True Lithuania

Senamiestis (Old Town) Borough of Klaipėda

Klaipėda Old Town is newer than those of Vilnius and Kaunas as it was largely consumed by the great fire of 1854. What you see now was rebuilt afterwards on a grid layout of narrow streets. The widest among them, Turgaus (Market) and Tiltų (Bridges), are also the most interesting to stroll.

One of the main streets in Klaipėda Old Town. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Under the Soviet rule, all the imposing Old Town churches were torn down. Many of these elaborate buildings have been replaced by new plain structures, whereas in place of the largest among them, Saint John‘s, there is now an empty lawn. The historical perimeter of Saint John‘s is marked by bushes (between Turgaus, Tomo, Mažoji Vandens and Pylimo streets).

Devoid of impressive spires Klaipėda Old Town has no architecturally dominant buildings and is instead a collection of 19th and early 20th-century residentials with an occasional Soviet building or, even more likely, an empty lot (yet another scar of the WW2 and post-war destruction). It is well worth to find yourself pre-WW2 pictures of Klaipėda and look at them during your tour of the Old Town. Some are available on fences in public places, while the Lithuania Minor (Mažosios Lietuvos) museum in Didžioji street has an extensive diorama of Klaipėda as it once looked. The city is still the same but hurt heavily.

Narrow straight streets such as this one dominate the northern part of the Old Town. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Northern Old Town

Teatro square is the main one. Richard Wagner lived and performed here in his early career (1836) while a century later (1939) Adolf Hitler used the theater balcony for a speech days after his troops entered Klaipėda. In the center of the square stands the Anne of Tharau (Taravos Anikė), a small statue dedicated to a character of German 17th-century poet Simon Dach. Like much else of what reminded Germany it was destroyed by the Soviets (but rebuilt after Lithuania regained independence in 1990).

The Drama theatre of Klaipėda (est. 1803, current building 1857) in Teatro square with Anne of Tharau statue. The fence in front of the theater is covered by images of Klaipėda that no longer exists, crowned by tall church spires. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

On the coast of the Curonian lagoon (beyond the Pilies thoroughfare) there stand the remains of Klaipėda (Memel) castle of Teutonic knights, established in the 1250s. The ruins are not that impressive and tampered by Soviets but the museum inside them is modern albeit small.

In the former castle moat prestigious yachts are moored today. These small ships exit to Danė river by passing through a 19th-century manually powered pedestrian swing bridge. 15 minutes of every hour are reserved to passing ships and 45 to the people, meaning that the iconic sight of two dockworkers pushing the bridge is a common one.

The cruise ship terminal at the western end of Danė south bank is a popular stop for Baltic cruises and a location for various ship-based events. This river bank also has several old red brick port warehouses. Next to them there are new buildings with matching exterior volumes but a very different architectural design (either modern brick or glass facades). They are best visible from the New Town (northern) bank of Danė. Further east, the „Meridianas“ barquentine is moored (one of the symbols of Klaipėda). It was constructed in Finland as part of reparations after this country surrendered to the Soviet Union in World War 2.

Old port warehouses on the southern bank of Danė. Two old buildings, one of them housing bar Mėmelis, were recently joined by modern additions with similar volumes. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Southern Old Town and the immediate surroundings

The southern part of the downtown has another large square: Turgaus (Market). Surrounded by nice buildings on the north side this square is still in its original use with market pavilions. You may buy fruits and vegetables here.

Turgaus Square is effectively the southern limit of the Old Town. Further south the former Southern suburb of Baltikalnė still has some of the pre-WW2 feel in its old single or double floored dwellings albeit these are now intermixed with Soviet apartment blocks. Interestingly one of the area's most iconic buildings is post-1940 and even more uniquely it is a church (Our Lady of Peace). This brown building with a slim tower has been constructed in 1960 using people's donations and volunteer work (they managed to collect 1 million roubles in the years of economic hardships and state atheism). The Soviet government initially permitted the works, but this turned out to have been a ploy. Once the building was completed it was nationalized and its builders arrested. The tower was demolished and a concert hall established in the naves. Only in the year 1988 the building was returned to its intended use. The rebuilt tower may be seen as a monument to the enthusiastic builders of the church.

Baltikalnė: Our Lady of Peace church (left) and old houses at Tilžės street (right). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Map of the Klaipėda Old Town. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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