania and St. Petersburg.