Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Mitau

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

MITAU (the Lettish Jelgava), a town of Russia, capital of the government of Courland. It is situated 27 miles by rail to the south-west of Riga, on the right bank of the river Aa, in a fertile plain which rises only 12 feet above sea-level, and which probably has given its name to the town (Mitte in der Aue). At high water the plain and sometimes also the town are inundated. Mitau is surrounded by a canal occupying the place of former fortifications. Another canal was dug through the town to provide it with water; but this now receives the sewage, and water is brought in cars from a distance of 3 miles. Though so near Riga, Mitau has quite a different character. It has regular broad streets, bordered with the low pretty mansions of the German nobility who reside at the capital of Courland either to enjoy the social amusements for which Mitau is renowned or to provide education to their children. Mitau is well provided with educational institutions. A gymnasium occupies a former palace of the dukes of Courland, and has a rich library; and there are about forty other schools. The town is also the seat of a society of art and literature, of a natural history society, which has a good local museum, and of the Lettish Literary Society. The old castle of the dukes of Courland, which has witnessed so many conflicts, was destroyed by the Duke Biron, who erected in its place a spacious palace, now occupied by the governor and the courts. Mitau has 22,200 inhabitants, mainly Germans, but including also Jews (about 6000), Letts (5000), and Russians. Manufactures are few, those of wrought-iron ware and of white-lead being the most important. The river Aa brings Mitau in connexion with the trade of Riga, small vessels carrying goods to the amount of about £150,000 a year.

Mitau is supposed to have been founded in 1266 by the grandmaster Conrad Mandern. It has often changed its rulers. In 1345, when it was plundered by Lithuanians, it was already an important town. In 1561 it became the residence of the dukes of Courland. During the 17th century it was thrice taken by the Swedes. Russia annexed it with Courland in 1795. At the beginning of this century it was the residence of the count of Provence (afterwards Louis XVIII.). In 1812 it was taken by Napoleon I.