Old postcard. A view of the market square in Memel. In the center stands a monument.


A Story of One Square

Publication: 14 March 2023

NO. 40 2021



All of the changes in the square’s appearance, well as re-naming of the square itself, have always carried a lot of symbolic meaning. At least to some extent it could explain why creating of a “new face” for the Revival Square has been challenging today, too.

History of Klaipeda (Memel), which is the oldest city in the Lithuanian territory, stretches back for more than seven hundred years. On 1 August 1252 the Bishop of Courland Henry[1] concluded an agreement with the Regent of the German Order of Knights in Livonia Eberhard von Seyne, which provided for the construction of a castle on the confluence of the Memel (or Nemunas) and Dange rivers as well as establishing a settlement around the castle within two years. Thus, founding of Memelburg should be seen in the context of Christian mission, similar to founding of other cities along the Baltic Sea. Consequently, it meant that the city was developed in accordance with the Mediaeval European city tradition which can be seen today, too, when walking along old town streets, marked by regularity in their well-planned forms, and their names: bakers, cobblers, etc.  Even if the most important symbols of the old town – the castle and the churches – are gone now, nevertheless, the seven-hundred-year history of the city, the fact that the city was founded in the Middle Ages – when, according to Hans-Joachim Schmidt, the most important discoveries of the Western World were made in terms of technical, social, and mental development, namely, mechanical clock, compass, cannon, and printing of books[2] – has had an impact on the city’s historical evolution.

The first two churches were built in the city already in 1258, the St. John church – for German town dwellers, and St. Nicolaus church – for the people of surrounding villages. These churches might have had clocks, and it is undeniable that by building these churches the Livonian Order of the Knights and Bishop ardently pursued the goal of spreading Christianity among the Lithuanians and Curonians. The compass was also known in the port city, as well as cannons, which were abundant. In spite of the fact that during 1257-1258 Memel (Klaipeda) received Lubeck Law which provided outstanding prospects for its further development, the city, however, had been suffering from the attacks form the Grand Duchy of Lithuania until the second half of the15th century, because of which it was mainly developed as fortification. After becoming a part of Prussia, the fortifications of the Klaipeda castle were strengthened even more; and by the middle of the 17th century Klaipeda became a fortress city.

However, the development of the city was shaped not only by strategic military interests. After the 1422 Treaty of Melno, a peaceful period started, which was beneficial for the city’s development. In 1525 Klaipeda became a part of the Prussian Kingdom, adopted Lutheranism, which was the beginning of Klaipeda city prosperity. Already during the Middle Ages, Klaipeda was a multicultural city: after the reformation, there were Lithuanian Evangelical and German Evangelical churches here. The port city attracted foreigners: there were English, Scottish, Dutch, Swedish, and Jewish settlers in Klaipeda. The multi-faceted history of the city is also reflected in one of the most representative places in the city – the Atgimimo (Revival/Rebirth) Square.

The Revival Square is situated in a historical New Town district, which was formed quite late – in the 18th century. Nowadays it is the administrative centre of the city, where the most important city offices are located – municipal administration, museums, gymnasiums, the central post office, etc.  During the 18th century this part of the River Dange turned into an industrial zone, and thus were named New Town, vis a vis to the Old Town. In the middle of the 19th century, administrative offices as well as other buildings of outstanding architecture started appearing on the Dange River in the New Town. The most notable building among those was the Town Hall, which began operating in 1845. In these buildings King of Prussia Friedrich Wilhelm III and Queen Louise resided in 1807-1808. It was here that several important documents of the 19th century Prussian Reform Movement were drafted, including the October edict[3] which announced the abolition of serfdom.

In 1854, Klaipėda was devastated by the Great Fire, which destroyed almost the entire city. Afterwards, the magistrate decided to build a special building for fire fighters and establish a professional fire brigade. Consequently, between 1855 and 1856, a fire station complex was constructed near the Town Hall. A two-storey guard building with an observation tower stood out among other buildings and a tower had a city clock and a bell. It is notable that Klaipeda was the second in entire Prussia, after Berlin, to have had a professional firefighting team.

The fire station withstood the Second World War, but in 1981 it was “sacrificed” for the purpose of Soviet architectural megalomania by building the hotel Klaipeda. The old fire station “saw” how a new square, now known as the Revival Square, was formed.

Emergence of the Soviet Square

Around 28% buildings were fully destroyed and 36% seriously damaged when the Soviet Army took over Klaipeda in the beginning of 1945. When Soviet troops entered, the city was almost entirely empty, with only several local inhabitants remaining, thus new people were moved to Klaipeda and, by the beginning of summer in 1946, there were already 30,000 inhabitants here. A complex task of making “Soviet man” in Klaipeda included the appearance of the corresponding symbols in the public areas: monuments to Stalin, Lenin, new names for streets and squares.

It is no coincidence that the square in the city centre was re-named as the Soviet Square. The compositional structure and parameters of this square kept on changing. A monument to Stalin was erected already in 1952.  In 1955, a sculptural composition on a concrete pedestal was constructed – Black, Asian, and Caucasian hands clasping, which symbolised proletarian internationalism. The greatest metamorphosis of the square during the Soviet period took place in 1976. A red marble monument to Lenin by a famous sculptor Gediminas Jokūbonis was erected in the newly restructured square. On that occasion, the name of the square was changed to Lenin Square.[4] In 1991, Lenin’s sculpture was dismantled. It is true that for almost a year Lenin’s monument in Klaipeda was guarded by armoured vehicles of the Soviet Army.

To some extent, the tradition of political indoctrination of the square has been inherited from the earlier times. On the verge of the 20th century, there were two monuments build in this part of the city to connect Klaipėda with the Hohenzollern dynasty. A monument to the first German Kaiser, son of Queen Louise, Wilhelm I, was erected in 1896. Another one – the so-called national monument “Borussia” – a statute of a woman, which personified Prussia who was liberated from the chains of humiliation – was unveiled in the presence of Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1907.

A New Vision for the Revival Square

All of the changes in the square’s appearance, well as re-naming of the square itself, have always carried a lot of symbolic meaning. At least to some extent it could explain why creating of a “new face” for the Revival Square has been challenging today, too. Already during the first public debate on the future of the square in 2013, the need for the change was identified, including the reasons for the square’s unpopularity with citizens: the square violates all basic urban rules of architectural design – it is too large and the nearest buildings are too far away. Some architects suggested restoring of the square’s structural composition as it used to be before the Second World War, leaving a smaller square. However, the younger generation architects objected that there was no need to look back trying to recreate the place as it was once before. Klaipeda City Mayor Vytautas Grubliauskas summed up this first public debate on the re-making of the Revival Square as follows: the square is “dead, uncomfortable, not functional, and devoid of aura” and added that “we are ripe for change”.[5]

In the spring of 2015, four proposals of the square were presented for the consideration, where one of them provided for the historic reconstruction of the square, however, according to the Klaipėda newspaper, “during all discussions people of Klaipeda have clearly stated that the square should remain as an open space for recreational activities”; it was feared that “someone is interested in” having new buildings constructed on the square; and that [they] were always strong in “lobbying games”[6]. The debates have somewhat slowed down the reconstruction process.  Still, on 5 May 2017, Klaipeda city municipality signed an agreement with the selected organisations according to which a technical design project for the reconstruction of the Revival Square had to be prepared within a year.  This is how a new focus feature of the square – “The Sky Mirror” –  come into being at the beginning of 2018.

According to the young architects from Cloud Architects Ltd, the main feature of the square should be a mirrored surface installation made of polished steel – “The Mirror of the Sky”. The inspiration for such installation was drawn from the sculpture “The Cloud Gate” in Chicago.   There are several features in this project that connect it to the square’s name – “Square of Revival” – firstly, the revival carries the symbolic meaning of getting rid of repressions, freedom to dream, whereas dreaming is connected to looking up at the skies. The second feature is more concrete – on evenings, with the help of smart lighting the square would transform into “The Sky of Revival” –  the background lighting above the surface around the sky mirror would reproduce the pattern of celestial bodies in how those were at the time when Lithuania announced independence on the night of the 11th of March 1990. Thus, this project is focused on the embodiment of the idea of revival; however, it is only a very thin thread which links it to the 770-year history of the city: a pale imprint of the historical map of Klaipėda which will be visible on the surface of the sky mirror.

The city authorities have not yet said the final “yes” to this project, however, it seems that the idea of “the Sky of Revival” would be turned into flesh. According to the press, the main debates at this point have shifted to the “underground part of the square” considering the need for an underground car parking space in the city centre.  Within these debates some voices are heard which foresee a temporary nature of “The Sky Mirror”. The concern is that because of an underground car park the restoration of the historic buildings in the future might be hampered. The designers’ counterargument to this concern – the car park blueprints have been prepared in line with the detailed urban planning rules and construction parameters, thus, there would be no problem to reconstruct and rebuild historic buildings on the square after say ten years, should the city decide so. In such case “The Sky Mirror” could be dismantled and moved elsewhere.

The current state of debates in connection to re-making of the square shows that the opinion expressed during the first stage of discussions in 2013 that “there is no need to look back at the past” and that “residents of modern Klaipeda are also capable of creating something new and unique, that could surprise others”[7] has prevailed.  Having turned the idea of “The Sky Mirror” into reality, it will, undoubtedly, surprise. However, one can foretell that surprise will come in the scale of emotions from positive to less positive ones. This means that the discussions surrounding the Revival Square will continue.  One can only hope that those discussions will take into consideration the only authentic building – the Old Town Hall – which timidly stands adjoining the square. Marked by a small commemorative plaque with the image of Queen Louise, it is the only authentic building which witnessed the historic changes of the square, as well as of the entire long-standing history of the Klaipeda – Memel city. The commemorative plaque and “The Sky Mirror” are galaxies apart in terms of their meaning and as well as significance of historic and cultural heritage in developing urban environment.


Nijolė Strakauskaitė – historian, since 2003 research fellow at the Institute of Baltic Sea Region History and Archeology, in the past she was working in Department of History of Social Fakulty of Klaipėda University. Author of five monographs dedicated to Cultural contacts in East Prussia and Prussian Lithuania, The problems of History of Klaipėda region, and connections between cultural and landscape in regions and microregions oh Lithuania.




[1] Heinrich I von Lutzelburg.

[2] Hans-Joachim Schmidt, Tradition, Innovantion, Invention, Berlin, 2005, S. 10-29.

[3] Edict of 9 October 1807.

[4] Vasilijus Safronovas, Praeitis kaip konflikto šaltinis: Tapatybės ideologijų konkurencija XX amžiaus Klaipėdoje (The Past as a Source of Conflict: The Competition of Identity Ideologies in Klaipėda in the 20th Century), Vilnius, 2011, p. 210.

[5] Eglė Piekienė, „Atgimimo aikštė – palikti ramybėje ar užstatyti?“, Vakarų ekpresas, 17 April 2013.

[6] Asta Dykovienė, „Dėl atgimimo aikštės – kautynės“, Klaipėda, 2 April 2015.

[7] Eglė Pekienė, et al., Atgimimo aikštė…, op.cit.

About authors

Nijolė Strakauskaitė

Historyczka, od 2003 roku pracowniczka naukowy w Instytucie Historii i Archeologii Regionu Morza Bałtyckiego, w przeszłości pracowała w Katedrze Historii Wydziału Społecznego Uniwersytetu w Kłajpedzie. Autorka pięciu monografii poświęconych kontaktom kulturowym w Prusach Wschodnich i Pruskiej Litwie, Problemom historii regionu Kłajpedy oraz związkom kultury i krajobrazu w regionach i mikroregionach Litwy.


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