Karosta is the former Soviet naval port which ironically has become the main draw for tourists to Liepāja, on the Baltic coast. Possibly even the main reason many travel to Latvia .
One of the main reasons for this is because the city has its very own version of Alcatraz, which although lacking a little of the infamy of the San Francisco detention facility still manages to attract plenty of visitors. There is an unusual, interesting museum of occupation paraphernalia, photography tuition, tours of the prison grounds and an extremely popular prison experience which enables visitors to stay overnight and have a small taste of prison life. Verbal abuse, stress positions, physical excercise wearing respirators, disgusting latrines and a legless table top for a bed all makes for a perfect night in.
“visited by the official Ghostbusters”
The profile of the prison has been raised considerably by a review in Lonely Planet which rates it as one of the most unusual places to stay in the World. It is rumoured to be haunted, even being visited by the ‘official Ghostbusters’ adding further to its appeal.
The port is not a one trick pony however, there is plenty more to interest and explains why it is ideal for providing photography tours and attracts photographers from all over.
Karosta which means ‘war port’ was built as to defend the city of Liepāja home to the Russian navy on the orders of Tsar Alexander III at the beginning of the 20th Century. Part of the development of the port included a canal which was dredged enabling the largest ships to enter from the Baltic Sea.
A number of fortified gun emplacements were built capable of firing up to 12km, the batteries were not completed and they were never actually fired apart from range practice.
It is possible to explore the underground bunkers where the munitions were stored and scramble around the actual positions where the guns were positioned. A guide is recommended however as apart from providing a useful commentary it is quite dark in the bunkers, wells have been dug and there is often some flooding which they will help visitors to avoid.
“ how they appeared during the occupation”
There are a large number of disused buildings left abandoned when the Soviets from the Officers Mess to their living quarters. Most remain in a state of poor repair but a few have been restored, some are used as accommodation for the people living here whilst others demonstrate how they appeared during the occupation.
Located on the Baltic Sea, unsurprisingly there is often a mist drifting in from the sea, this was the case on the day of my visit. It can get quite thick but even when relatively light it just seems to add to the atmosphere.
The 2km long breakwater which protects the harbour area disappears way into the mist and those with some spare time might enjoy taking a stroll to the end. It wasn’t possible on this particular day, so taking pictures instead had to suffice.
The gun placements have been abandoned for less than 100 years but even in this relatively short period of time the sea and weather have taken their toll. The fortifications are already crumbling badly and in many places whole walls have sheared away. Their jumbled shapes of mangled concrete appear almost spectral as they appear and disappear into the mist.
There is also a windfarm located here and these strange almost alien appearing machines add still further to the feeling of eeriness. The large modern constructions make a strange whirring sound as their vanes turn in the wind which can be heard from some distance. Their white colour however can appear almost translucent making them hard to spot in the mist and increasing the feeling of spookiness.
A heavy mist cannot be guaranteed when visitors decide to take a look around Karosta but even so a fascinating experience is assured and if not there’s always the virtually empty beach to chillout on instead!
This trip to Karosta was provided by the Latvian Tourism Assocation, Hotel.info and Liepāja Turisms but as always all views were formed from the mists of my own mind.