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Karosta Northern Forts

  
   - darkometer rating:  2 -
  
A special extra treat near the former garrison town of Karosta, Latvia, featuring spectacular ruins of coastal fortifications dating back to Tsarist Russia, but blown up already before World War One, now in different stages of being eroded away by the sea. As an added bonus there are also creepy underground passages you can explore by torchlight.    

>More background info

>What there is to see

>Location

>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations

>Photos

     

More background info: in general see under Karosta
  
These fortifications surrounding Liepaja were built from 1890 by Tsarist Russia, to which Latvia belonged then, but were only finished within the first decade of the 20th century. They were intended as a bulwark against the threat from Imperial Germany. But then, just a couple of years later, a German-Russian co-operation-and-friendship treaty appeared to make them redundant and, as part of that agreement, they had to be destroyed. What irony, given that this was almost at the dawn of World War One!
  
Anyway, the coastal gun batteries were dismantled and the barrels taken away, either to other forts (e.g. the 9th Fort in Kaunas) or to be melted down. The concrete fortifications were blown up. Or at least they tried to do so. The explosives weren't so effective and much of the structures remained more or less intact, just unarmed now and not outfitted. 
  
Over the past century the sea has done more destructive work than the Russian explosives. Constant surf creates erosion that is eating away at the coastline, washing out the bunkers' foundations. Now many of them have tumbled down the dunes and onto the beach, some are already surrounded by water, being constantly battered by the waves. Others still hang on the coastline precariously tilted. Yet others are still pretty unharmed. 
  
How many more decades it will take before they have all been claimed by the sea is hard to guess. But one thing is for sure: there will be continual change here. So some of the bits described below may already look different by the time you read this or manage to go there yourself.  
  
  
What there is to see: There are actually two sets of coastal fort remains to be seen here. Strictly speaking only the northern half is accurately referred to as the “Northern Forts” proper. But the more southerly counterpart is at least as intriguing, and has been subsumed under this heading here simply for ease of reference and similarity. 
  
Let's start with this latter set, which is closer to Karosta, and easier to incorporate into a tour of that semi-ghost town. You can even see the ruins from the northern breakwater of Karosta harbour. To get close it takes only a short drive or a  ca. 10 to 15-minute walk along the beach to the north. 
  
Easily the most spectacular bit is the one big block of bunker lying slightly tilted in the water just off shore. It's a two-storey affair, with the stairs still attached to the beach-facing rear. On the sea-facing part you can still make out the embrasure for what must have been quite a big gun. I found it quite hypnotizing watching this enigmatic structure constantly being battered by the surf rolling in from the sea ... 
  
Other big blocks of a similar nature are in the vicinity. A particularly badly eroded one seems to have taken on the shape of a stony face, with two big hollow eyes and a punched-in nose. 
  
Further north the structures still hang together a bit more, at least at the rear, land-facing side. Contrasting with the chaotic tumble of blocks on the beach, here some symmetry is still in place. The sea-facing side has begun to break up too, however, and you can see strange sights like staircases leading at odd angles into nowhere, into the air (“stairway to heaven” my guide quipped). You can also see remains of the bases of gun positions, now just rusty metal stumps poking out of a circular concrete disk. 
  
Unrelated to the fortifications, but worth taking note of is a site a bit inland from the northern end of this set of bunkers: there you can see a small monument consisting of a rough stone circle with a somewhat larger stone monument at the apex, inside the circle is a smaller grass circle that itself encircles a construction made of wood, stacked diagonally like firewood, sheltering what looked like Christmas tree baubles. The inside of the eight stones forming the outer ring are engraved with individual names. A metal cross mounted to the central stone monument has the inscription “Kureliesi 8” attached to it. The name appears to refer to a nationalist resistance group that fought both the Soviets and the Germans during WWII. My guide explained that this particular group was allegedly associated with the SS – but since they fought the Soviets they were locally considered heroes worthy of this memorial. It looked quite new to me.
  
The actual Northern Forts can be divided into two distinct sections. The inland part is the northernmost section of the landward fortification, fronted by a moat – other parts of this ring of land fortifications can be found at other spots around Liepaja all the way to the southern edge where it nearly meets the sea again. 
  
The other part is facing the sea and formed part of the same type of fortifications as the ones further south.  
 
It is inside the landward bunkers that you can go exploring. But you will need a torch – it's pitch black almost everywhere inside here. Not that there is that much to see, really. Mostly it's just empty, damp caverns. Still, it does have something eerie and spooky. 
  
The coastal fortifications are in apparently quite good shape on the land-facing side. But on the sea-facing side the erosive powers of the Baltic waters show at least as much as they do in the more southern section. But they lack the bizarre, almost comical spectacle of the the big bunker bits lying on the beach or already in the sea. 
  
However, my guide knew of one rather spectacular hidden spot that he then took me to.  It involved a bit of clambering about, but was so worth it. At one point you could enter a small bunker room that was tilted about 20-30 degrees to one side (the sea-facing side of course). Looking out of the small window hole you can see that it is so not aligned with the horizon. The big opening towards the sea, on the other hand, looks on to yet more tumbled, broken bits of bunkers that offer no point of spacial reference. And the clues that the interior of the bunker give are of course totally skewed. After only a few moments this begins to play with your mind – and sense of balance! It's also cool for optical illusion photography! I wonder for how much longer it will be safe to enter this bunker, though. There will certainly come the point when it gets too precarious and eventually it too will tumble down towards the beach. But just when that will be is anybody's guess. It could be soon, it may not be for many years to come. 
  
Overall, I felt these coastal fortification ruins were amongst the best bits of my visit to Karosta (April 2014), better than the (in)famous Karosta prison and at least on a par with the best bits of the ghost town parts of this former garrison. The star and darkometer rankings above may not reflect this enough, but this is really quite a special thing.
  
  
Location: north of the former naval base of Karosta, near Liepaja, Latvia.
Google maps locators:
  
[56.565, 21.003] - southern part of the fortifications
  
[56.592, 21.016] - the Northern Forts proper
  
  
Access and costs: freely accessible at all times, in theory, but best during the day and ideally with a guide.  
  
Details: The southern parts of the coastal fort ruins could be considered walkable from the centre of Karosta (though hardly all the way from Liepaja), but to get to the Northern Forts would be quite a long hike, not impossible but time-consuming, so most people will rather want to have some form of transport, at the very least a (rugged) bicycle, or a car. There is no public transport. 
  
The hike would be very simple, all the way up the coastline and back. To cycle or drive there you have to use the back roads further inland. To get to the southern section of the coastal fort ruins drive up Atmodas bulvaris for about a mile and then turn left onto one of the little approach tracks heading towards the sea and park to the rear of the bunkers. 
  
To get to the Northern Forts from here you can try fiddling through from a bit further up the road heading right, but you can get lost or even bogged down here if you're not sure where to go (even with my guide we once got lost and nearly stuck on an unusable track). Alternatively, head back down Atmodas bulvaris until you're back where there are houses and turn left and then left again into Libiesu iela and keep heading north for a good two miles (3.5 km). Then turn left onto a track leading towards the coast. If you cross the former moat and come to a clearing you've gone too far. The tall wind turbine mast is a good point of reference for orientation. It is also near the base of that wind turbine where you can park. 
  
Having a guide not only takes the complications of navigating here out of the equation, it is also reassuring in terms of where you can safely enter the interior of the bunkers. Furthermore, there are interesting spots that without a guide you'd never find or even know about (like that psychedelic tilted bunker described above). 
  
So for the Northern Forts I would really recommend going with a guide! When I was there it was included in my long half-day tour of Karosta (see also Liepaja – esp. here), which cost 40 EUR. But you can also book (cheaper) tours of just the forts, e.g. through the guys who run Karosta prison and the tours and shows there. Or try the tourist information office in Liepaja.
  
  
Time required: between one or two hours and a whole day, if not longer, depending on how much you want to clamber about and how deep you want to explore the interior of the northern bunkers.  
  
  
Combinations with other dark destinations: in general see under Karosta and Liepaja.
    
Roughly halfway between the Northern Forts and their more southerly counterparts another single, smaller bunker can be seen that appears to be sliding down the dune-side onto the beach. Just a bit inland there are two concrete towers standing in between the trees that look like something left behind by aliens. Unfortunately I only found out about those latter bits after my visit, so did not see them with my own eyes.  
  
  
More ruins of former fortifications and some relics from the Soviet presence here (e.g. a small WWII memorial) can also be found further inland, e.g. just to the north of the main road into Liepaja from Grobina (and Riga), along the smaller road 14 novembra bulvaris (road P110). You may pass the place en route to Irbene
  
  
More bits of ex-fortifications are lined up along the former moat to the south and north-west of this spot too. And the southernmost of the ring of fortifications around Liepaja can be seen just west of the main road leading south out of the city towards Lithuania
  
  
And some very intriguing earth-covered bunkers (which may have been weapons stores) lie to the east of Lake Beberlini (with its water park) in northern Karosta
  
  
Yet more bunker relics and the like can be discovered if you search closely in the woodlands around all these locations.
  
  
Combinations with non-dark destinations: see under Liepaja
  
  
  • Karosta forts 01 - coast at Karosta pierKarosta forts 01 - coast at Karosta pier
  • Karosta forts 02 - old fortificationsKarosta forts 02 - old fortifications
  • Karosta forts 03 - doorwaysKarosta forts 03 - doorways
  • Karosta forts 04 - crumbling into the seaKarosta forts 04 - crumbling into the sea
  • Karosta forts 05 - stairway to heavenKarosta forts 05 - stairway to heaven
  • Karosta forts 06 - former gun pointKarosta forts 06 - former gun point
  • Karosta forts 07 - brokenKarosta forts 07 - broken
  • Karosta forts 08 - stony faceKarosta forts 08 - stony face
  • Karosta forts 09 - bunker in the seaKarosta forts 09 - bunker in the sea
  • Karosta forts 10 - battered by the surfKarosta forts 10 - battered by the surf
  • Karosta forts 11 - waves crashing inKarosta forts 11 - waves crashing in
  • Karosta forts 12 - memorial to Latvian SS men who were resistance fighers against the SovietsKarosta forts 12 - memorial to Latvian SS men who were resistance fighers against the Soviets
  • Karosta forts 13 - northern fortsKarosta forts 13 - northern forts
  • Karosta forts 14 - going inKarosta forts 14 - going in
  • Karosta forts 15 - insideKarosta forts 15 - inside
  • Karosta forts 16 - stalactites formingKarosta forts 16 - stalactites forming
  • Karosta forts 17 - rear of sea-facing northern fortsKarosta forts 17 - rear of sea-facing northern forts
  • Karosta forts 18 - abandonedKarosta forts 18 - abandoned
  • Karosta forts 19 - wind turbineKarosta forts 19 - wind turbine
  • Karosta forts 20 - fast shadowsKarosta forts 20 - fast shadows
  • Karosta forts 21 - bunkers fallen onto the beachKarosta forts 21 - bunkers fallen onto the beach
  • Karosta forts 22 - tiltedKarosta forts 22 - tilted
  • Karosta forts 23 - looking out to the non-tilted worldKarosta forts 23 - looking out to the non-tilted world
  • Karosta forts 24 - some kind of hangarKarosta forts 24 - some kind of hangar
 
   
   

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