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Jelgava

Jelgava

Jelgava, also Yelgava, Ger. Mitau, city (1992 est. pop. 74,516), in Latvia, on the Lielupe River. It is a major rail hub and a trade center for grain and timber. The city grew around a fortress established by the Livonian Knights in the 13th cent., but was destroyed by the Lithuanians in 1345. In 1561, Jelgava became the residence of the dukes of Courland; it passed to Russia with the duchy in 1795. German troops held Jelgava during World War I. In 1919, during the struggle for Latvian independence, the city was occupied in turn by Soviet forces, by German free corps, and by the Latvians. Part of independent Latvia from 1920 to 1940, Jelgava was then seized by the USSR, held by the Germans from 1941 to 1944, and taken by Soviet troops. City landmarks include the 16th-century Trinity Church and the 18th-century ducal palace.
Jelgava (jælgava, ) is a town in central Latvia about 41 km southwest of Riga with 66,087 inhabitants (2006). It is the largest town in Semigallia. Jelgava is known as the former capital of the Duchy of Courland, and was the capital of the Courland region until 1919.

Jelgava is situated on a fertile plain rising only 12 ft. above sea level on the right bank of the river Lielupe. At high water the plain and sometimes the town as well can be inundated. Jelgava is surrounded by a canal known as Jacob's Channel (initiated by Jacob Kettler) occupying the locations of former fortifications. It is a railway center and an important market for grain and timber. It is also host to Jelgava air base. It's importance as a railway centre can be proven by the fact that it lies at the junction of over 6 railway lines conecting Riga to Lithuania, eastern and western Lativa, and Lithuania to the Baltic sea.

Etymology

The name Jelgava is believed to be derived from the Livonian word jelgab, meaning "low place." The origin of the German name Mitau is unclear, although it is suggested that it came from the Latvian words mīt or mainīt, meaning "to exchange" or "to trade," thus making it "the place where trading takes place." An alternate explanation is that Mitau came from Mitte in der Aue, German for "the middle of the Aa", referring to the Lielupe River, formerly known as the Courland Aa (Kurländische Aa in German).

Sights

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 almost all of the Curonian dukes, except the last one. The future Louis XVIII sojourned in the palace between 1798 and 1800. It now functions as the LLU, Latvijas lauksaimniecības universitāte, or Latvian University of Agriculture. Other landmarks include the Baroque church of St. Anne, the tower of the destroyed Trinity church, and two handsome structures, the Villa Medem and the Academia Petrina.

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 in Mitau on a natural 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. When the Duchy of Courland split in 1596, Jelgava became the residence of Duke Friedrich Kettler of Semigallia. The city again became the capital of the united duchies in 1617. Because the duchy became a vassal of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Jelgava was also referred to by the Polish name Mitawa. The Commonwealth's repeated wars with Sweden subjected Jelgava to several sieges. Despite the wars, the city grew as a center for trade and industry. As Courland's neighbors increased in strength, however, the duchy and Jelgava began to fall under Russia's sphere of influence. The duchess from 1711-1730 was Anna Ivanovna, later Empress Anna I of Russia.

The penultimate duke of Courland, Ernst Johann von Biron, expanded the cultural aspects of Jelgava. He constructed the ducal palace and opened the first public library in the city. In 1775 the last Duke of Courland Peter founded the Academia Petrina university, which became a spiritual center for the country. The duke also encouraged theatrical performances at his court.

With the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, the citizens of Jelgava clamored for more rights. However, Imperial Russia annexed the city with Courland in 1795 during the Partitions of Poland. As the Count of Provence, the palace of Jelgava was the residence (1798-1801 and 1804-1807) of Louis XVIII before he became the French king. Although the city was occupied by Prussian troops during the Napoleonic Wars, it was largely spared destruction.

Jelgava further expanded after the construction of its railway in 1868. The development of its infrastructure encouraged rural Latvians to migrate to the city, 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 became 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 during the Nazi-Soviet population transfers. German forces from Army Group North occupied Jelgava from 1941-1944 until the capture of the city by the Red Army. The city's historical center, industry, rail network, and public buildings were heavily damaged by the fighting with almost 90% of the city destroyed.

Jelgava was rebuilt during the period of Soviet occupation. Jelgava is now a popular tourist site.

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