In the southeast of Lithuania, on the right bank of the river Jūra, near Karaliaučius-Ryga road for a few hundreds of years exists a city which was named Tauragė by our ancestors. The name of Tauragė is made up of two words – “tauras” having the meaning of “aurochs” and “ragas” which means “horn”. It reminds people of the times when huge aurochs used to live in the forests of the land. Craftsmen, who used aurochs’ horns as material, made horns (a musical instrument), armour, glasses for mead and other utensils. As the history unfolded, Tauragė happened to appear in the crossing of different ethnical, religious and political worlds. This land was either a wall separating those worlds, or the bridge connecting them. That is why this region, just like a small pine near the big road, has developed its own peculiar character and unique tinge.
In historical sources Tauragė was first mentioned at the beginning of 16th century, though the foundation of the town dates back to earlier times. During the 13th-14th century important crusaders’ roads to Lithuania went past Tauragė area. Crusaders’ dashes to the Samogitia have finished only after the battle of Grunwald.
The establishment of the town was rendered by Tauragė estate. In the second half of the 15th century the estate belonged to the Kontautai. After the death of Jonas Kontautas, his widow Jadvyga Aleknaitė-Kontautienė married Stanislovas Bartoševičius, so the surname of the owner of the estate had changed. In 1507 a wooden Catholic Church was built which was funded by Jadvyga Bartoševičienė, a daughter of Alekna Sudimantaitis. The name of the town was well-known to foreigners already in the 16th century. Tauragė was marked in 1526 by B. Vapovsky and by Swedish archbishop Olus Magnusu in the North European map of 1539. In 1549, after Merkelis Šemeta married a daughter of Ona Bartševičiūtė-Glebavičienė, Tauragė was given to the Šemetas. In 1567 Samogitian castellan Merkelis Šemeta devoted land for the construction of Evangelical Lutheran Church and new parish. Later in 1653 Tauragė fell into hands of the chief of Lithuanian army Jonušas Radvila. In order to keep the rich possession for the Radvilas family, the only Jonušas daughter Ona Marija was married to her cousin Boguslav Radvila. After Boguslav’s death in 1669, his juvenile Liudvika Karolina Radvilaitė inherited all the wealth. She strongly supported a movement of evangelicals’ reformists. On the 17th of January, 1681 Liudvika married Liudvik who was a marcount of Brandenburg. In 1691 Tauragė was devolved upon the Prussia government according to the Vilnius tribunal assertion, though politically it still belonged to Lithuania and Poland. The idea of Jonušas Radvila to reform Tauragė estate, to concede autonomy to the town and in that way to attract businessmen and tradespeople from other countries, was left unfulfilled.
After the kurfursts of Brandenburg started to head up the estate, it became different from other Lithuanian estates. A new administration was introduced when Tauragė went to the Prussia government – new administrators were appointed by kurfursts. From 1688 to 1793 Tauragė was ruled by twelve officers and most of them were Lithuanians. The ruler of Prussia, as the owner of Tauragė, was equal to Lithuanian nobles and had to do usual fee-paying of Lithuania and Poland countries. In September 25, 1793 by a Gardin contract the Prussian government renounced their rights to Tauragė and gave it back to the republic of Lithuania and Poland. A year later, in August 3, the governor of Raseiniai district Aramavičius became responsible for Tauragė. While Russians, Prussians and Austrians were dealing about the division of the republic of Lithuania and Poland, the King of Prussia suggested Jekaterina II to make a small buffer duchy between Russia and Prussia. The Duke Platonas Zubovas, a beloved of Jekaterina II, had to rule this duchy. But Russians opposed the offer.
In 1795 Tauragė as well as the rest of Lithuania fell into hands of Russia. Czarina Jekaterina II gave Tauragė to her doctor Kruse who later gave this town to his stepson Albrecht. In 1805 Albrecht sold the estate and the town that belonged to the treasury of Russia, to the count Platonas Zubovas. Later, after Platonas death, Tauragė was passed to the treasury of the state. At the beginning of the 19th century Tauragė experienced a period of considerable political events. Between 1805 and 1807 the Tauragė estate became a temporary residence of the Russian ruler. Alexander I and Prussian king visited this place quite often. After Napoleon defeated Russians near Fridland, in June 22, 1807 czar Alexander I signed an agreement with France in Taurage. This agreement was a prototype of the famous Tilžė agreement signed in June 25, 1807. In 1812 Napoleon’s army was moving back from Russia in the direction of Tilžė. As well an ally of Napoleon, Prussian army under the leadership of General Lieutenant H. Jork was moving back. Russian army instead of attacking Prussians sent their parliamentarians to H. Jork and offered not to fight but to negotiate. In December 30, 1812 a convention of 7 articles, which was called Tauragė convention, was signed in the Požerūnai mill of Tauragė estate (6 km away from Tauragė). This event is considered to be a significant turn in the history of Europe. This Tauragė convention was obtained as legal and exalted as the beginning of Germans’ national liberation. In the 1841 the Tauragė estate was passed again to the treasury of the state. Five years later in 1846 emperor Nicholas I gave away the estate in accordance to the right of primogeniture to Hilarius Vasilkovich. In the middle of the 19th century Tauragė town had no autonomy so it belonged to the estate. The town, without autonomy, was developing slowly. Nevertheless, its development was kept down by permanent fires. Taurage suffered huge fires in 1780, 1782, 1815 and 1836. The last fire caused considerable damage. Approximately 200 buildings perished during the fire, including a big customs-house with warehouses built in 1819, the post office (1830) and the Evangelical Church (1787). The fire did not affect only 8 courtyards. Citizens aggrieved by the fire started building temporary huts; the frontier customs-house was temporary removed to the estate. In the same year in accordance with the order by Russian government, architect Vaclov Ritshel arranged and confirmed a new project of the construction of Tauragė. In this way a new Tauragė town was constructed in a new place. The new place was determined by the Tilžė-Riga highway. Šiauliai-Tauragė highway stretch was projected during the period from 1836 to 1837 and constructed during the period from 1836 to 1844. A new highway from Prussia to Lithuania turned further north, bypassing the Tauragė estate. For the new town and highway a new place was chosen because of the high water level in the river Jūra. After building a new road through Taurage the town started growing very fast. Reasons for that were the following: a convenient geographical situation; a borderline town (that had determined active economical-trading being). The main citizens’ occupation was trade. Through the Tauragė frontier large quantities of corn, horses, geese and flax were transported to Prussia. In the middle of the 19th century a complex characteristic to frontier towns was built in Tauragė, by the main highway. The complex includes the palatial ensemble, devoted to the customs-house (1844–1847; 1852; 1866), a postal station ensemble with an inn, projected by architect Slupskis (1858–1861), the Orthodox Church of the frontier crew (1874). According to the project of architect Brucas Evangelical Church was built in 1843, the Rome Catholic Church was built in 1903. After the fire brick buildings became popular in the construction of Tauragė and these bricks were provided by the brick-field of Tauragė estate. In 1871 the owner of Tauragė estate H. Vasilčikovas opened a distillery, and built a steam mill in 1877. From 1889 Tauragė had a team of firemen, which, in 1897, built a firehouse near the new market. In 1880 there was a parish and district schools in the town. In 1898 a progymnasium was established under the name of H. Vasilčikovas, later in 1911 a gymnasium was established as well. Girls’ Gymnasium was established in 1910.
The consumer company functioned in the town from 1906 and a year later it had 240 members. In 1908 Tauragė economy circle was founded, and in 1909 a printing-house started its work. The fellowship of Tauragė chanters was very active; it had theatrical group and a choir leaded by J. Charžauskas. According to the plan the town was completely reconstructed in 1910. As Tauragė grew bigger, the number of its population also was increasing: in 1833 there were 630 inhabitants, in 1892 – 4722, 1897 – 6655, and before the World War I Tauragė had already 10000 inhabitants. In the second half of the 19th century Tauragė became independent from estate, though it still did not posses complete independence. The administrator of Tauragė became the chief of frontier cordon. The district staff of Jurbarkas frontier custom-houses with a chief, 4 officers, a secretary and a deputy of customs was established in the town. Soldier brigade of Vilnius frontier military service was subordinated to the chief of staff. Tauragė belonged to Raseiniai district and was the centre of the district until 1919. The national revival in the town and its region began in the second half of the 19th century. Tauragė was on the way of book spreader. One of the first book-spreader trials investigated in the court between 1870 and 1871 was also related to Tauragė. In this trial a parson J. Tamoševicius from Tauragė parish was charged for the distribution of Lithuanian books. Between 1872 and 1882 Lithuanian books were also distributed by the parson of evangelical parish J. Pipiras. His offspring Martynas Keturakaitis had also distributed forbidden literature between 1882 and 1884 and for this he was exiled to Caucasus, from where he emigrated to the USA. When the frontier was established in Tauragė, there was a jail for customs arrestees. Sometimes it appeared that even 37 frontier trespassers were arrested per one day.
Tauragė was severely damaged during the years of the World War I. In September 5, 1914, first German scouts appeared. Two days later Germans distributed bigger troops. At the end of the year Russian army attacked East Prussia, occupied Tauragė and struck Tilžė. The government of German army, after realizing that they were losing in the East front, threw few divisions and in the1915 organized the attack action. During this attack Tauragė was occupied. When the war actions started and the town was bombarded, Tauragė got in flames and burnt to the ground. There left hardly a few buildings in the edges of the town and about third of inhabitants. The only Russian Orthodox Church survived. Paving-stones from streets’ and market places’ were taken for reconstruction of a highway. The town was damaged so severely that Germans, who occupied the land, were not able to find room for establishing district offices. German occupation government established mental hospital in frontier. They constructed a narrow-gauge railway in the north western part that continued from Lauksargiai through Tauragė, Skaudvilė and Kelmė. The railway to Tauragė went in parallel with the highway, and bent the town from the northern side. The station was in the current Šilalės street. When between 1915 and 1916 rains had damaged the railway dike, the occupation government did not restore the narrow-gauge railway but instead they constructed a line of broad-gauge railway in the southern part of the town. In 1916 near the market square Germans constructed a three-floor office building – the town hall, called “Ratkaus”. During the German occupation the fire-damaged town was renewable very slowly. Till 1919 only 48 wooden buildings were built. In the establishment of independent Lithuania people of Tauragė were active and nation-aware. In the end of 1918 Tauragė defense staff that was lead by officer J. Kubilius was formed. In January 10, 1919 the first volunteers arrived; officers and sergeants were mobilized in January 15. The first Samogitian peon battalion started forming in January. In February 16, 1919, during the celebration of one year anniversary of Lithuanian independence, the first military parade in Samogitia was organized in Tauragė. During the years of independence Tauragė was restored beautifully according to the new rectangular plan. Instead of an old bombed bridge a new ferroconcrete bridge was laid over the Jūra. Streets were paved with ashlars, pavements were laid, a partial canalization and plumbing was constructed, the riverside of the Jūra was put in order and the lighting of streets was installed. There appeared monumental halls that were projected by famous architects: the building of railway station by R. A. Fryk in 1927, hospital in 1932, riffle house in 1933 (architect K. Reison), the bank in 1935 (architects A. Funkas and M. Songaila). From the 1932 “Food” fabric started to work. In the 1920’s there functioned 3 brick-fields, 2 sweet fabrics, distillery, 3 hotels, 2 sawmills, 3 garages, 5 mills, 4 pharmacies and 2 kindergartens. There was a wide net of education system – some primary schools, a commercial school, gymnasium, Jews’ progymnasium, girls’ industrial and housekeeping school, agronomy school and teachers training school. In 1930s the town was decorated with monuments of V. Kudirka and V. Putvinskis, unfortunately these monuments were destroyed during the Soviet times. In 1935 there were 1363 houses and in 1936 there appeared 872 wooden houses and 211 brick houses. 6527 people lived in Tauragė in 1935 and 10561 in 1939. Tauragė was one of the quickest and most beautifully reconstructed cities of independent Lithuania. In 1932 this town got a status of second-rate city. The town suffered a lot during the first Russian occupation (1940-1941) and during German occupation (1941-1944). In June 22, 1941, during Germans attacks, Tauragė was ruined. Before the town was rebuilt it was repeatedly destroyed in October 1944. In the war period part of the inhabitants moved out from the town, some of them were taken to work in Germany. The biggest part of Jews was killed. During the first years of postwar period the town suffered from repressions of Russian NKGB. Approximately 80 per cent of the town was destroyed during the war. The project (architect R. Skromanas) of rebuilding Tauragė was formulated in 1948. It scheduled to rebuild the town in the same place in which it was rebuilt after the fire of 1836, only the industrial regions ought to be resettled behind the railway. In 1926 architect J. Vanagas prepared a new city plan, and later, in 1976 architect P. Janulis prepared a new one. While implementing these plans the market square had gone, empty territories were filled with dwelling-houses that were built by the citizens. Because of the postwar reconstructions historical heritage was damaged. It was located in nowadays Dariaus and Girėnas, Bažnyčių and Vytauto streets. A part of old buildings was reconstructed without special researches so in this way the authenticity of architectural buildings was destroyed. Because of the new constructions Jew and Evangelical Lutheran cemeteries were destroyed. New regions started forming: Žalgiriai, Jovarai and industrial one. In postwar Tauragė became the industrial centre. In 1959 greengrocery fabric was established, a factory of pottery was established in 1956. In 1963 a fabric of calculation machinery elements was established, the meat fabric re-opened and etc. 12041 inhabitants lived in Tauragė in 1959, 19575 inhabitants in 1970. After the town renovation Tauragė became the cultural centre. During 1970’s the centre of the city and the Jūra embankment were repaired, summer stage was established and the river Jūra was newly ponded. The television relay station which was built in 1965 was changed into a stronger and more powerful one in 1991. In September 1988 the initiative group of Movement (Sąjūdis) was established. In 1989, after a break of quite a few years, the festival of February 16, had been started celebrated again, the old names of the streets were brought back. The reestablished Lithuanian independence brought new hopes and possibilities. Monuments of V. Kudirka and V. Pūtvis- Putvinskis returned from non-existence. The memories of the exile martyrs and resistant’ battles were perpetuated in the new monuments. Slowly the image of the town has been changing and growing attention is paid to the preservation of Tauragė historical heritage. Communities of Lithuania Minor and Samogitia, political exiles and prisoners and the Rifles’ union has started to function in the town.
Taurage has been changing little by little because confusions, falls and losses follow every big change, only after that hopes come true. In January 1, 1999 the population in Tauragė numbers 56 015, and 35 464 of inhabitants live in the town.