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About Latvia » Liepaja

Some facts: Liepaja (pop. 86 000) is a city in western Latvia on the Baltic Sea. It is the third largest city of Latvia and an important ice-free port.
History: Liepāja was founded by Curonian fishermen and was first known by the name Lyva in 1253. The Livonian Order under the aegis of the Teutonic Order established the settlement as the town of Libau in 1263. The name Liepāja began to increase in usage after 1560. In 1625 Duke Friedrich Kettler of Courland granted the town city rights, which were affirmed by King Sigismund III of Poland in 1626. Liepāja and Courland passed to the control of Imperial Russia in 1795 during the Partitions of Poland. Growth during the nineteenth century was rapid. The city became a major port on the Baltic Sea for the Russians, and early in the twentieth century became a central point of embarcation for immigrants travelling to the United States. During World War I Liepaja was occupied by the German army. After the war, when the independent state of Latvia was founded, Liepaja became the capital of Latvia for six months. World War II devastated the city. During the Soviet occupation, Liepaja was a closed city and even nearby farmers and villagers needed a special permit to enter the city. The Soviet military set up its main Baltic naval base there, and closed it completely. One third of the city was occupied by the Soviet Naval Base with 26 thousand military staff. After Latvia regained independence, Liepaja has worked hard to change from a military city into a modern port city marked on European maps. The commercial port was re-opened in 1991. In 1994 the last Russian Federation troops left Liepaja.
Town: Today, Liepāja is known as a progressive city with beautiful architecture, an internationally recognised Blue Flag beach and a raging nightlife that just won’t quit. Considered the cradle of Latvian music and art, galleries have mushroomed all over town and even the smallest corner pub seems to employ a local musician to entertain its patrons. Visitors will be stunned to discover that locals wouldn’t dare provide standard accommodation for their guests. Boutique hotels have become the standard, not the exception, in a city where nearly every guesthouse, hotel and hostel provides completely renovated rooms with interesting interior design. Whether it's white sandy beaches and the sea you’re after, culture and centuries-old architecture, or extreme sports and even extremer nightlife, Latvia’s hippest city has it all.
What to see: St. Anne‘s Church. Although there has been a St. Anne’s on this spot since the early 1500s, the current red brick neo-Gothic structure was created in 1893. The soaring steeple reaches a height of 60m, but the church’s main claim to fame is its impressive baroque altar painting that measures a whopping 5.8 by 9.7m – no small feat for Latvia whose Lutheran houses of worship usually lack the ornamentation of flashier Catholic churches. The nations’ third largest organ is also worth a look.
Liepaja Museum. Housed in a building which is itself an historical treasure, the museum has managed to maintain its original early 20th-century interior. The ground floor displays Stone and Bronze Age artefacts unearthed at local archaeological sites, an excellent collection of weapons and jewellery recovered from a Viking settlement at Grobiņa and vintage memorabilia from both world wars. Paintings, ethnographic costumes, black and white photos and centuries-old bibles are also on display and a sculpture garden is also at your disposal outside.
Karosta. Once completely off limits to civilians, the Naval Port has become Liepāja’s main tourist attraction and fertile ground for a community of free-thinkers, artists and assorted bohemians. Built from 1890 - 1904 at the behest of Tsar Alexander III, the city within a city cost the Russian treasury a modest sum of 45 million gold roubles. Ironically, the massive fortifications constructed on the coast were dynamited before the First World War even began as a result of the friendship treaty signed between Germany and Russia in 1908. The complex of imposing brick buildings and barracks became known as the Kara osta (war port) during the first Latvian republic and is now simply called Karosta. The Soviets also used the base and left their mark in typical fashion in the form of ugly concrete apartment blocks surrounding the soaring Orthodox Cathedral, many of which are now abandoned