True Lithuania

Liepaja, Latvia

Liepaja (pop. 85 000) is a Latvian seaport 100 kilometers north of Klaipėda, 70 kilometers north of Palanga. No customs means that it can easily be visited as a day trip.

The city has been a major port for many centuries. Once the navy of the Duchy of Courland was stationed there, one-third in size of the legendary Spanish armada. Courland was the smallest European country to partake in the colonization of the Americas and the Tobago street beside the sea reminds that the Tobago island in the Carribean was once known as New Courland.

Trinity Cathedral in Liepaja (1758). ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

What is visible now, however, is mainly from the 19th century when the city was a major naval hub of the Russian Empire. It had a direct passenger route to New York.

Liepaja is essentially formed of three parts, separated by canals. The southern part is the oldest one. Large churches of various denominations there tower above old apartment buildings. The Holy Trinity Cathedral is famous for having a large mechanical organ, while St. Annes has a great baroque altar (unfortunately, the churches are usually closed). The area also has multiple pedestrianized streets and old marketplaces. The typical homes there are two floored wooden residentials and impressive art nouveau edifices.

West side of southern Liepaja is limited by a massive Beach and an adjoining park. The nearby streets have been lined with lovely villas of the pre-WW1 era rich (many of them wooden and, unfortunately, but atmospherically, a large number seemingly abandoned). One such villa has been transformed into Liepaja museum.

Wooden villas closer to the sea. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The central part of Liepaja is called the "New Liepaja" and it has been constructed in the 19th century. Alongside the canal that separates it from the Old Town old port warehouses stand and a new esplanade has been built (on the Old Town side). The New Liepaja is architecturally interesting but has quite little to do. As the location of bus and train stations, however, it is an introduction of Liepaja most travelers pass through.

The final northernmost part of Liepaja is probably the most unique and eerie. This is the Karosta (Military port), a former major Russian Imperial naval base (actually, an entire military city with 30 000 inhabitants). Its red brick elaborate late 19th century barracks now stand abandoned amidst forests. Just like many of the later Soviet apartments built for Soviet soldiers. On the other hand, the Russian Orthodox Naval Cathedral stands in full splendor. The area's history may be explored in a unique attraction the authentic Karosta prison, which one can either visit as a museum or even spend a night there. A walk on expansive 2 km long breakwater into the sea is also rewarding. Other interesting buildings are the water tower, pigeon mail station, and the ruined festival edifice.

Karosta prison. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In the 19th century, many Lithuanians lived in Liepaja, forming 20% of the population in the year 1910. After the independence of both Latvia and Lithuania (1918), many returned and Liepaja gymnasium was the alma mater for many famous Lithuania people of the time. Liepaja did not grow in population after the World War 1, therefore, the pre-war era is still well visible in its buildings.

There are buses to Liepaja from Klaipėda and Palanga.

Read more: Full Liepaja travel guide at Onlatvia website

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