About Liepaja - History


Liepāja is located in the Kurzeme administrative region. In ancient times this was the territory of two tribes – Livs and Curonians. Liepāja has developed from small fishermen villages located near the Līva River. On 4 April 1253 this place was first mentioned in documents, according to which this territory was divided between the Livonian Order and the Bishop of Courland.

In 1560, when the Livonian Order was already falling apart, Liepāja with its surrounding territories was loaned to Prussia as part of a marriage contract with Hohenzollerns. On 18 March 1625 Friedrich Kettler, Duke of Courland signed the document granting Liepāja its city rights. Due to the fact that the Līva River was often choking with sand, dredging works on a canal connecting the Baltic Sea and Liepāja Lake were conducted around 1697. The city grew with the development of a port.

In 1795 Courland (today – Kurzeme) became a province of the Russian Empire and the Port of Liepāja was used for exports of grain, wood, linen, wool, oil and other products. The peak of city’s development started with the construction of Liepāja – Romni (today in Ukraine) railway line. A Transatlantic ferry line Liepaja – New York – Halifax was opened in 1906. This progress also fostered the development of local industry – many companies including the predecessor of today’s “Liepājas Metalurgs” were opened at that time. In 1914 the population of Liepāja was approximately 110 000 people.

The Russian Tsar Nikolay II believed that Liepāja is a perfect place for a fortress. From 1899 to 1909 a military port and 8 km of land forts were constructed. Although this fortress was never used, the military town built around it with the Officer’s Palace, St Nicholas Orthodox Sea Cathedral, and the Riding Manege that were later used by the Soviet Army, are great historical monuments and popular tourist destinations.

During the World War I Liepāja was occupied by the German army. After the war, when an independent Latvian state was founded, Liepāja for a time became its capital when the interim government of Latvia fled from Rīga on the “Samara” ship, and returned to today’s capital – Riga – only after half a year. The World War II caused severe damage to the city – many buildings were destroyed by bombings.

During the Soviet period Liepāja’s economy received a boost with the construction of large plants and import of labor force from other Soviet republics. One third of the city was a Soviet naval base with 26 000 people of military personnel. Thus Liepāja became a closed city and even local people had to have a special permit to enter it.

After Latvia regained its independence, Liepāja has worked hard to transform from a military city into a modern port city that could be marked on the European map. The commercial port was re-opened in 1991. In 1994 the last of Russian Federation’s troops left Liepāja.

Since then Liepāja has engaged in international co-operation, has found 11 twin and partner cities and is an active partner in several co-operation networks. In 1997 the Liepāja Special Economic Zone providing low tax environment was established for 20 years in order to attract foreign investments and facilitate economic development of Liepāja.

What we do today, will be our legacy for next generations. Come and set your mark in the history of Liepāja!