Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia.

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Riga (Latvian: Rīga, pronounced [riːɡa] ( listen)) is the capital and largest city of Latvia. With 699,203 inhabitants (2012[3]), Riga is the largest city of the Baltic states, one of the largest cities in Northern Europe and home to more than one third of Latvia's population.[5] The city is an important seaport and a major industrial, commercial, cultural and financial centre of the Baltic Sea region.[citation needed] The city lies on the Gulf of Riga, at the mouth of the river Daugava. Riga's territory covers 307.17 km2 (118.60 sq mi) and lies between 1 and 10 metres (3.3 and 33 ft) above sea level,[6] on a flat and sandy plain.[6]

Riga was founded in 1201 and is a former Hanseatic League member. Riga's historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, noted for its Art Nouveau/Jugendstil architecture and 19th century wooden architecture.[7] The city will be the European Capital of Culture in 2014, along with Umeå in Sweden. The city hosted the 2006 NATO Summit, the Eurovision Song Contest 2003 and the 2006 IIHF Men's World Ice Hockey Championships. It is home to the European Union's office of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC). Riga is served by Riga International Airport, the largest airport in the Baltic states.

Riga is a member of Eurocities,[8] the Union of the Baltic Cities (UBC)[9] and Union of Capitals of the European Union (UCEU).[10] Riga is considered a global city.


One theory for the origin of the name Riga is that it is a corrupted borrowing from the Liv ringa meaning loop, referring to the ancient natural harbour formed by the tributary loop of the Daugava.[11][12] The other is that Riga owes its name to this already-established role in commerce between East and West,[13] as a borrowing of the Latvian rija, for threshing barn, the "j" becoming a "g" in German—notably, Riga is called Rie by English geographer Richard Hakluyt (1589),[14][15] and German historian Dionysius Fabricius (1610) confirms the origin of Riga from rija.[14][16] Another theory could be that Riga was named after Riege, the German name for the River Rīdzene, a tributary of the Daugava.[17]


The Riga skyline in the mid-16th century, Cosmographia Universalis

Daugava's left bank


The river Daugava has been a trade route since antiquity, part of the Vikings' Dvina-Dnieper navigation route to Byzantium.[14] A sheltered natural harbour 15 km (9.3 mi) 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.[14] It was settled by the Livs, an ancient Finnic tribe.[11]

Old Riga (Vecrīga)

Riga began to develop as a centre of Viking trade during the early Middle Ages.[14] Riga's inhabitants occupied themselves mainly with fishing, animal husbandry, and trading, later developing crafts (in bone, wood, amber, and iron).[14]

The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia 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.[14] German traders began visiting Riga, establishing a nearby outpost in 1158.

Along with German traders also arrived the monk Meinhard of Segeberg[13] to convert the pagans to Christianity. (Catholic and Orthodox Christianity had already arrived in Latvia more than a century earlier, and many Latvians baptised)[13][14] Meinhard settled among the Livs, building a castle and church at Ikšķile, upstream from Riga, and established his bishopric there.[13] The Livs, however, continued to practice paganism and Meinhard died in Ikšķile in 1196, having failed his mission.[18] In 1198 the Bishop Bertold arrived with a contingent of crusaders[18] and commenced a campaign of forced Christianization.[13][14] Bertold was killed soon afterwards and his forces defeated.[18]

The Church mobilised to avenge. Pope Innocent III issued a bull declaring a crusade against the Livonians.[18] Bishop Albert was proclaimed Bishop of Livonia by his uncle Hartwig of Uthlede, Prince-Archbishop of Bremen and Hamburg in 1199. Albert landed in Riga in 1200[14][18] with 23 ships[19] and 500 Westphalian crusaders.[20] 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.[14]

Under Bishop Albert

1201 also marked the first arrival of German merchants in Novgorod, via the Dvina.[21] To defend territory[22] and trade, Albert established the Order of Livonian Brothers of the Sword in 1202, open to nobles and merchants.[21]

Christianization of the Livs continued. 1207 marked Albert's start on fortification of the town.[21][23] Emperor Philip invested Albert with Livonia as a fief[24] and principality of the Holy Roman Empire.[14] 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 a third.[25] Until then, it had been customary for crusaders to serve for a year and then return home.[25]

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.[25] In 1211, Riga minted its first coinage,[14] and Albert laid the cornerstone for the Riga Dom.[26] Riga was not yet secure as an alliance of tribes failed to take Riga.[25] In 1212, Albert led a campaign to compel Polotsk to grant German merchants free river passage.[21] Polotsk conceded Kukenois (Koknese) and Jersika to Albert, also ending the Livs' tribute to Polotsk.[27]

Riga's merchant citizenry chafed and sought greater autonomy from the Church. In 1221 they acquired the right to independently self-administer Riga.[22] and adopted a city constitution[28]

That same year Albert was compelled to recognize Danish rule over lands they had conquered in Estonia and Livonia.[29] Albert had sought the aid of King Valdemar of Denmark 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. The Germans attempted, but failed, to assassinate Valdemar.[30] 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.[31]

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,[32] and Riga's citizens acquired the right to elect their magistrates and town councilors.[32] In 1226, Albert consecrated the Dom Cathedral,[14] built St. James's Church,[14] and founding a parochial school at the Church of St. George.[13]

In 1227, Albert conquered Oesel [33] and the city of Riga concluded a treaty with the Principality of Smolensk giving Polotsk to Riga.[34]

Albert died in January 1229.[35] He failed his aspiration to be anointed archbishop[24] but the German hegemony he established over the Baltics would last for seven centuries.[25]

Hanseatic League

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.

Riga in 1650. The inscription reads: Prospect der Stadt Riga ums Jahr 1650 (View at the City of Riga in 1650). Drawing by Johann Christoph Brotze

Holy Roman Empire, Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Swedish and Russian Empires

As the influence of the Hanseatic League 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.[36] With the demise of the Livonian Order during the Livonian War, Riga for twenty years had the status of a Free Imperial City of the Holy Roman Empire before it came under the influence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth by the Treaty of Drohiczyn, which ended the war for Riga in 1581. In 1621, during the Polish–Swedish War (1621–1625), 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 (1656–1658), Riga withstood a siege by Russian forces.

Riga remained the largest city in Sweden until 1710, a period during which the city retained a great deal of autonomous self-government. In that year, in the course of the Great Northern War, Russia under Tsar Peter the Great besieged plague-stricken Riga. Along with the other Livonian towns and gentry, Riga capitulated to Russia, but largely retained their privileges. Riga was made the capital of the Governorate of Riga (later: Livonia). Sweden's northern dominance had ended, and Russia's emergence as the strongest Northern power was formalised through the Treaty of Nystad in 1721. Riga became an industrialised port city of the Russian empire, in which it remained until World War I. By 1900, Riga was the third largest city in Russia after Moscow and Saint Petersburg in terms of the number of industrial workers and number of theaters.[citation needed]

German troops entering Riga during World War I.

During these many centuries of war and changes of power in the Baltic, and despite demographic changes, the Baltic Germans in Riga had maintained a dominant position. By 1867 Riga's population was 42.9% German.[37] Riga employed German as its official language of administration until the installation of Russian in 1891 as the official language in the Baltic provinces, as part of the policy of Russification of the non-Russian speaking territories of the Russian Empire, including Congress Poland, Finland and the Baltics, undertaken by Tsar Alexander III. More and more Latvians started moving to the city during 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 organisation 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 industrialisation, culminating in the 1905 Revolution led by the Latvian Social Democratic Workers' Party.

Interwar period

The 20th century brought World War I and the impact of the Russian Revolution of 1917 to Riga. The German army marched into Riga on 3 September 1917.[38] On 3 March 1918 the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed, giving the Baltic countries to Germany. Because of the Armistice with Germany of 11 November 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 18 November 1918.

A view of Riga on a postcard. circa 1900.

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.

World War II and the Soviet Union

During World War II, Latvia was occupied first by the Soviet Union in June 1940 and then by Nazi Germany in 1941–1944. The city's Jewish community was forced into the Riga Ghetto and a concentration camp was constructed in Kaiserwald. On 25 October 1941, the Nazis relocated all Jews from Riga and the vicinity to the ghetto. By 1942, most of Latvia's Jews (about 24,000) were killed on 30 November and 8 December 1941 in the Rumbula massacre.[39] By the end of the war the Baltic Germans were forcibly repatriated to Germany.

Riga was recaptured by the Soviet Red Army on 13 October 1944. In the following years the massive influx of labourers, administrators, military personnel and their dependents from Russia and other Soviet republics started. Microdistricts of the large multi-storied housing blocks were built to house incoming workers. By 1989 the percentage of Latvians in Riga had fallen to 36.5%.[40]

21st century

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.[41]


Administrative divisions

  • Central District (3 km²)
  • Kurzeme District (79 km²)
  • Zemgale Suburb (41 km²)
  • Northern District (77 km²)
  • Vidzeme Suburb (57 km²)
  • Latgale Suburb (50 km²)

Riga administrative divisions consists of six administrative entities: Central, Kurzeme and Northern Districts and the Latgale, Vidzeme and Zemgale Suburbs. Three entities were established 1 September 1941, and other three were established October 1969.[42] There are no official lower level administrative units, but the Riga City Council Development Agency is working on a plan, which officially confirmed makes Riga consist of 58 neighbourhoods.[43] The current names were confirmed 28 December 1990.[44]

Panorama over Riga from St. Peter's Church


The climate of Riga is humid continental (Koppen Dfb). The coldest months are January and February, when the average temperature is −5 °C (23 °F) but temperatures as low as −20 °C (−4 °F) to −25 °C (−13 °F) can be observed almost every year on the coldest days. The proximity of the sea causes frequent autumn rains and fogs. Continuous snow cover may last eighty days. The summers in Riga are warm and humid with the average temperature of 18 °C (64 °F), while the temperature on the hottest days can exceed 30 °C (86 °F).

Climate data for Riga
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) −2.3
Average low °C (°F) −7.8
Precipitation mm (inches) 34
Mean monthly sunshine hours 45.5 59.0 131.1 234.4 271.7 288.3 306.8 243.3 177.3 97.2 32.7 23.5 1,910.8
Source #1: World Weather Information Service [45]
Source #2: Latvijas vides, ģeoloģijas un meteoroloģijas centrs (average sunshine hours 2004.-2010.) [46]


Riga is one of the key economic and financial centers of the Baltic States. Roughly half of all the jobs in Latvia are in Riga and the city generates more than 50% of Latvia's GDP as well as around half of Latvia's exports. Biggest exporters are in wood products, IT, food and beverage manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, transport and metallurgy.[47] Riga Port is one of the largest in the Baltics. It handled a record 34 million tonns of cargo in 2011 [48] and has potential for future growth with new port developments on Krievu Sala.[49] Tourism is also a large industry in Riga and after a slowdown during the crises, grew 22% in 2011.[50]


One of the several Trolleybus types in Riga

Riga, with its central geographic position and concentration of population, has always been the infrastructural hub of Latvia. Several national roads begin in Riga, and European route E22 crosses Riga from the east and west, while the Via Baltica crosses Riga from the south and north.

As a city situated by a river, Riga also has several bridges. The oldest standing bridge is the Railway Bridge, which is also the only railroad-carrying bridge in Riga. The Stone Bridge connects Old Riga and Pārdaugava; the Island Bridge connects Maskavas Forštate and Pārdaugava via Zaķusala; and the Shroud Bridge connects Old Riga and Pārdaugava via Ķīpsala. In 2008, the first stage of the new Southern Bridge route across the Daugava was completed, and was opened to traffic on 17 November.[51]

The Southern Bridge is currently the biggest construction project in the Baltic states in 20 years, and it is to reduce traffic congestion in the city centre.[52][53] Another major construction project is the planned Riga Northern Transport Corridor,[54] which is scheduled to commence in 2010.

The Freeport of Riga facilitates cargo and passenger traffic by sea. Sea ferries currently connect Riga to Stockholm and Lübeck, operated respectively by Tallink and DFDS Tor Line.[55][56] The Latvian-flagged ferries MS Romantika and MS Silja Festival are located in the Riga Passenger Terminal.

A tram in Riga

Riga has one active airport that serves commercial airlines — the Riga International Airport (RIX), built in 1973. Renovation and modernization of the airport was completed in 2001, coinciding with the 800th anniversary of the city. In 2006, a new terminal extension was opened. Work on an extension of the runway was completed in October 2008, and the airport is now able to accommodate large aircraft such as the Airbus A340, Boeing 747, 757, 767 and 777. The annual number of passengers has grown from 310,000 in 1993 to over 4 million in 2009. It has now become the largest airport in the Baltic States, and there are plans to construct a new terminal to cope with increasing passenger numbers.

Riga was also home to an air base during the Cold War — Rumbula Air Base. Another airport, the Spilve Airport, is a former civilian and military airport in Riga located 5 km (3.11 mi) from Riga city centre, with active aircraft operating as early as the First World War. It became the first international airport of Riga in the 1930s, which, from 1937 linked the capital city with Helsinki via Tallinn, Warsaw via Vilnius, Berlin and Moscow via Kaunas. After World War II and the Soviet occupation, it was rebuilt into a 1950s-era airport, the hub of Aeroflot. A new ring taxiway and restored surface was added. The airport was closed for regular flights in the late 1980s. The terminal building still remains as a notable example of Stalin's neoclassical architecture.

Public transportation in the city is provided by Rīgas Satiksme which operates a large number 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 Passenger Train, whose headquarters are in Riga. There are also international rail links to Russia and plans to revive passenger railroad traffic with Estonia. Riga International Coach Terminal provides domestic and international connections by coach. Current plans envisage a trans-European rail link from Tallinn to Warsaw via Riga [57] financed by the European Union, with the first phase to be completed by 2013.[58]


With 702,891 inhabitants in July 2011, Riga is the largest city in the Baltic States, though its population has decreased from just under 1 million in 1991.[3] Notable causes include emigration and low birth rates. Some have estimated that the population may fall by as much as 50% by 2050.[59] According to the 2011 census data, ethnic Latvians make up 46.33% of the population of Riga, with the percentage of ethnic Russians at 40.21%, Belarusians at 3.88%, Ukrainians at 3.45%, Poles at 1.85%, Lithuanians at 0.83% and other ethnicities at 3.46%. By comparison, 62.1% of Latvia's total population are ethnic Latvians, 26.9% are Russians, 3.3% are Belarusians, 2.2% are Ukrainians, 2.2% are Polish, 1.2% are Lithuanians and the remaining 2.1% are accounted for by other ethnicities.[60]

Upon the restoration of Latvia's independence in 1991, Soviet era immigrants (and any of their offspring born before 1991) were not automatically granted Latvian citizenship because they had migrated to the territory of Latvia during the years of the Soviet occupation. The proportion of ethnic Latvians in Riga has increased from 36.5% in 1989 to 42.4% in 2010. In contrast the percentage of Russians has fallen from 47.3% to 40.7% in the same time period. Latvians overtook Russians as the largest ethnic group in 2006.[4]

In 2005, 16.2% of the population were living under the poverty line, and the most vulnerable groups were children, young adults and senior citizens.[61]

Notable residents

  • Rutanya Alda, a Latvian-American actress
  • Ernst von Bergmann, a Baltic German surgeon, beginner of aseptic surgery
  • Sir Isaiah Berlin, a British social and political theorist, philosopher and historian of ideas
  • Andris Biedriņš, a Latvian professional basketball player
  • Gunnar Birkerts, a Latvian-American architect
  • Tanhum Cohen-Mintz, an Israeli basketball player
  • Sergei Eisenstein, a Soviet Russian film director and film theorist
  • Heinz Erhardt, a Baltic-German comedian, musician and entertainer
  • Artur Fonvizin, a Soviet painter of watercolours
  • Elīna Garanča, a Latvian operatic mezzo-soprano
  • Laila Freivalds, former Swedish Minister for Justice, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister
  • Philippe Halsman, an American portrait photographer
  • Juris Hartmanis, a prominent Latvian-American computer scientist and computational theorist
  • Nicolai Hartmann, a Baltic-German philosopher
  • Miervaldis Jursevskis, a Latvian-Canadian chess master
  • Lola Hoffmann, a physiologist, psychiatrist and guide to self-development and transformation
  • Charles Kalme, an American International Master of chess and mathematician
  • Mstislav Keldysh, a Soviet mathematician, president of the USSR Academy of Sciences
  • Gidon Kremer, a Latvian violinist and conductor
  • Ivan Krylov, a Russian fabulist
  • Yeshayahu Leibowitz, an Israeli public intellectual and polymath
  • DJ Lethal, an American music producer
  • Wilhelm Ostwald, a Baltic German chemist, Nobel Prize laureate in 1909
  • Marian Pahars, a Latvian footballer
  • Raimonds Pauls, a Latvian composer and piano player
  • Kristjan Jaak Peterson, an Estonian poet
  • Valentin Pikul, a Soviet historical novelist
  • Tania Russof, an international porn star
  • Mikhail Tal, a Soviet-Latvian chess grandmaster and the eighth World Chess Champion
  • Juris Upatnieks, a Latvian-American physicist and inventor in the field of holography
  • Friedrich Zander, a Baltic-German engineer, designer of the first Soviet liquid-fuelled rocket


The radio and TV tower of Riga is the tallest structure in Latvia and the Baltic States, and one of the tallest in the European Union, reaching 368.5 m (1,209 ft). Riga center also has many great examples of Art Nouveau architecture, as well as a medieval old town.


Art Academy of Latvia

The logo for the city of Riga, designed for its 800th anniversary.


  • The Latvian National Opera was founded in 1918. The repertoire of the theatre embraces all opera masterpieces. The Latvian National Opera is famous not only for its operas, but for its ballet troupe as well.[62]
  • The Latvian National Theatre was founded in 1919. The Latvian National Theatre preserves the traditions of Latvian drama school. It is one of the biggest theatres in Latvia.[1]
  • The Riga Russian Theatre is the oldest professional drama theatre in Latvia, established in 1883. The repertoire of the theatre includes classical plays and experimental performances of Russian and other foreign playwrights.Riga Russian Theatre
  • 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 its frequent productions of modern foreign plays.[63]
  • Latvian State Puppet Theatre was founded in 1944. This theatre presents shows for children and adults.[2]
  • 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 audience. Jaunais Rigas Teatris


Arena Riga

Sports clubs

  • Basketball
    • Barons LMT — a men's basketball team, two-time Latvian champion, as well as the 2008 FIBA EuroCup winner.
    • TTT Riga — a women's basketball team, which between 1960 and 1982 won eighteen FIBA EuroLeague Women titles.
    • VEF Riga
  • Ice hockey
    • Dinamo Riga — an ice hockey club established in 2008. It plays in the Kontinental Hockey League. Dinamo was established as a successor to the former hockey team with the same name, which was founded in 1946 but ceased to exist in 1995.
  • Football
    • Skonto FC — a football club established in 1991. The club won fourteen successive Latvian Higher League titles. For a long time it provided the core of the Latvian national football team.
    • FK Jaunība
    • JFK Olimps/RFS

Sports facilities

Skonto Stadium

  • Arena Riga — a multi-purpose arena built in 2006 as the main venue for the 2006 Men's World Ice Hockey Championships. It can hold up to 14,500 people and has hosted ice hockey, basketball and volleyball events, as well as Red Bull X-Fighters.
  • Skonto Stadium — a football stadium, built in 2000. It is the main stadium used for games of the Latvian national football team.
  • Daugava Stadium — a stadium built in 1958, used for both football and athletics.
  • Latvijas Universitates Stadions

Sports events

  • Eurobasket 1937
  • 1999 European Athletics Junior Championships
  • EuroBasket Women 2009
  • 2006 Men's World Ice Hockey Championships
  • Riga Marathon


  • University of Latvia (LU)
  • Riga Technical University (RTU)
  • Riga Stradiņš University (RSU)
  • Riga Graduate School of Law (RGSL)
  • School of Business Administration Turiba (BAT)
  • Stockholm School of Economics in Riga (SSE Riga)
  • BA School of Business and Finance (BA)
  • Transport and Telecommunication Institute (TTI)

Twin Towns-Sister Cities

The clock presented to Riga by its sister city Kobe. It shows time in both cities

Riga maintains sister city relationships with the following cities:[64]

Aalborg, Denmark[65] Almaty, Kazakhstan Amsterdam, North Holland, Netherlands Astana, Kazakhstan
Beijing, China[66] Bordeaux, Aquitaine, France Bremen, Bremen (state), Germany Cairns, Queensland, Australia
Calais, Nord, France Dallas, Texas, United States Florence, Tuscany, Italy Kiev, Ukraine
Kobe, Japan [67] Minsk, Belarus Central Administrative Okrug, Moscow, Russia Norrköping, Sweden
Pori, Finland Providence, Rhode Island, United States[68] Rostock, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany Saint Petersburg, Russia:[69]
Santiago, Chile Stockholm, Sweden Suzhou, Jiangsu, China
Taipei, Taiwan[70] Tallinn, Estonia Tashkent, Uzbekistan Tartu, Estonia
Tbilisi, Georgia Vilnius, Lithuania Warsaw, Poland [71]



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