Riga (Rīga, riːga, ) the capital of Latvia, is situated on the Baltic Sea coast on the mouth of the river Daugava. Riga is the largest city in the Baltic states. The Historic Centre of Riga has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the city is particularly notable for its extensive Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) architecture, which UNESCO considers to be unparalleled anywhere in the world .
Riga is located on the site of an ancient settlement of the Livonians, an ancient Finnic tribe, at the junction of the Daugava and the Riga River, at one point forming a natural harbor called the Riga Lake, neither of which exist today . It is believed that the name of the river gave Riga its name.
The modern founding of Riga is regarded by historians to have begun with the arrival of German traders, mercenaries and religious crusaders 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 1225.
Riga served as a gateway to trade with the Baltic tribes and with Russia. In 1282 Riga became a member of the Hanseatic League. 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, down to modern times.
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. In 1524, a venerated statue of the Virgin Mary in the Cathedral was denounced as a witch, and given a trial by water in the Daugava River. The statue floated, so it was denounced as a witch and burnt at Kubsberg. With the demise of the Teutonic Knights in 1561, Riga for twenty years had the status of a Free Imperial City, then in 1581, Riga came under the influence of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1621 Riga and the outlying fortress of Daugavgriva 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. During the Russo-Swedish War, 1656-1658, Riga withstood a siege by Russians. Riga remained the largest city in Sweden until 1710 during a period in which the city 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 by Russia and became an industrialized port city of the Russian empire, where it remained until World War I. By 1900, Riga was the third largest city in Russia after Moscow and Saint Petersburg in terms of numbers of industrial workers.
During these many centuries of war and changes of power in the Baltic, the Baltic Germans in Riga remained in their dominant position despite demographic changes. Riga employed German as its official language of administration until the imposition of Russian language in 1891 as the official language in the Baltic provinces. Latvians began to supplant Germans as the largest ethnic group in the city in the mid-19th century. The rise of a Latvian bourgeoisie made Riga a center of the Latvian National Awakening with the founding of the Riga Latvian Association in 1868 and the organization of the first national song festival in 1873. The nationalist movement of the Young Latvians was followed by the socialist New Current during the city's rapid industrialization, culminating in the 1905 Revolution led by the Latvian Social Democratic Workers' Party.
The 20th century brought World War I and the impact of the Russian Revolution of 1917 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 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. Latvia, with Riga as its capital city, thus declared its independence on November 18, 1918.
Between World War I and World War II (1918–1940), Riga and Latvia shifted their focus from Russia to the countries of Western Europe. The United Kingdom and Germany replaced Russia as Latvia's major trade partners.
During the World War II, Latvia was occupied first by the Soviet Union in 1941 and then by Nazi Germany in 1941-1944. The Baltic Germans were forcibly repatriated to Germany. The city's Jewish community was forced into a ghetto in the Maskavas neighbourhood, and concentration camps were constructed in Kaiserwald and the city of Salaspils.
In 1945 Latvia was once again occupied by the Red Army. As a result of the war Latvia lost approximately one-third of its population. Forced industrialization and planned large-scale immigration of large numbers of non-Latvians from other Soviet republics into Riga, particularly Russians, changed the demographic composition of Riga.
The policy of economic reform, introduced in 1986 as Perestroika, led to dissolution of the Soviet Union and restoration of independent Latvia in 1991. Latvia formally joined the United Nations as an independent country on September 17, 1991. In 2004 Latvia joined both NATO and the European Union.
In 2004, the arrival of low-cost airlines resulted in cheaper flights from other European cities such as London and Berlin and consequently a substantial increase in numbers of tourists.
The city of Riga consists of six administrative regions, four of which are named after regions of Latvia - Kurzeme district, Latgale suburb, Vidzeme suburb, Zemgale suburb. There is also a Central District and a Northern district. Residents, however, divide Riga into residential neighbourhoods called micro regions. Unlike the city centre, they are mostly residential although they are equipped with commercial sectors. These neighbourhoods include:
Some common factors in these place names are "vec" meaning old [vecs], "kalns" meaning hill, "ciems" meaning village, "sala" meaning island and "mež" meaning forest [mežs].
The climate of Riga is maritime and temperate, but the winters can be extreme due to the northern location. The coldest months are January and February, when the average temperature is -6°C but can frequently drop as low as -25°C. Due to the proximity of the sea autumn rains and fogs are frequent. Continuous snow cover may last eighty days. The summers in Riga are very warm and humid, with an average temperature of 18°C, the peak often goes as high as 36°C.
Business and leisure travel to Riga have increased significantly in recent years due to improved infrastructure. Most tourists travel to Riga by air via Riga International Airport, the largest airport in the Baltic states, which was renovated and modernized in 2001 on the occasion of Riga's 800th anniversary. In the near future, the face of Riga will undergo notable changes. The construction of a new landmark — the Latvian National Library building — is beginning in the autumn of 2007 and is due to be built by 2010. Currently discussions are underway in Riga council about the development of the central areas on the left bank of the Daugava. The major dispute surrounds plans to build skyscrapers in Ķīpsala. The construction of 3 buildings in Ķīpsala has already started — the Da Vinci complex (25 floors) and two high-rises called Z-Towers (30 floors). Almost all important Latvian 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 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. More than 50% of Latvian companies are registered in Riga region. The port of Riga is an important cargo shipping center. It is the main all-weather port in the Baltic and is expected to grow in the next few years due to increased trade with other ex-Soviet states and China.
Public transportation in the city is provided by Rīgas Satiksme which operates a large fleet of trams, buses and trolleybuses on an extensive network of routes across the city. In addition, many private owners operate minibus services. Riga is connected to the rest of Latvia by trains operated by the national railway company Pasažieru Vilciens, whose headquarters are in Riga. There are also international rail links to Russia and Estonia (Valga).
With 722,485 inhabitants in 2007, Riga is the largest city in the Baltic States, though its population has decreased since 1991. Notable causes include out-migration and low fertility rates. Some have estimated that the population may fall by as much as 50% by 2050. According to the 2007 data, native Latvians make up 42.3% of the population of Riga, with the percentage of Russians at 42.1%, Belarusians at 4.4%, Ukrainians at 3.9%, Poles at 2.0%, and others at 4.3%. By comparison, 59% of Latvia's inhabitants are native Latvians, 28.5% are Russians, 3.8% are Belarusians, 2.5% are Ukrainians, 2.4% are Polish, 1.4% are Lithuanians and the remaining 2.4% are accounted for by other nationalities (2006). Upon restoration of Latvian independence in 1991, Soviet-era migrants (and any of their offspring born before 1991) were not automatically granted Latvian citizenship. Some have emigrated; this partially accounts for the recent decline in Riga's population. As a result of this repatriation of some Soviet-era migrants, the proportion of Latvians in Riga has increased from 36.5% in 1989 to 42.3% in 2007. In contrast the percentage of Russians has fallen from 47.3% to 42.1% in the same time period. Latvians overtook Russians as the largest ethnic group in 2006.
Riga maintains sister city relationships with the following cities:
|Aalborg, Denmark||Almati, Kazakhstan||Amsterdam, Netherlands||Astana, Kazakhstan|
|Beijing, China||Bordeaux, France||Bremen, Germany||Cairns, Australia|
|Calais, France||Dallas, USA||Florence, Italy||Kiev, Ukraine|
|Kobe, Japan||Minsk, Belarus||Moscow, Russia||Norrköping, Sweden|
|Pori, Finland||Providence, USA||Rostock, Germany||Saint Petersburg, Russia|
|Santiago, Chile||Slough, UK||Stockholm, Sweden||Suzhou, China|
|Taipei, Taiwan||Tallinn, Estonia||Vilnius, Lithuania||Warsaw, Poland|