Examining photographs of the Jewish cemetery in the city once known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania, Sid Leiman explains the historical context and discusses the great rabbinic figures buried there:
[T]he old Jewish cemetery was the first established in Vilna [modern-day Vilnius]. According to local Jewish tradition, it was founded in 1487. Modern scholars, based on extant documentary evidence, date the founding of the cemetery to 1593, but admit that an earlier date for its founding cannot be ruled out. The cemetery, still standing today (but denuded of its tombstones), lies just north of the center of the city of Vilna, across the Neris (formerly: Vilia) River, in the section of Vilna called Šnipiškes (Yiddish: Shnipishok). It is across the river from, and just opposite, one of Vilna’s most significant landmarks, Castle Hill with its Gediminas Tower.
The cemetery . . . was in use from the year it was founded until 1831, when it was officially closed by the municipal authorities. Although burials no longer were possible in the old Jewish cemetery, it became a pilgrimage site, and thousands of Jews visited annually the graves of the many righteous heroes and rabbis buried there, especially the graves of the “Righteous Convert” (Avraham ben Avraham, a/k/a Count Potocki, d. 1749), the Gaon of Vilna (Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman Kramer, 1720-1797), and Avraham Danziger (author of the halakhic compendium Ḥayyey Adam, d. 1820). Such visits still took place even after World War II.