The ancestral home of the Curonians (Kuršiai) and other proto-Lithuanian tribes including the long-extinct Nadruvians and Skalvians, the area around Klaipėda has been inhabited since well before the 7th century, when a city first started to take shape here. Until 1923, the city was an integral part of the region of East Prussia known as Lithuania Minor (Lithuanian: Mažoji Lietuva; German: Kleinlitauen) whose Lithuanian population, the Lietuvininkai, were predominantly Protestant and distinct from their eastern neighbours in many ways. Although Klaipėda was known as Memel for most of its history, the word Klaipėda is used below to mean both.
1252 The Bishop of Kuršas (Courland) signs an agreement with the Livonian Order. The Teutonic Knights build Memelburg Castle at the mouth of the Danė. In 1254 Klaipėda is granted Lübeck law, establishing it as a sea trading town on a par with other Hanseatic towns. But the town is repeatedly attacked by Lithuanian and German forces, causing the Bishop to relocate to Pilten (today’s Piltene in Latvia) in 1298.
In 1328 the Livonian Knights agree to transfer Klaipėda and its surrounding area to the German Order of Prussia.
In 1418 the city of Caloypeda (Latin for Klaipėda) is first mentioned in written sources. In 1455 it is occupied by Samogitian (Žemaitian) forces for the first time.
In 1525 during the Reformation in Prussia, the Lithuanian Protestant Church is established. In 1540 a large fire destroys large parts of the city.
Swedish forces control the city from 1629 until 1635. By 1657 the merchants of Klaipėda are granted the privilege to develop their sea trade independently of the Prussian government, enabling the city and its port to expand.
Russia occupies the Klaipėda region from 1757 until 1762. During the second half of the century the city grows rapidly and the port hosts nearly 1,000 ships annually.
In 1808 Klaipėda becomes the temporary capital of the Kingdom of Prussia while Napoleon occupies Berlin, but late in 1812 Russian forces occupy the area again. In 1854 another fire consumes the city, causing massive damage. Klaipėda is subsequently rebuilt using stone. In 1860 the first gymnasium (grammar school) is founded. By 1871 the newly founded German Empire controls the city and continues to do so until the end of WWI. The River Nemunas and the port are connected in 1873 via the King Wilhelm Canal.
At the end of WWI the Treaty of Versailles severs Klaipėda from German rule and places it as a protectorate of the Entente states. In 1923 the Klaipėda Revolt (actually an invasion) forces the city into Lithuanian hands although the region retains much autonomy from the rest of Lithuania.
On March 22, 1939 the Nazis take control of the city and Hitler gives a speech from the Drama Theatre balcony overlooking Theatre Square. The Nazis stay until the city's liberation by the Red Army on January 28,
1945. Nearly two-thirds of the city is destroyed during WWII. Many inhabitants flee or are deported. Klaipėda, like the rest of Lithuania, comes under Soviet rule until 1990. After Independence, the University of Klaipėda is founded. In 1997, in order to revitalise the city, the area is established as one of the few Free Economic Zones within the country.
The Lithuanian currency the litas is pegged to the euro in 2002 and in 2004 Lithuania joins both NATO and the European Union. In 2007 the country becomes part of the Schengen zone. Klaipėda co-hosts the prestigious Tall Ships Race in 2009 and two years later basketball fever grips the nation as it hosts the EuroBasket competition in cities including Klaipėda. In 2013 Lithuania takes over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for a six-month period from July 1. Dalia Grybauskaitė is re-elected Lithuania's president for a second term in May 2014. In 2015, Lithuania adopts the euro. On February 16, 2018 Lithuania stages huge celebrations to mark 100 years since the restoration of its independence.