Restorating the history - Transformation of the city of Jelgava, Latvia

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Name Jelgava transformation project
Place Jelgava
Country Latvia
Author(s) Ieva Kiesnere
Project start 2009.
Completion Unknown
World Heritage Not listed
Client Jelgava Municipality
Project costs Unknown

1702 plan of Jelgava 1.jpg

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Jelgava is the 4th largest city in Latvia and is situated 41 km southwest of the capital of Latvia with 65,419 inhabitants (data of 2009). During its history, Jelgava has suffered from multiple wars and conquerors, as a result it had shaped its cityscape dramatically. Jelgava suffered considerably after the outbreak of World War I . During World War II, the city's historical center, industry, rail network, and public buildings were heavily damaged by the fighting, with almost 90% of the city destroyed.

Besides, city was destroyed not only physically, but also mentally. City lost its initial cultural landscape, houses, parks, even the old city of Jelgava. During Soviet period, city developed as an industrial center in Latvia. Plenty of industrial buildings were build, and this urban planning action moved city away form its historical roots more and more. Now Jelgava have a specific modern cultural landscape – its’ like a mosaics – next to the historical heritage and architectural monuments are situated shopping malls and block- houses, that have been built during the Soviet period. Historical plans are the only witness, who can tell us about city’s previous shape and individuality. Now it is time to reconstruct the history, what have been lost, and to integrate it in existing city planning. City desires its primary identity, what was lost for a long time period. This Case study will tell the Reader about Jelgava example – how Jelgava is recovering its own historical and cultural landscape.

Author's perspective

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Cultural landscape of the Jelgava is quite fresh and has been developed recently. In contradistinctions to cities of the World Heritage list, that needs sensitive approach to planning and carefully developed preservation plan, Jelgava city is in demand for artificial creation of this historical environment. It needs a longeval historical witness and our responsibility is to create such a historical breath. We need to reanimate initial cultural landscape of the Jelgava city. We need to make it artificially.

Cultural landscape context

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Socio-political context

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The Livonian settlement Jelgava began developing 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; Carl Christian Joseph of Saxony, Duke of Courland had to abdicate under Russian siege in 1763. 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 seat of 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. The spirited defence of Jeglava by two battaliosn of the Latvian Home Guard in 1915, helped inspire the formation of the Latvian Rifles. German troops occupied the city during the war, and after the war in 1919 Jelgava became a battleground between Bolshevik Red Guards, 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 occupied and 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 after World War II as part of the Latvian SSR, and following Latvian independence, Jelgava is now a popular tourist site.

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