Geography and demographicsKlaipeda is Lithuania's only seaport on the Baltic Sea. It has 194,400 inhabitants (2002), down from 202,900 in 1989. Today Klaipeda is a major ferry port with connections to Sweden, Denmark and Germany. Klaipeda owns a picturesque framework-architecture similar to that found in Germany, England or in Denmark. Popular Lithuanian seaside resorts are found close to Klaipeda in Neringa and Palanga.
Klaipeda was founded by Baltic tribes in the 12th century. For a long time it belonged to Province of Prussia and in pre-WWII-days was called "Memel".
This Baltic Sea harbor city was founded by the Teutonic Knights in 1252 and is recorded as Castrum Memele (German Memelburg, also Mimmelburg). 1254 Klaipeda was granted Lübeck City Right. The area was converted to Christianity by the Teutonic Knights. The Peace at Melno Sea in 1422 fixed the border between Province of Prussia and Lithuania. Memel was included in Prussia and the border remained unchanged until 1923. It was one of the longest unchanged borders in Europe.
Beginning in 1474 Memel was governed by the Kulm Law of the Prussian Land cities. In 1525 Ducal Memel, under Albert of Prussia (Albrecht von Brandenburg-Ansbach-Prussia), adopted Lutheranism. From 1629-35 Memel was attacked, damaged, and occupied by Sweden. It was rebuilt numerous times and 75 years later a large number of people in Memel died of the plague. With the reorganization in Europe after the destruction of the Holy Roman Empire Memel became the most north-easterly city of Germany.
In 1919 Klaipeda was placed under the protectorate of the Entente States. After the Treaty of Versailles the territory around Memel was separated from Germany and an autonomous German government under French occupation was installed. Lithuania attacked in 1926 and the French troops left. The annexation by Lithuania ended in 1939, when that area was officially returned to the German Reich on March 22, 1939.
Starting at the end of 1944 and into 1945 during World War II the inhabitants fled during active fighting. Many of the refugees were sent to Siberia, and the remaining inhabitants were expelled by the Soviet Union. In 1947 Memel was officially renamed Klaipeda and returned to Lithuanian control. The name Klaipeda is based on an old name that had been used in the past.