Museum of Jelgava

Font size
Ādolfs Alunāns Memorial Museum
Homepage ExpositionJelgava – citadel of Courland Governate

Jelgava – citadel of Courland Governate

The Semigallians belonged to the culture and economic circle of Western Europe. After 1795 for more than 100 years Duchy of Courland and Semigallia under the rule of the Russian Empire became Courland Governate.

The exposition shows 123 years-long history of Jelgava starting with forming of Courland Governate in 1795 and ending in 1918 when the Republic of Latvia was established.

In Russia, especially, its recently acquired western provinces were developing according to modern times – modern, industrial society, free citizens, etc. Clerks, doctors, merchants, industrialists, bankers, capitalists, businessmen, directors, lawyers, judges, professors, teachers, scientists, and engineers were flocking to the city. Inspired by enlightenment ideas, they found educated and like-minded people. They felt comfortable in each other’s company, lived similar lifestyles, lived by similar fundamental ideas of the world, and expressed similar cultural and political interests.

Jelgava was an administrative centre of the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia, social and educational development, cultural events, religious diversity, and concentration of manufacturing in the city only consolidated Jelgava as a centre of Courland Governorate as well. Another confirmation of Jelgava’s status was the construction of the Jelgava-Riga railway in 1868.

In 1795 population of Jelgava was around 10 000, but less than 100 years later in 1863 population grew twice (22 320). Multiple factors impacted this growth, first was the liberation of the serfs in Courland in 1817, and the second was the economic development of Jelgava.

Between Napolean’s march to Russia in 1812 and the start of the First World War for more than 100 years, Courland Governate was peaceful. Peace was the perfect soil where Latvian national identity and confidence could grow and hope for a state of their own to prosper. Jelgava was one of the places where it was most evident. After the abolishment of serfdom, Latvian farmers came to the city. The city itself experienced unparalleled industrialization, i. e., book printing press, metalwork, food processing, etc. Culture flourished as well. Proof of that is the IV Song and Dance festival of 1895 – the only festival that was organized outside of Riga. Most of the cultural events happened thanks to the Societies, such as the Courland Society for Literature and Art, the Jelgava Latvian Society, and others.

In 1815 on the 23rd of November in Jelgava first scientific society in the Baltic states was formed – the Courland Society for Literature and Art.

Due to the urbanization level and population growth, intensive construction began in Jelgava, especially behind the walls (now Zemgales prospect and J. Mātera street). Rapid construction in the city contributed to the establishment of brick factories around the biggest river in Jelgava – Lielupe. In the mid-19th century, there were 41 brick and 565 wooden buildings, at the end of the 19th century, there were twice as many brick buildings. Jelgava was in the 4th place by industrial production in modern Latvia territory. In the second half of the 19th century, there were 38 working factories with 1147 employees, by 1913 – 67 working factories with 7020 employees, 6 printing houses, 12 book stores, and 12 pharmacies.

At the turn of the 19th century, many political figures, the 1st president of Latvia Jānis Čakste, 1st president of Lithuania Antanas Smetona, 3rd president of Latvia Alberts Kviesis, and others were connected to Jelgava. During this period Jelgava became a multinational city with Latvians, Lithuanians, Russians, Germans, and Polish.

Latvian national awakening was visible through different social and political activities. Jelgava along with Riga became centre for social-democratic and communistic ideas, the culmination was the 1905 Revolution, leaving footprints in Jelgava too.

First World War left Jelgava in dust and rubble. Factories were moved, and along with them employees and technical specialists left too. Many citizens of Jelgava became refugees. However, First World War showed the spirit of Semigallians. In the spring of 1915 Latvian militiamen successfully fought back German offensive, and later proposed idea of creating Latvian Riflemen units.

Jelgava, despite the German occupation and destruction brought by the war, in the last days of Courland Governorate existence was restless and hopeful waiting for the establishment of Republic of Latvia on the 18th of November 1918.