Riga – the capital of Latvia, and a major commercial and cultural centre. Population: 735000 inhabitants
Some historical facts
Riga was founded in 1201 by German crusaders. Before then, a Liv village of merchants and sailors existed where Old Town now sits. The Livs were one of several nations that resided in the territory now known as Latvia. At the beginning of the 13th century, international trading opportunities grew rapidly. Riga joined the Hanseatic League, Europe’s first common market. At its height in the 14th and 15th centuries the Hanseatic League was as powerful as any monarchy in Europe, and Riga thrived. The houses in Old Town and the city centre remind us of this period of major German cultural influence.
In the 16th century, Riga was occupied by Polish troops, but in 1621 was conquered by the Swedes and became the largest and most developed city in Sweden. In 1710, during the Great Northern War, Riga and most of Latvia was invaded by the Russian Tsar Peter the Great and annexed to Russia.
At the turn of the 20th century, Riga possessed the second largest port in the Russian Empire. Once again the city was flourishing; magnificent Art Nouveau style buildings were erected. These masterpieces created by German, Russian and Latvian architects are still very much appreciated by locals, and cause foreign tourists to gaze upwards in amazement. The historic centre of Riga has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, which recognizes that Riga has the finest collection of Art Nouveau architecture in Europe.
In 1918 Latvia declared its independence, and for the first time in history, Latvian became the official language of Latvia. From then until World War II, Riga became known as a premiere city of style and produced Europe’s highest number of university graduates. Because of its numerous shops, cafes, and elegantly-dressed people, Riga was dubbed the “little Paris”. After World War II, Latvia was annexed into the Soviet Union and regained sovereignty only in 1991.
Over the last decade, Riga’s buildings are being restored and the city modernised. Gradually Riga has converted itself into a cosy and modern European city, as well as a centre of various cultural and sporting events. In 2002, Riga rang in its 800 anniversary in fine style, offering both traditional and modern festivities as the entire city celebrated for days. In 2003 the Eurovision Song Contest and the international “Cutty Sark” regatta took place in Riga. In 2006, Riga will host the Ice-Hockey World Championship, an event which the hockey-loving Latvians await with much anticipation.
Local sights and attractions
(for more detailed information please see: sights and attractions)
Places to go
Riga Tourism Information Centres:
- Ratslaukums 6 (in the Blackheads House), tel: +371 703 79 00, fax: +371 703 79 10, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pragas iela 1 (in the Bus station), tel: +371 722 05 55
- Stacijas laukums 2 (in the Railway station), tel: +371 723 38 15
- Smilsu iela 4 (in the Latvian Tourism Information Bureau), tel: +371 722 46 64, fax: +371 722 46 65, email@example.com
Public transport in Riga
For more detailed information, please see specialised sections on this website.