The history of Siauliai
Siauliai Travel Blog› entry 7 of 13 › view all entries
The name of Siauliai was mentioned in the chronicles of Livonian Order after Lithuanians defeated the army of crusaders during the battle that took place near Šiauliai on 23 September 1236. The history of Šiauliai is long and quite often unpleasant; the town has often been devastated during several wars. The town is today the fourth largest town in Lithuania; both by area and population and is covering an area of 81 sq. km, has nowadays.
Šiauliai was granted Magdeburg city rights in 1589. In the 16th century it became an administrative centre of the area. However, in the 17th and 18th centuries the city was devastated by The Deluge and epidemics of the Bubonic plague.
The credit for the city's rebirth goes to Antoni Tyzenhaus (1733–1785) who after a violent revolt of peasants of the Crown properties in the Northern Lithuania started the radical economic and urban reforms. He decided to rebuild the city according to the Classicism ideas: at first houses were built randomly in a radial shape, but Tyzenhaus decided to build the city in an orderly rectangular.
Šiauliai grew to become a well-developed city, with several prominent brick buildings. In 1791 Stanisław August Poniatowski, king of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, confirmed once again that Šiauliai's city rights and granted it the coat of arm. It depicted a bear, the symbol of Samogitia, the Eye of Providence, and a red bull, the symbol of Poniatowski family. The modern coat of arms was modelled after this version.
After the Partitions of Poland, Šiauliai got a new coat of arms. The city grew and became an important educational and cultural centre. Also, infrastructure was rapidly developing: in 1836–1858 a road connecting Riga and Tilsit was built, in 1871 a railroad connecting Liepāja with Romny was built.
Šiauliai, that was a crossroad of important merchant routes, started to develop as an industrial town. Already in 1897 it was the third largest city in Lithuania with population of about 16,000. The demographics changed also: 56.4% of the inhabitants were Jewish in 1909. Šiauliai was known for its leather industry. Chaim Frenkel owned the biggest leather factory in the Russian Empire.
During World War I, about 65% of the buildings were burned down and the city centre was destroyed. After the war and re-establishment of Lithuania, the importance of Šiauliai grew. Before Klaipėda was attached to Lithuania, the city was second after Kaunas by population size. By 1929 the city centre was rebuilt. Modern utilities were also included: streets were lighted; it had public transportation, telephone and telegraph lines, water supply network and sewer.
The first independence years were difficult because industrial city lost its markets in Russia. It needed to find new clients in the Western Europe. In 1932 a railroad to Klaipėda was built and it connected the city to the western markets. In 1938 the city produced about 85% of Lithuania's leather, 60% of footwear, 75% of flax fiber, 35% of candies. Culture also flourished as many new periodicals were printed, new schools and universities opened, a library, theatre, museum, and normal school were opened.
In 1939, one quarter of the city's population was Jewish. German soldiers entered Šiauliai on June 26, 1941. According to one of the Jewish survivors of Siauliai, Nesse Godin, some 1000 people were shot in nearby woods during the first weeks of occupation after having been forced to dig their own graves. There were two ghetto areas in Siauliai, one in the Kaukas suburb, and one in Traku. During World War II, the Jewish population was reduced from 8,000 to 500. About 80% of the buildings were destroyed.
Today Siauliai has developed to a quite large city with the priority of transport development not only in Lithuania, but also Central, Western and Eastern Europe. 5 ice-free harbours of the Baltic Sea are situated about 100-200 kilometres from the city, moreover it is on the Via Hanseatica highway (Berlin – Kaliningrad - Saint Petersburg) and connected through the highway A9 to the Via Baltica highway (Helsinki - Tallinn- Riga - Warsaw). The city has direct connection and easy access to the largest railway junction in the Baltic’s and the European Union prioritised rail transport corridor.
The population of Šiauliai is 129.000 inhabitants. Šiauliai has old traditions of manufacture and trade stretching back to the 13th century. Traditional business such as leather, timber and furniture processing, electronic and household technology and transportation means, manufacturing of plastic and metal products are being developed in the city. The city is proud of TV sets, bicycles, leather articles, machine tools, knitwear, non-woven materials. The successful development of confectioneries, brewery implies hope for the economic revival of the city.
Šiauliai City is also a centre of culture and science – Šiauliai University – was opened in 1997. Besides the University there are a Music Conservatoire, 3 Colleges, Šiauliai Vocational Education and Training Centre in the city. There are over 70 institutions of education in Šiauliai: schools, kindergartens and institutions for additional education.
Šiauliai is one of the major cultural centres in Lithuania. Professional art companies and single performers make the town famous. Both residents of Šiauliai and visiting guests may sweep into the vortex of the intensive cultural life, which is full of original events.
The Municipality of Šiauliai has so far signed twinning agreements with 10 cities: both form Eastern, Western Europe and the USA as well. Since 1994 the city is also a member of the Union of the Baltic Cities.