Riga ( , ) is the capital and largest city of Latvia, a major
industrial, commercial, cultural and
financial centre of the Baltics, and an important seaport, situated on the mouth of the Daugava. With 713,016
inhabitants (2009) it is the largest city of the Baltic states and third-largest in the
Baltic region, behind Saint
Petersburg and Stockholm (counting residents within the city limits).
Riga's territory covers and lies between above sea level
, on a flat and sandy
historical centre has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the city is
particularly notable for its extensive Jugendstil (German Art
Nouveau) architecture, which UNESCO considers to be
unparalleled anywhere in the world.
The Riga skyline in the mid-16th
century, Cosmographia Universalis
Founding of Riga
The river Daugava
has been a trade route
since antiquity, part of the
Dvina-Dnieper navigation route
to Byzantium. A sheltered natural harbour
upriver from the mouth of the Daugava the site of today's Riga has
been recorded, as Duna Urbs
, as early as the 2nd century
. It was subsequently settled by the
, an ancient Finnic
tribe, later also the Kurs
Riga began to develop as a centre of Viking
trade during the early Middle
.Riga's inhabitants occupied themselves mainly with
fishing, animal husbandry
trading, later developing crafts (in bone, wood, amber, and
The Chronicle of Henry of
) testifies to Riga having long been
a trading centre by the 12th century
referring to it as portus antiquus
(ancient port), and
describes dwellings and warehouses used to store mostly corn, flax,
and hides. German traders began visiting Riga, establishing a
nearby outpost in 1158
One theory for the origin of the name Riga
is that it is a
corrupted borrowing from the Liv ringa
referring to the ancient natural harbour formed by the tributary
loop of the Daugava. The other is that Riga
owes its name
to this already-established role in commerce between East and West,
as a borrowing of the Latvian rija
, for warehouse, the "j"
becoming a "g" in German notably, Riga is called Rie
English geographer Richard Hakluyt
(1589), and German historian Dionysius Fabricius (1610) confirms
the origin of Riga
Along with German traders also arrived the monk Meinhard of
Segeberg to convert the pagans to Christianity
. (Catholic and
Orthodox Christianity had
already arrived in Latvia more than a century earlier, and many
Latvians baptised.) Meinhard settled among the Livs, building a
castle and church at Ikšķile, upstream
from Riga, and established his bishopric there.
however, continued to practice paganism
Meinhard died in Ikšķile in 1196
, having failed
his mission. In 1198
the Bishop Bertold arrived
with a contingent of crusaders
commenced a campaign of forced Christianization
. Bertold was shortly
killed and his forces defeated.
The Church mobilised to avenge. Pope
issued a bull declaring a crusade against the
. Bishop Albert
was proclaimed Bishop of
by his uncle Hartwig of Uthlede
, Prince-Archbishop of Bremen and
. Albert landed in Riga in
with 23 ships and 500 Westphalian
crusaders and 500 Westphalian crusaders. In 1201
he transferred the seat of the Livonian bishopric
from Ikšķile to Riga, extorting agreement to do so from the elders
of Riga by force.
Under Bishop Albert
1201 also marked the first arrival of German merchants in Novgorod,
via the Dvina. To defend territory and trade, Albert established
the Order of Livonian
Brothers of the Sword
, open to
nobles and merchants.
Christianization of the Livs continued. 1207
marked Albert's start on fortification of the town. Emperor Philip's
invested Albert with
Livonia as a fief and principality of the Holy Roman Empire
. To promote a permanent
military presence, territorial ownership was divided between the
Church and the Order
, with the Church taking Riga and two
thirds of all lands conquered and granting the Order
thirdPalmieri, A. Catholic Origin of Latvia
, ed. Cororan,
J.A. et al.The American Catholic Quarterly Review Volume XLVI,
January-October 1921. Philadelphia.. Until then, it had been
customary for crusaders to serve for a year and then return
Albert had ensured Riga's commercial future by obtaining papal
bulls which decreed that all German merchants had to carry on their
Baltic trade through Riga. In 1211, Riga minted its
first coinage, and Albert laid the cornerstone for the Riga Dom.
Riga was not yet secure as an alliance of
tribes failed to take Riga. In 1212, Albert led a
campaign to compel Polotsk to grant
German merchants free river passage. Polotsk conceded
Kukenois (Koknese) and
Jersika to Albert, also ending the Livs'
tribute to Polotsk.
Riga's merchant citizenry chafed and sought greater autonomy from
the Church. In 1221
they acquired the right to
independently self-administer Riga and adopted a city
That same year Albert was compelled to recognize Danish rule over
lands they had conquered in Estonia and Livonia. Albert had sought
the aid of King Valdemar of
to protect Riga and Livonian lands against Liv
insurrection when reinforcements could not reach Riga. The Danes landed in
Livonia, built a fortress at Reval (Tallinn), and set
about conquering Estonian and Livonian lands.
attempted, but failed, to assassinate Valdemar. Albert was able to
reach an accommodation a year later, however, and in 1222
Valdemar returned all Livonian lands and
possessions to Albert's control..
Albert's difficulties with Riga's citizenry continued; with papal
intervention, a settlement was reached in 1225
whereby they no longer had to pay tax to the Bishop of Riga, and
Riga's citizens acquired the right to elect their magistrates and
town councilors. In 1226
, Albert consecrated
the Dom Cathedral, built St. James's Church and founding a
parochial school at the Church of St. George.
, Albert conquered Oesel , and the city
of Riga concluded a treaty with the Principality of Smolensk
Polotsk to Riga.
Albert died in January
. He failed his aspiration to be anointed
archbishop but the German hegemony he established over the Baltics
would last for seven centuries.
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
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
in 1561, Riga for
twenty years had the status of a Free
, then in 1581, Riga came under the influence of
. 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 favour of German Lutheran Protestantism.
During the Russo-Swedish War,
, 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.
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 formalised through the Treaty
of Nystad in 1721. Riga was annexed by Russia and became an
industrialised 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.
Riga seen from Spot Satellite
During these many centuries of war and changes of power in the
Baltic, the Baltic Germans
remained in their dominant position despite demographic changes. By
1867 Riga's population was 42.9% German. Riga employed German
as its official language
of administration until
of Russian language
in 1891 as the official
language in the Baltic
. Latvians began to supplant Germans as the largest
in the city in the
mid-19th century. The rise of a Latvian bourgeoisie
made Riga a centre of the Latvian National Awakening
the founding of the Riga Latvian Association in 1868 and the
organisation of the first national song festival in 1873. The
was followed by the
socialist New Current
during the city's
rapid industrialisation, culminating in the 1905 Revolution
led by the Latvian Social
Democratic Workers' Party
The 20th century brought World War I
the impact of the Russian
Revolution of 1917
to Riga. The German
marched into Riga in 1917. In 1918 the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
giving the Baltic countries
Germany. Because of the Armistice with
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.
A view of Riga on a postcard. circa
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
World War II, Latvia was occupied first
by the Soviet
Union in June 1940 and then by
Nazi Germany in
were forcibly repatriated to Germany. The city's Jewish community was forced into Riga ghetto and concentration camps
were constructed in Kaiserwald and the city of Salaspils.
In 1945 Latvia was once again occupied by the
. As a result of the war Latvia lost approximately
one-third of its population. Forced industrialisation and planned
large-scale immigration of large numbers of non-Latvians from other
Riga, particularly Russians, changed the demographic composition of
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
as an independent country on September 17, 1991.
Latvia joined both NATO and the
In 2004, the arrival of low-cost
resulted in cheaper flights from other European cities
such as London and Berlin and consequently a substantial increase
in numbers of tourists.
Lutheran cathedral, the largest church in the Baltic states. Built in the 13th century, it was modified several times in
its history. It has a magnificent organ that dates from 1844.
- Riga Castle (Rīgas Pils), which houses the Museum of Latvian
History and the Museum of Foreign Art, and the president's official
- Saint Peter's Church, Riga, with its high tower.
- St. John's Church, a small 13th-century chapel, behind Saint Peter's
- The Powder Tower (Pulvertornis), the only tower that
remains from the original city walls.
The Latvian Museum of War is located inside.
- St James's Roman Catholic
- Wooden architecture.
Ethnographic Open Air Museum is an Open-Air Museum ( Brīvdabas
Muzejs), displaying houses, farm buildings, and church
representing rural life going back hundreds of years. Situated
along Jugla Lake (Juglas Ezers).
Museum of the Occupation of
Latvia, which documents the seizure and occupation of
Latvia by various invaders from 1940 to 1991.
Nouveau architecture on Central Riga streets such as Alberta and Elizabetes iela.
- Riga Radio and TV Tower - the third highest tower in Europe.
- Riga Motor Museum - collection of retro motorcycles and automobiles,
including some of the first motorcycles and remnants of the
Soviet era, for example,
Brezhnev's and Stalin's armoured limousines with waxworks of
these political figures. Located in Mežciems.
Zoo and Mežaparks (Forest Park) with a Ferris
- Riga Circus — the only permanently situated circus in the
- Riga Museum of History and
Navigation - one of the largest and oldest museums in Latvia
and Baltic states.
- Vērmanes Garden - the oldest public garden in Riga.
The Powder Tower of Riga
of Riga consists of six administrative regions, four of which are
named after regions of Latvia - Kurzeme district, Latgale
suburb, Vidzeme suburb, Zemgale
Left-bank Riga is distinguished by its
green streets and large parks.
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
- These neighbourhoods include
- Āgenskalns - Left bank, old neighbourhood, mainly built in
late 19th — early 20th century.
- Andrejsala - An emerging art, culture and entertainment
district, located within former territory of the industrial
- Beberbeķi - A neighbourhood consisting mainly of private
houses, it lies on the western edge of the city.
swampy forest Mukupurvs and Riga
Airport noise area separate it from the rest of the
- Bolderāja - Left bank, northernmost neighbourhood. The
18th-century fort built by Peter the Great is one of the oldest
buildings in this part of the city.
- Čiekurkalns - Right bank, old neighbourhood.
- Dārzciems - Right bank, mainly consists of one or two-storey
- Dreiliņi - A newly built
neighbourhood in the eastern part of the city.
- Dzirciems - Left bank, south of
- Iļģuciems - Left bank, north of Āgenskalns.
- Imanta - Left
bank, newly built neighbourhood.
- Jugla - Right bank, large neighbourhood,
lies just west of lake Juglas.
- Ķengarags - Right bank,
south-east of city centre. One of the most populous neighbourhoods
- Ķīpsala - island located just
west of the Old Town. Home to the Press Office and Exhibition Hall.
- Maskavas Forštate -
located south of the city centre.
- Mežaparks - Right bank, consists largely of private
houses. Notable for its large forest-like park including the
Esplanade where the Folk Song Festival is
held and also the city zoo.
- Mežciems - Right bank, just east
of the large Biķernieku forest.
- Pārdaugava - City's part,
situated on Daugava's left bank, meaning "across Daugava", also
particularly the neighbourhoods along the water, Āgenskalns and
- Pleskodāle - A neighbourhood
consisting mostly of private houses on the west side of the city.
It borders Zolitūde and Šampēteris neighbourhoods.
- Pļavnieki - Right bank, one of
the town's most populous neighbourhoods.
- Purvciems - Right bank, one of the town's most populous
- Sarkandaugava - Right bank, east
of the small river with the same name.
- Šampēteris - An old
neighbourhood on the left bank of Daugava, with many houses built
in the first part of 20th century still surviving.
- Šmerlis - Right bank, more of a
forest than a neighbourhood, it is home to Riga's Cinema
- Torņakalns - Left bank, old neighbourhood known for the Māras
- Vecmīlgrāvis - Right bank, cut off from the mainland by a small
- Vecrīga - Old Town.
- Ziepniekkalns - Left bank,
consists both of old and new buildings.
- Zolitūde - Left bank, another
newly-built neighbourhood, just south of Imanta.
Some common factors in these place names are "vec-" meaning old
[vecs], "-kalns" meaning hill, "-ciems" meaning hamlet, "-sala"
meaning island and "mež-" meaning forest [mežs].
The climate of Riga is humid
). The coldest months are
January and February, when the average temperature is -5°C but
temperatures as low as -20°C to -25°C can be observed almost every
year on the coldest days. 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 warm and humid with the average
temperature of 18°C, while the temperature on the hottest days
usually exceed 30°C.
Logo of Riga- the city of
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
modernised in 2001 on the occasion of Riga's 800th
In the near future, the face of Riga will
undergo notable changes. The construction of a new landmark —
National Library building — began 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, which
UNESCO warned "could seriously endanger the status of the Historic
Centre of Riga as a World Heritage Site." The construction of 3
buildings in Ķīpsala has already started — the Da Vinci
complex (25 floors) and two
called Z-Towers (30 floors).
Almost all important Latvian financial institutions
are located in
Riga, including the Bank of
, which is Latvia's central
. 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
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 centre. 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.
Riga with its central geographic position and concentration of
population, has always been the infrastructural hub of Latvia.
have their beginning in Riga and the European route E22
crosses Riga from the
east and west, the Via Baltica
crosses Riga from the south and north.
As a city situated by a river, Riga also has several bridges to
facilitate easy crossing for an increasing volume of traffic.
oldest standing bridge is the Railway Bridge, which is also the only railroad carrying bridge in
Riga. The Stone Bridge connects Old Town Riga and Pārdaugava, the
Bridge connects Maskavas
forštate and Pārdaugava via Zaķusala, and the Shroud Bridge connects Old Town Riga and Pārdaugava via Ķīpsala.In 2008, the first
stage of the new Southern
Bridge route across the Daugava was completed, and opened
to traffic on November 17.
The Southern Bridge is currently
the biggest construction project in the Baltic states in 20 years,
and will help to reduce traffic
and the amount of traffic in the city centre.. Another big
construction project is the planned Riga Northern Transport Corridor
, which is scheduled to
begin in 2010.
Freeport of Riga
and passenger traffic by sea. Sea ferries currently connects Riga to
Stockholm and Lübeck, operated
respectively by Tallink and DFDS Tor Line
. The Latvian flagged ferries MS Romantika and MS Silja Festival can be seen at the
Passenger Terminal close to Old Town Riga.
one airport, Riga International Airport, that serves commercial airlines.
traffic at the airport doubled between 1993 and 2004. Riga was also home to
two air bases during the Cold War: Rumbula and Spilve.
in the city
is provided by Rīgas Satiksme
which operates a large fleet of trams
extensive network of routes across the city. In addition, many
private owners operate minibus
Riga is connected to the rest of Latvia by trains operated by the
national railway company Passenger Train
headquarters are in Riga. There are also international rail links to
Russia and Estonia. Riga International Coach
Terminal provides domestic and international connections by
Current plans envisage
a trans-European rail link
to Warsaw via Riga financed by the European Union, with the first
phase to be completed by 2013.
With 713,016 inhabitants in 2008, Riga is the largest city in the
, though its population
has decreased since 1991. Notable causes include emigration
and low fertility rates. Some have
estimated that the population may fall by as much as 50% by 2050.
According to the 2008 data, ethnic Latvians make up 42.3% of the
population of Riga, with the percentage of ethnic Russians at
41.7%, Belarusians at 4.3%, Ukrainians at 3.9%, Poles at 2.0%, and
others ethnicities at 5.8%. By comparison, 59% of Latvia's
inhabitants are ethnic Latvians
28.5% are Russians
, 3.8% are Belarusians
, 2.5% are Ukrainians
, 2.4% are Polish
1.4% are Lithuanians
remaining 2.4% are accounted for by other ethnicities (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 ethnic 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
Art Academy of Latvia
- The Latvian National
Opera was founded in 1918. The repertoire of the theatre
embraces all the opera masterpieces. The Latvian National Opera is famous not
only for its operas, but for its ballet troupe as well.
- The Latvian National
Theatre was founded in 1919. This theatre is situated in one of
the most beautiful buildings in Riga. The Latvian National Theatre preserves
the traditions of Latvian drama school. It is one of the biggest theatres in
- Riga Russian
Theatre is the oldest professional drama theatre in Latvia. The
first season was in 1883. The repertoire of the theatre includes
classical plays and experimental performances of Russian and foreign playwrights. Dialogue, music,
dance, pantomime are an inseparable part of its spectaculars.
- The Daile Theatre was opened for
the first time in 1920. It is one of the most successful theatres in
Latvia. This theatre is distinguished by the fact
that it regularly presents productions of modern foreign
- Latvian State Puppet
Theatre was founded in 1944. This theatre presents shows for
children and adults.
- The New Riga Theatre was opened
in 1992. It has an intelligent and attractive repertoire of high
quality that focused on a modern, educated and socially active
World Ice Hockey
was held in Riga. Arena Riga was built for the event.
As of 2008
, a new Latvian ice hockey club Dinamo Riga
was established in order to play in
the Kontinental Hockey
. The city is home to the Latvian Bandy
Federation. Riga is also the home town for
legendary women's basketball club TTT
, which throughout 1960's and 1970's won twelve European
Twin towns — Sister cities
Riga maintains sister city
relationships with the following cities:
||Saint Petersburg, Russia:
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Retrieved July 24, 2009.
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approximation to the Latvian rija, as "Ria" would result
in an "i" not "ee" sound.
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"Riga nomen sortita est suum ab aedificiis vel horreis quorum a
litus Dunae magna fuit copia, quas livones sua lingua Rias vocare
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1800, 1964; translated Macmillan and Co edition, 1970
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1150-1500. Ashgate, London. 2001.
- The Ecclesiastical Review, Vol. LVI. American Ecclesiastical
Review. Dolphin Press. 1917.
- Fonnesberg-Schmidt, I. The Popes and the Baltic Crusades,
1147-1254. Brill. 2006.
- Švābe, A., ed. Latvju Enciklopēdija. Trīs Zvaigznes, Stockholm.
1953-1955 (in Latvian)
- Fletcher, R.A. The Conversion of Europe: From Paganism to
Christianity, 371-1386 AD. Harper Collins. 1991.
- Michell, Thomas. Handbook for Travelers in Russia, Poland, and
Finland. London, John Murray, 1888.
- Fonnesberg-Schmidt, I. The Popes and the Baltic Crusades,
1147-1254. Brill, 2007
- National History Museum of Latvia
- UNESCO 2007 report, p199 accessed 20 July 2009
- Sister city list (.DOC)