Vilnius is the capital city of Lithuania; it has a population of 542,287 (2001). It is located in the south-east of the country, on the River Vilnia. The Old Town of Vilnius is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Vilnius was the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, became part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and then part of the Russian Empire in 1795. Lithuania regained its independence in 1918, but Vilnius was occupied by Russian Bolshevik forces and in 1920 was seized by Poland and formally annexed to Poland in 1922. The city of Kaunas in central Lithuania became the interim capital of the new state. In 1939 the Soviet Union restored Vilnius to Lithuania but at the same time extorted the right to establish military bases in the country; and in June 1940 Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union. Vilnius became capital of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic within the USSR. In 1990 the Lithuanian SSR declared its independence and this was recognised by the disintegrating Soviet Union in 1991, after an abortive attempt to crush the independence movement.