The City of Klaipėda (pronounced [ˈklaɪpeːda], German: Memel) is in Lithuania situated at the mouth of the Nemunas River where it flows into the Baltic Sea. It is the third largest city in Lithuania and the capital of the Klaipėda County. It is nest to the major Port of Klaipėda The population has shrunk from from 207,100 in 1992 to 177,823 in 2011 (a loss of about 30,000). The popular seaside resorts found close to Klaipėda are Nida to the south on the Curonian Spit, and at Palanga to the north.
The history and ethic events are complex, partially due to the combined regional importance of the Port of Klaipėda, a usually ice-free port on the Baltic Sea, and the Akmena - Dange River. It has been controlled by the Teutonic Knights, the Duchy of Prussia, the Kingdom of Prussia, the German Empire, the Entente States immediately after World War I, Lithuania as a result of the 1923 Klaipėda Revolt, and the Nazi Third Reich following the 1939 German ultimatum to Lithuania. The city was incorporated into Lithuania during its tenure as a Soviet Socialist Republic and has remained within Lithuania following its re-establishment as an independent state.
The Baltic tribes in the territory of the present-day city is said to have existed in the region by the 7th century.
In the 1240's the Pope offered King Håkon IV of Norway the opportunity to conquer the peninsula of Sambia Peninsular in todays Kaliningrad Oblast. After Christianity was taken up by the Grand Duke Mindaugas of Lithuania, the Teutonic Knights and related band of crusaders from Lübeck, Germany moved into Sambia, founding unopposed a fort in 1252 recorded as Memele castrum (or Memelburg, English:"Memel Castle"). The fort's construction was completed in 1253 and Memel was garrisoned with troops of the Teutonic Order, administered by the Deutschmeister Eberhard von Seyne. Documents legislating for creation were signed by Eberhard and Bishop Heinrich von Lützelburg of Courland on 29 July 1252 and 1 August 1252.
The fascist Teutonic Knights built a castle in the Pilsāts Land of the ethnic Curonians and named it Memelburg after their name for the Neman River; later the town's name was shortened to Memel. From 1252-1923 and from 1939–1945, the town and city was officially named Memel. Due to political changes between 1923 and 1939, both names were in official use; but since 1945 the Lithuanian name of Klaipėda is used.
Over the years it became part of-
- The Duchy of Lithuania.
- The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
- The Duchy of Prussia
- The Kingdom of Prussia
- The Prussian Empire
- The Memel Territory
- The Soviet Union
As part of the Memel Territory, itt was forcibly and was annexed to Lithuania in 1923 after a staged revolt by local Lithuanians and then Nazi Germany arbitral reattached East Prussia in the March of 1939. The Nazis conqured it in mid-1939. During the Holocaust, most of the city's Jews, Roma and Poles died.
Most of the Prussian/German Lithuanians (Lietuvininks), Kursenieki and Germans were killed off or violently ejected by the Soviets in 1944. Almost all the new residents came in from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania.
The Soviets transformed Klaipėda, the then foremost ice-free port in the Eastern Baltic, into the largest piscatorial-marine base in the European USSR. Klaipėda was only considered important to the USSR for its economic value, while cultural and religious activity was minimal and restricted until the 1970’s. This finally ended in the early 1980’s.