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Rīgas pilsēta
Coat of Arms
Area 307.17 km
Population 747,200 (2004)
City Council Rātslaukums 1
Rīga LV-1539
Homepage http://www.riga.lv/

Riga in Latvia

Riga (Rīga in Latvian), the capital of Latvia, is situated on the Baltic Sea coast on the mouth of River Daugava, at Template:Coor dm. Riga is the largest city in the Baltic States and serves as a major cultural, educational, political, financial, commercial and industrial center in the Baltics.

The Historic Centre of Riga has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is written that "it is generally recognized that Riga has the finest collection of Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) buildings in Europe". Tourists are once again hailing Riga as "the Paris of the North" for its rich cultural life, many tourist attractions and outdoor cafs.


Business and commerce

Riga is home to numerous academic institutions, including the University of Latvia (Latvijas Universitāte), Riga Technical University (Rīgas Tehniskā Universitāte), Riga Stradins University (Rīgas Stradiņa Universitāte) and the Stockholm School of Economics. The Latvian Parliament (Saeima) also sits in Riga, as does the President of Latvia Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga who resides in Riga Castle.

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Riga Harbour (Photo by Ainars Meiers)
Business and leisure travel to Riga has increased significantly in recent years due to the improved commercial and travel infrastructure. Riga as a port city is a major transportation hub and is the center of the local road and railway system. Most tourists travel to Riga by air via the Riga International Airport, the largest airport in the Baltic States, which was renovated and modernized in 2001, coincident with Riga's 800th anniversary. Air traffic has doubled between 1993 and 2004. Baltic sea ferries connect Riga to Stockholm, Kiel and Lbeck.

Almost all important financial institutions are located in Riga, including the Bank of Latvia, which is Latvia's central bank. Foreign commercial trade through Riga has been on the increase in recent years and received a new impetus on May 1, 2004 when Latvia became a member of the European Union. Riga accounts for about half of the total industrial output of Latvia, focusing on the financial sector, public utilities, food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, wood processing, printing and publishing, textiles and furniture, and communications equipment manufacturing. The port of Riga is an important cargo shipping center.

Riga is the biggest city in the Baltic States. The city's population in 2003 was 739,232. In Riga native Latvians make up about 45% of the population with about an equal percentage of Russians. By comparison, only a little more than 60% of Latvia's inhabitants are native Latvians, 29.0% are Russians, 3.9% are Belarusians, 2.6% are Ukrainians, 2.5% are Polish, 1.4% are Lithuanians and the remaining 2.1% are accounted for by other nationalities (2003). Most Latvians are of the Protestant Evangelical Lutheran faith, whereas most Russians belong to the Russian Orthodox Church.


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View of Klostera street in Old Riga (Photo by Gatis Dieziņš)
Riga is located at the site of an ancient settlement of the Livs, an ancient Finno-Ugric tribe, at the junction of the Daugava and Ridzene (Latvian: Rīdzene) rivers. The Ridzene was originally known as the Riga River, at one point forming a natural harbor called the Riga Lake, neither of which exist today [1] (http://www.ceroi.net/reports/riga/latviski/pamatlietas/teritorija.htm). Some believe that the name of the river gave Riga its name.

The modern founding of Riga is regarded by historians to begin with German traders, mercenaries and religious crusaders who arrived in Latvia in the second half of the 12th century, attracted by a sparsely populated region, potential new markets and by the missionary opportunities to convert the local population to Christianity. German merchants established an outpost for trading with the Balts near the Liv settlement at Riga in 1158. The Augustinian monk Meinhard built a monastery there ca. 1190.

Bishop Albert was proclaimed Bishop of Livonia by his uncle Hartwig, Archbishop of Bremen and Hamburg in 1199. He landed in Riga in 1201 with 23 ships and more than 1500 armed crusaders, making Riga his bishopric. He established the Order of Livonian Brothers of the Sword (later a branch of the Teutonic Knights) and granted Riga city rights in that same year. Albert was successful in converting the King of the Livs, Caupo of Turaida, to Christianity, although, as related in the Chronicle of Henry of Livonia ("Hencricus Lettus"), it took him three decades to gain full control of Livonia (German Livland). Riga as well as Livonia and Prussia came under the auspices of the Holy Roman (German) Empire. It was not until much later, at the time of Martin Luther, that Riga, Livonia and Prussia converted to Protestantism.

Riga served as a gateway to trade with the Baltic tribes and with Russia. In 1282 Riga became a member of the Hanseatic League (German Hanse, English Hansa). The Hansa developed out of an association of merchants into a loose trade and political union of North German and Baltic cities and towns. Due to its economic protectionist policies which favored its German members, the League was very successful, but its exclusionist policies produced competitors. Its last Diet convened in 1669, although its powers were already weakened by the end of the 14th century, when political alliances between Lithuania and Poland and between Sweden, Denmark and Norway limited its influence. Nevertheless, the Hansa was instrumental in giving Riga economic and political stability, thus providing the city with a strong foundation which endured the political conflagrations that were to come, clear down to modern times.

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Riga in 1650 (Drawing by Johann Christoph Brotze)

As the influence of the Hansa waned, Riga became the object of foreign military, political, religious and economic aspirations. Riga accepted the Reformation in 1522, ending the power of the archbishops. With the demise of the Teutonic Knights in 1561, Riga enjoyed twenty years as a free city. In 1581, Riga came under the influence of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Attempts to reinstitute Roman Catholicism in Riga and southern Livonia failed as in 1621, Riga came under the rule of Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, who intervened in the Thirty Years' War not only for political and economic gain but also in favor of German Lutheran Protestantism. Livonia remained under Swedish control until 1710 during a period in which Riga retained a great deal of self-government autonomy. In that year, in the course of Great Northern War, Russia under Tsar Peter the Great invaded Riga. Sweden's northern dominance ended, and Russia's emergence as the strongest Northern power was formalized through the Treaty of Nystad in 1721. Riga was annexed to Russia and became an industrialized port city of the Russian empire, where it remained until World War I. By 1900, Riga ranked the third in Russia after Moscow and St. Petersburg in the number of industrial workers.

During these many centuries of war and changes of power in the Baltic, the Baltic Germans in Riga, successors to Albert's merchants and crusaders, remained steadfast in their positions, and in 1900 Riga's population of 282,943 was composed approximately of 50% Baltic Germans, 25% Latvians, and 25% Russians. Riga even employed German as its official language of administration until the imposition of Russian language in 1891 as the official language in Latvia. All birth, marriage and death records were kept in German up to that year.

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A view of Riga on a postcard from around 1900.

The 1900's brought World War I and the impact of the Russian Revolution to Riga. The German army marched into Riga in 1917. In 1918 the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed giving the Baltic countries to Germany. Because of the Armistice with Germany (Compigne) of November 11, 1918, Germany had to renounce that treaty, as did Russia, leaving Latvia and the other Baltic States in a position to claim independence.

After more than 700 years of foreign occupation, Latvia, with Riga as its capital city, thus declared its independence on November 18, 1918. For more details see History of Latvia.

During World War I and World War II (1918-1940), Riga and Latvia shifted their focus from Russia to the countries of Western Europe. A democratic, parliamentary system of government with a President was instituted. Latvian was recognized as the official language of Latvia. Latvia was admitted to the League of Nations. Driven by the economics of comparative advantage, the United Kingdom and Germany replaced Russia as Latvia's major trade partners. As a sign of the times, Latvia's first Prime Minister, Karlis Ulmanis (Latvian Kārlis), had studied agriculture and worked as a lecturer at the University of Nebraska in the United States of America.

Riga was described at this time as a vibrant, grand and imposing city and earned the title of "Paris of the North" from its visitors.

This period of rebirth was short-lived, however, as World War II soon followed with Soviet occupation of Latvia in 1940, German occupation in 1941-1944 and Soviet occupation of Latvia again at the end of the war. The Baltic Germans were forcibly repatriated to Germany after 700 years in Riga. Hundreds of thousands of Latvians perished and thousands fled into exile in countries all over the world. Latvia lost one-third of its population.

Soviet occupation after the war was marked by deportations to Siberia and elsewhere, forced industrialization and planned large-scale immigration of large numbers of non-Latvians from other Soviet republics into Riga, particularly Russians. By 1975 less than 40% of Riga's inhabitants were Latvians, a percentage which has risen since Latvian independence.

In 1986 the modern landmark of Riga, the Riga Radio and TV Tower, whose design is reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower was completed.

The policy of economic reform introduced as Perestroika by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev led to a situation in the late 1980's in which many Soviet republics, including Latvia, were able to regain their liberty and freedom. See Latvia. Latvia declared its full de facto independence on August 21, 1991 and that independence was recognized by Russia on September 6, 1991. Latvia formally joined the United Nations as an independent country on September 17, 1991. All Russian military forces were removed from 1992 to 1994.

In 2001, Riga celebrated its 800th anniversary as a city. On March 29, 2004 Latvia joined NATO. On May 1, 2004 Latvia joined the European Union.

Notable People

A list of rulers of Riga: Archbishops of Riga who were also secular rulers until 1561:

See also

External links

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