Baltiysk (Балти́йск), prior to 1945 known by its German name Pillau (Piława; Piliava), is a Russian seaport town in Kaliningrad Oblast. It is situated on the northern part of the Vistula Spit, 29 miles from Kaliningrad, on the shore of the Strait of Baltiysk separating the Vistula Bay from the Gdańsk Bay. Located at , Baltiysk is the westernmost town of Russia. Population is 33,252 (2002 Census), up from 30,000 in 1990. The town is a major naval base of the Baltic Fleet and a ferry port on the route to St. Petersburg.


The Prussian village

A Prussian fishing village sprang up on the coast at some point in the 13th century, taking its name from pils, the Old Prussian word for "fort". A great tempest created the navigable lagoon in front of the village on 10 September 1510. This fostered the growth of Pillau into an important port of the Duchy of Prussia. A blockhouse was constructed in 1537, followed by a system of storehouses in 1543 and the earliest fortifications in 1550.

During the Thirty Years' War, the Swedes occupied the harbour in the aftermath of their victory over the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. King Gustavus Adolphus landed there with his reinforcements in May 1626. After the ceasefire of Altmark (1629) the Swedes retained Pillau and set out upgrading its fortifications. They constructed a star fort which remains one of the town's landmarks. In 1635 the citizens of Pillau paid the ransom of 10,000 thalers, whereupon Swedish forces handed over the settlement to the Elector of Brandenburg.

The German town

By the end of the 17th century, the town had expanded considerably. A lighthouse and a stone church were built. Peter the Great of Russia visited Pillau on three occasions, the first being in 1697, in connection with his Great Embassy to Western Europe. There is a statue of the Tsar next to the lighthouse. After Pillau was granted Magdeburg rights in 1725, the town hall was constructed. This Baroque edifice, inaugurated in May 1745, was destroyed at the end of World War II.

Russian forces occupied the town during the Seven Years' War and built a small Orthodox church there. The event is commemorated by the equestrian statue of Empress Elizabeth (2004). In June 1807 Pillau was stormed by Napoleon's Grand Army. No outstanding events took place during the rest of the 19th century. The lighthouse was built up to a height of 31,38 meters, and the entire fortress was updated and rebuilt by the Prussians in 1871.

Recent history

On 15 November 1901 the Königsberg Canal was opened between Pillau and Königsberg. Constructed at a staggering cost of 13 million marks, the waterway allowed vessels of a 21 foot draught to moor alongside the city or to sail to the capital of East Prussia without stopping at Pillau. This dealt a serious blow to the town's economy.

During World War II, Pillau had a U-boat training facility. In 1945, as the Red Army entered East Prussia, well over 450,000 refugees were ferried from Pillau to central and western Germany. After the war, this part of East Prussia passed to the Soviet Union, and the German inhabitants were expelled. During the Russification campaign, the town's name was changed to Baltiysk.

In 1952, the Soviet authorities inaugurated a naval base of the Baltic Fleet at Baltiysk. As a result, it became a closed town: access was forbidden to foreigners or those without a permit. During the Cold War it was served by the Baltiysk air base. The town, along with Kaliningrad, remains one of only two year-round, ice-free ports along the Baltic Sea coastline available to Russia.


Historical buildings in and around the town include the pentagonal Pillau Citadel, founded by the Swedes in 1626, completed by the Prussians in 1670, renovated in 1870 and currently holding a naval museum; the ruins of the 13th-century Lochstadt Castle; a maze of 19th-century naval fortifications; the Naval Cathedral of St. George (1866); the 32-metre Expressionist observation tower (1932); the Gothic Revival building of the Baltic Fleet Museum (1903); and an elegant lighthouse, dating from 1813-16. A stone cross, erected in 1830 to commemorate the supposed spot of St. Wojciech's martyrdom, was destroyed by the Soviets and restored a millennium after the event, in 1997.


  • Baedeker, Karl, Northern Germany, 14th revised (English-language) edition, Leipzig, London, and New York, 1904.

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