Baltijsk — History

[From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

Baltiysk (Russian: Балти́йск), prior to 1945 known by its German name Pillau (Polish: Piława; Lithuanian: Piliava), is a seaport town and the administrative center of Baltiysky District of Kaliningrad Oblast, located on the northern part of the Vistula Spit, on the shore of the Strait of Baltiysk separating the Vistula Bay from the Gdańsk Bay. Baltiysk is the westernmost town of Russia. Population: 32,697 (2010 Census);[1] 33,252 (2002 Census);[4] 27,070 (1989 Census).[5]

The town is a major naval base of the Baltic Fleet and a ferry port on the route to St. Petersburg.

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.

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. Records of a Scottish «Colony» established here in 1815 appeared in a 1890 Publication, although their authenticity is questionable. 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.

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