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Riga History, Latvia

With a unique architectural style and a sense of history like no other, Riga, the capital of Latvia, is also the biggest city in the Baltic region. Riga history began somewhere in the mid 12th century, and it's been an overwhelming series of events ever since.

Riga History – Middle Ages

It all started in 1158, when a group of German merchants founded a city on the banks of the Riga River, near Liv. In 1199, Bishop Albert headed for Riga, in order to establish here his bishopric. His journey took the form of a real crusade: with 23 ships and 1500 soldiers, he arrived in Riga and founded the order of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword. Under the protectorate of the Hanseatic League, Riga continued to develop as a trading centre, linking German ports with the Russian and Baltic cities like Kaliningrad or Tallinn. With emergence of Protestantism in the German States, Riga's inhabitants adopted the new religion, ending the influence of the Catholic Church. At the beginning of the 17th century, Riga became a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This protectorate didn't last very long: soon Riga was caught in the Russian-Swedish Wars. As Russia gained supremacy over the Baltic countries, Riga became an important port in the Russian Empire. It remained this way for almost 200 years, going through important demographic transformations: Russian became the official language and the major German population was outnumbered by Latvians.

Riga History – Riga in the 20th and 21st Centuries

At the end of World War I, Latvia declared its independence and Riga became the capital of the new-born state. Democratic institutions were created and Riga soon became what tourists called the “Paris of the North”. Due to internal conflicts, Prime Minister Karlis Ulmanis managed to organize a coup d’etat in 1934 and become an authoritarian leader. But Latvia’s independence didn’t last long: by 1940, Riga was again occupied by Russians. At the end of the war, Latvia became a soviet republic. It was a critical period in Riga history: thousands of Latvians were deported to Siberia by communist authorities, leading to a dramatic demographic decrease. The entire country went through an intensive process of industrialization and planned immigration. Latvia only regained its independence in 1991, but it took 3 other years for Russia to pull back its military forces. At the beginning of the new millennia, Riga celebrated 800 years of existence. With Latvia joining the European Union in 2004, Riga officially became a European capital: a well-merited distinction, if we take into account Riga’s ethnic and cultural diversity.


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