Liepāja is the third largest city in Latvia, one of the nine
cities of national importance in the country. It is the largest city
of Kurzeme, located on the western shore of Latvia between the
Baltic Sea and Lake Liepāja, which is connected to the sea by the
Trade Channel. Liepāja is an important cultural, educational,
industrial and port city with the third largest port in Latvia in
terms of the amount of cargo handled.
It was first mentioned in historical sources as the village of Līva (Latin: villa Liva, later also Lyva, Live) in 1253, while city rights were granted to it in 1625. The total area of Liepāja is 60.37 km², according to the data of 2019, the city had a population of 68,945.
Villa Liva (Liv or Līva village) in the coastal Curonian Spit was first mentioned in the treaty of April 4, 1253, concluded by the Bishop of Kurzeme Heinrich and the master of the Livonian Order. The name "Lyva" is mentioned in various historical sources until the 16th century. A year later, in 1263, the port of Līva was mentioned for the first time in historical sources. For several centuries after 1253, Līva was a large fishing village, the port of Grobiņa bogtiya.
In his remarks in 1413, the knight and diplomat traveling from Prussia to Riga, Gilbert de Lanuá, described the village of Līva as follows: So I came to a town called Līva (une ville nommée le Live), which is located by the Līva River, which divides Kurzeme from Samogitia, and is twelve miles from Klaipėda to Līva.
Liv was an important point on the way from the residence of the German Order in Marienburg to the seat of the Livonian Order Master in Riga, but trade in this port was still modest and in the 15th century was limited to exporting wood, meat, fish and butter to some northeastern German cities. As Līva was not fortified and was close to the militant Lithuanians - the ancient enemies of the Order - she could not wait and hope for a rapid influx of population. In 1418, during the Leis attack, the village of Līva was burned down.
During the Livonian War, the master of the order, Gotthard Kettler, pledged Grobina to the Duke of Prussia Albrecht in 1560. In less than 50 years, when the county was under Prussian rule, Liepāja or Libow experienced its first prosperity. Documents from the end of the 16th century show that there were 60 German families in Liepaja, so at the turn of the 16th - 17th centuries the population was 250-300, and it continued to grow. In 1581, the Prussian surveyor Vozegīns Liepāja, who called himself a town, surveyed and described it. Vezegīns mentioned 28 building plots. Liepāja returned to the Duchy of Kurzeme together with the whole Grobiņa region in 1609.
On March 18, 1625, the Duke of Courland Friedrich Kettler, while in Grobiņa Castle, granted Liepāja city rights and on March 20, an act approving its borders. In 1626, the legal document of the city of Liepaja was approved by King Sigismund III Vaasa of Poland. The time of Liepaja's economic prosperity was in the middle of the 17th century and the second half, when the port was built. In 1646 and 1661, the city was threatened by the plague, and the town council and merchants adopted the mayor's rules of procedure. During the Second Northern War (1655-1660), the city was weakened more by payments and less by damage. In November 1698, the city burned down in an unprecedented and powerful fire. During the Great Northern War (1700–1721), Liepāja became a regular stop and transit point and a place for collecting contributions necessary for war, after which it was hit by the Great Plague. After the elimination of the consequences of the plague epidemic and the completion of the construction works of the port (large ships could also enter the port of Liepaja), in the 1730s Liepāja entered a new stage of development.
In the 18th century, the Duchy of Courland, as a semi-independent state, began to take the favorable position of mediator between Poland, Lithuania, Prussia and Vidzeme. The volume of trade became wider and more diverse. If at the beginning of the 18th century, after the construction of the port, Liepāja was visited annually by about 100 ships, then in the period from 1739 to 1794, an average of more than 200 ships entered the port every year. Crafts played a significant role in the economic life of Liepāja. It grew with the city, initially serving only local needs, but by 1799 the city already had 33 jobs, including shipbuilding and barrel making for export.
On March 18, 1795, the Knights of Kurzeme demanded the secession of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in their manifesto, and on May 27, the Duchy of Kurzeme and Zemgale was incorporated into the Russian Empire as the province of Kurzeme.
Around 1795, the city had 456 residential houses, 453 other buildings, 848 families and a total of 4,548 inhabitants. During the 19th century, Liepāja became an industrially developed center. In 1823 D. F. Zagers founded the first printing house in Liepāja, in 1825 F. Hagedorns opened a savings bank in the city. From 1869 to 1876, the Liepāja-Romnu railway line was built, which connected Liepāja with Romniemi in the Poltava province. Direct railway connections with the internal market of the Russian Empire and improvement and expansion of the port of Liepaja 1870-1880. contributed to the growth of industry in the city. About 50% of the city's workers worked in the metalworking sector, the second largest group of Liepaja companies consisted of woodworking companies. In 1880, the statutes of the Liepāja Stock Exchange Committee were approved. In 1899, the traffic of Liepāja electric tram was started. In 1843, a naval school was founded, which was initially a private, but since 1876 a public naval school.
During the Baltic Russification, Liepaja was also subject to the
city regulations of the Russian Empire of 1870, which provided for
an elected city council and a city board, the number of members of
which was freely determined by the council. The position of the
chairman of the council and the board was combined by the mayor
elected by the council, whose term of office was four years.
In January 1878, from January 16 to February 13, the first council elections took place in Liepāja, in which out of 54 seats, the Baltic Germans won 44, the Jews seven, the Poles two and the Latvians one.
The head of the city of Liepaja from 1886 to 1902 was Hermanis Adolfi (1841–1924).
In the spring of 1899, the project for the construction of the Liepāja Sea Fortress was approved and during the next decade a war port was built, 8 shore batteries and land fortifications were installed. As an imperial city with a modern port, developed industry and access roads, Liepāja occupied an important place in the military strategic calculations of the General Staff of the Russian Imperial Army.
Industry and transit trade were the pillars of Liepāja's economic life at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1910, 7,810 workers were employed in 52 large industrial enterprises in Liepāja, which accounted for 8.4% of the total number of Latvian workers. Direct traffic to New York from 1906-1914. was maintained by the shipowner "Русско-американская линия, Russian American Line", which owned four ships, then nine, finally - 11. In 1907, 56.5 thousand sailed through Liepaja, but in 1913 - 70.1 thousand emigrants.
In 1914, Liepāja had a population of about 94,000, but counting together with Karosta - more than 100,000.
The First World War began on August 2, 1914 with the shooting of the port of Liepaja, but the troops of the German Empire occupied Liepaja in May 1915.
During the Latvian War of Independence, on January 7, 1919, the Provisional Government of Latvia, headed by K. Ulmanis, came to Liepāja, and until July 1919, Liepāja was the residence of the Latvian Government, and on February 27, it issued an order to supply landless land. On April 16, 1919, the April coup took place in Liepāja, as a result of which the Brimmer-Borkovskis cabinet, created by the coup, came to power, and on May 10, Andrieva Niedra's Provisional Government of Latvia. Until June 27, the legitimate Provisional Government moved to the steamer "Saratova", which stood in the port of Liepaja under English military protection.
On July 5, 1919, Liepāja was proclaimed the city of Lejaskurzeme region, A. Bērziņš, a member of the chairman of the Liepāja City Council, was appointed its head, and English Colonel-Lieutenant Rovan-Robinson was appointed governor of the war. On July 21, Andrejs Bērziņš, the head of Lejaskurzeme district, issued an order on the use of the Latvian language in advertisements and on signs. During the Bermontiad on September 27, 1919, the mobilization of the Latvian Armed Forces was announced in Liepāja and Aizpute districts. Parts of the Western Russian army fortified around Skrunda and Priekule, but from Jelgava an attack was launched in the direction of Tukums and Kandava. On October 30, the Liepāja railway workshops handed over the first armored train "Kalpaks" to the Liepāja garrison.
When the Bermont army attacked Liepāja on November 2, a state of siege was announced. The commander of the English squadron announced that he would militarily support the Liepaja garrison. On November 3, the 2nd Prussian Guards Regiment of the Western Russian Army, together with the Kuldiga Jaeger Regiment, cavalry squadron and artillery units, launched an attack on Liepaja and on November 4 reached the city fortifications. On the big island, the battles for the defense of Liepaja continued until November 14, but until November 27, the enemy was expelled from Lejaskurzeme across the Latvian-German border. On November 29, the siege status in Lejaskurzeme was lifted. After the appointment of Andrejs Bērziņš on February 5, 1920, Jānis Goldmanis became the head of Latgale district and the head of Lejaskurzeme district. The area was liquidated in August 1920. The Lower Kurzeme region was renamed the Kurzeme region.
After the end of the war, compared to 1913, the cargo turnover in the port of Liepaja had decreased more than 12 times, however, the economic and cultural life gradually recovered. Until 1930, the Danish shipowner "Baltic America Line" maintained regular traffic on the Liepāja-Danzig-Copenhagen-New York route with passenger ships Latvia, Polonia, Estonia and Lituania.
In 1920, the State Liepāja Technical School started operating, in
1921 the Liepāja Real Gymnasium became the Liepāja State Secondary
School, in 1926 the first art and craft school in Latvia was opened.
The Liepāja Opera was founded in 1922, and the Latvian Dramatic Theater has existed in the city since 1907. In 1922 the Liepāja Conservatory was founded, in 1927 - the Liepāja Philharmonic. Starting from 1928, all Kurzeme choirs gathered at the Lejaskurzeme Song Festival in Liepaja.
The Liepāja-Glūdas (Jelgava) railway line, opened in 1929, played an important role in stabilizing the city's economy. On September 22, 1931, the construction of warehouses in the Freeport of Liepaja began. According to the 1935 census of industrial and commercial enterprises, there were 267 enterprises with mechanized propulsion or at least 5 employees in Liepaja and 1576 enterprises without mechanical propulsion with at least 4 workers. On June 15, 1937, Liepāja was connected to Riga Spilve Airport by regular air traffic.
After the conclusion of the 1939 Pact of Mutual Assistance between Latvia and the USSR, about 15,000 Soviet soldiers were stationed in Liepaja. Already at the end of October 1939, the commander of the city of Liepaja announced that "traffic through Tosmari for private persons will be closed until further notice." On October 22, 1939, the Soviet Navy cruiser "Kirov" arrived in the port of Liepaja, which during the Winter War on December 1 attacked the Finnish coast guard battery on the island of Rusare from Liepaja, destroying the berth, barracks and lighthouse.
In 1940, an uncontrolled influx of USSR military personnel began in Liepaja, some of which are NKVD agents with the task of demolishing the existing equipment and preparing for the occupation of Latvia. During the deportation on June 14 and 15, 1941, about two thousand civilians were deported from the vicinity of Liepaja to Siberia and the remote Arctic regions of the Soviet Union. On June 23, 1941, the battle for Liepāja began, during which a large part of the city center buildings were destroyed.
At the end of World War II, in early October 1944, the Red Army reached the Baltic coast of Lithuania and trapped about 200,000 Wehrmacht soldiers and about half a million civilians, including refugees, in Kurzeme. In October, Liepāja was flooded with kilometers of refugees: people, carts, cars. The battles for the so-called Kurzeme fortress will continue for seven months. The city was systematically and brutally bombed. Only on May 9, 1945, at 2 pm, Soviet radio announced "Soviet Latvia Free".
After the war, the economic development of Liepaja was subordinated to a unified economic plan of the Soviet Union. In 1946, the Liepāja fishermen's artisan "Bolsheviks" was founded, but in 1964 the Liepaja base of the Ocean fishing fleet was established. In 1965, the construction of a new district began in the southwestern part of the city. In December 1974, the city's population exceeded 100,000.
In November 1987, the first action organized by the Helsinki-86 group took place at the Northern Cemetery, which was brutally dispersed.
During the August 1991 coup, an extraordinary meeting of the Liepāja City Council was held, calling on the population to show civil disobedience in the event of a military civilian committee seizing power. A strike began in Liepaja companies, tram and bus traffic was stopped, and the next day the strike was stopped. On August 23, LTF board members, militia and prosecutor's office employees took over the LCP property at 50 Graudu Street and dismantled the Lenin monument.
It was not until 31 August 1994 that the base of the Russian navy was liquidated. On February 18, 1997, the Saeima passed the Liepaja Special Economic Zone Law.
In July 1941, with the consolidation of the Nazi German occupation regime in Liepaja, the Germans began to introduce their "new order", which provided for the complete annihilation of the Jewish community. Already in the summer of 1941, the commander of Liepaja issued a special order to all Jews in Liepaja. It involved restricting freedom of movement, handing over household appliances to the German authorities, and wearing special insignia on clothing. The first massacres also began. Jews were killed in the Liepāja port area, in the territory of Rainis Park and in other places. The worst massacres took place on December 15-17, 1941, in the dunes of Šķēde, where the Nazis exterminated about 7,000 Jews. The surviving Jews were placed in the Liepāja ghetto, which was located in the city center in the quarter between Apšu, Kungu and Bāriņu streets. The ghetto was abolished in October 1943. The Jews there were transferred to the Mežaparks concentration camp.