Baltiysk on the Baltic Sea

Tuesday, 27 September 2022 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General
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Sailor's Club © Saler4uk/cc-by-sa-4.0

Sailor’s Club © Saler4uk/cc-by-sa-4.0

Baltiysk (German: Pillau) is a seaport town and the administrative center of Baltiysky District in Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia, located on the northern part of the Vistula Spit, on the shore of the Strait of Baltiysk separating the Vistula Lagoon from Gdańsk Bay. Baltiysk, the westernmost town in Russia, is a major base of the Russian Navy‘s Baltic Fleet and is connected to St. Petersburg by ferry.

Baltiysk was originally the site of an Old Prussian fishing village that was established on the coast of the Vistula Spit at some point in the 13th century. The village was named as “Pile” or “Pil” in several documents, possibly taking its name from pils the Old Prussian language word for fort. It was eventually conquered by the Teutonic Knights, with the name evolving into the German form of Pillau. In 1454, King Casimir IV Jagiellon incorporated the region to the Kingdom of Poland upon the request of the anti-Teutonic Prussian Confederation. After the subsequent Thirteen Years’ War (1454–1466), it became a part of Poland as a fief held by the Teutonic Knights. In 1497, a storm surge dug a new gat in front of the village, and another large storm created the navigable Strait of Baltiysk through the gat on September 10, 1510. This fostered the growth of Pillau into an important port of the Duchy of Prussia, a vassal duchy of Poland, and 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 harbor was occupied by Sweden in the aftermath of their victory over the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and King Gustavus Adolphus landed there with his reinforcements in May 1626. After the Truce of Altmark in 1629, the Swedes retained Pillau and set out upgrading its fortifications, constructing 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.

© A.Savin Baltic Fleet Museum © A.Savin Lighthouse © A.Savin Saint George church © A.Savin Fortress Pillau © Lady-F/cc-by-sa-4.0 Sailor's Club © Saler4uk/cc-by-sa-4.0
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Fortress Pillau © Lady-F/cc-by-sa-4.0
By the end of the 17th century, Pillau had expanded considerably, and a lighthouse and a stone church were built. Peter the Great, the Tsar of Russia, visited Pillau on three occasions, the first being in 1697 in connection with his Grand Embassy to Western Europe. A statue of Peter the Great currently stands next to the lighthouse. After Pillau was granted town privileges in 1725, the Baroque-style town hall was constructed and inaugurated in May 1745 but 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, with the event commemorated by the equestrian statue of Empress Elizabeth, unveiled in 2004. In the late 18th century, the present-day southern part of the town, the part located on the Vistula Spit, was annexed by Prussia in the Partitions of Poland. In June 1807, Pillau was stormed by Napoleon‘s Grande Armée during the Napoleonic Wars, although no outstanding events took place during the rest of the 19th century. Records of a Scottish “colony” established in Pillau in 1815 appeared in an 1890 publication, although their authenticity is questionable. The lighthouse was built up to a height of 31.38 meters (103.0 ft) and the entire fortress was updated and rebuilt by the Prussians in 1871. In 1886, the town had a population of 3,434, apart from the fortress garrison. The importance of Pillau declined from 15 November 1901, when a shipping canal was opened linking the Vistula Lagoon near Zimmerbude (now Svetly) to Königsberg. Pillau’s economy was heavily based on large shipping vessels being forced to dock in the town due to the shallow depth of the lagoon near Königsberg, the capital and the largest city of East Prussia, and the goods would then be transported from Pillau to Königsberg by other means. Constructed at a huge cost of thirteen million marks, the canal allowed vessels of a 21 feet (6.4 m) draught to moor alongside the city or to sail directly to Königsberg without stopping at Pillau, causing a serious decline to the town’s economy.

During World War II, Pillau had a U-boat training facility, and on 16 April 1945, the German submarine U-78 was sunk by Red Army artillery fire while she was docked near the electricity supply pier in Pillau port, and was the only U-boat to be ever sunk by land-based forces in World War II. As the Red Army entered East Prussia, more than 450,000 refugees were ferried from Pillau to central and western Germany, with the town eventually being captured by Soviets on 25 April 1945. After the war, Pillau was included in the northern part of East Prussia passed to the Soviet Union that became Kaliningrad Oblast, and the German inhabitants were expelled in accordance with the Potsdam Agreement. During the Russification campaign, the town’s name was changed to Baltiysk in 1946. In 1952, the Soviet authorities inaugurated a naval base for the Baltic Fleet of the Soviet Navy at Baltiysk, and as a result, it became a closed town with access 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. In 2019, on a wave of anti-Western sentiment following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, there were calls to change the town’s German-era coat of arms, which features a sturgeon wearing the crown of King Frederick William I of Prussia. The historic arms had been granted to the town, then known as Pillau, in 1725.

Read more on Wikipedia Baltiysk (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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