Liepāja, in the southwest of the country, was economically Latvia’s second city for part of the twentieth century. A vital defence base under the Soviets, it has re-developed its commercial port facilities since Latvia gained independence.
The coastal town was founded by knights of the Livonian Order on the site of a fishing village. Granted town status by the Duke of Kurzeme in 1625, building of its port facilities started in 1697. In 1795 it fell under Russian control. Industrial development took off in the nineteenth century, with the expansion of the port and the coming of the railway. Towards the end of the nineteenth century the Russian authorities chose Liepāja to be the focus of their military activities in the region.
Between the two World Wars the city was second only to Riga in terms of economic importance but in 1967, having become the largest Soviet military base in the country, it was closed as a commercial port. Latvia won independence from the USSR in 1991 and Liepāja reopened as a commercial port the following year. The last Soviet military personnel left in 1994.
The legacy of the Soviet military era left Liepāja with a poor infrastructure, bad housing and chronic pollution. There were high levels of unemployment and the city was made a special economic zone in a bid to rejuvenate the economy. The port has been redeveloped and the steel industry has flourished. Other major industries include food processing, textiles, and furniture and safety matches.
There are several institutes of higher education including a branch of Riga Technical University. As well as its port facilities, Liepāja is on major road, rail and air routes.
Places of Interest
The sandy beach is popular, but the sea is highly polluted. Attractions include the eighteenth century Holy Trinity Church, St. Joseph’s cathedral and the museum of history and art.