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About Latvia » Jelgava


Some facts: Jelgava is a town in central Latvia about 41 km southwest of Riga with 66,087 inhabitants. Jelgava is often remembered as the former capital of the Duchy of Courland, and was the capital of the Courland region until 1919. Jelgava is situated on the right bank of the river Lielupe.
History: The Livonian settlement Jelgava began development between the rivers Lielupe and Driksa during the 10th century. Led by the Grand Master Konrad von Mander, the crusading Livonian Order constructed the castle Mitau atop a native island fortification (Pilssala) in 1265-1266. Using Mitau as a southern fortress, the German knights subdued the surrounding Livonians and Semigallians by 1290. The town rose in importance as a defensive fixture against the Lithuanians to the south, who succeeded in plundering Jelgava in 1345. As a result of the fall of the Livonian Order in the Livonian War, Mitau became a town of the Duchy of Courland in 1561. Jelgava received city rights in 1573, and became the capital of the united duchies of Courland and Semigallia in 1578. The penultimate duke of Courland, Ernst Johann von Biron, or Duke Biren, expanded the cultural aspects of Jelgava. He constructed the ducal palace and opened the first public library in the city. The duke also encouraged theatrical performances at his court. Imperial Russia annexed the city with Courland in 1795 during the Partitions of Poland. Jelgava was further expanded after the construction of its railway in 1868. The development of its infrastructure encouraged rural Latvians to immigrate to the city, taking residence as merchants, craftsmen, teachers, and officials. By 1914 Jelgava had over 45,000 inhabitants. However, Jelgava suffered considerably after the outbreak of World War I. German troops occupied the city during the war, and after the war in 1919 Jelgava was a battleground between Soviets, German paramilitaries, and Latvian freedom fighters. After the latter's victory, Jelgava became an important city in independent Latvia. As a result of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, Jelgava was annexed with the rest of Latvia by the Soviet Union during World War II in 1940. Much of the city's remaining German population travelled westward. The city's historical center, industry, rail network, and public buildings were heavily damaged by the fighting with almost 90% of the city destroyed during World War II. The rebuilding of Jelgava commenced during the years of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. Jelgava is now a city of independent Latvia and a popular tourist site.
Town: Jelgava has regular, broad streets lined with the mansions of the Baltic German nobility who resided at the capital of Courland. The old castle (1266) of the dukes of Courland, situated on an island in the river, was destroyed by Duke Biren, who had a spacious palace erected (1738-1772) by Bartolomeo Rastrelli at the bridge across the Lielupe. The palace contains the sarcophagi of all of the Curonian dukes. The future Louis XVIII sojourned in the palace between 1798 and 1800. Other landmarks include the Baroque church of St. Anne, the tower of the destroyed Trinity church, and two handsome neoclassical structures, the Villa Medema and the Academia Petrina.