Riga, city and capital of Latvia. The city is located at Daugava, 15 kilometers south of the outlet of the Gulf of Riga, and has 637,000 residents (2018). Riga is Latvia’s economic and cultural center. The city is also the country’s most important communication hub with one of the Baltic Sea’s largest ports. The port is laid out about three months of the year and is supplemented by the port Daugavgrīva (naval station).
The city has an international airport and a large and multifaceted industry, including electrical and electronic companies, including the mechanical, chemical, pharmaceutical, glass, textile and engineering industries.
Several universities and colleges are located in Riga, including the University of Latvia (1919, formerly Riga Polytechnic Institute from 1862), Riga Technical University, Riga Stradiņš University, Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, Latvian Academy of Arts, Latvia’s Music Academy and Latvian Cultural Academy. Riga’s mayor has been Nils Ušakovs since July 2009.
The old town is located on the east bank and is surrounded by the old canal, the old moat. The fortifications were closed down in 1857 and have provided space for parks and public buildings, including the opera (1863) and the university. In the park area around the old town is also the Freedom Monument from 1935. On the river lies the castle castle, built in the years 1328–1340 and remodeled in 1494–1515. The castle is former presidential residence, now the president’s office.
To the east of the castle is the Ridderhuset, later the Parliament building, built in the Renaissance style in the 1860s, the stock exchange and a ring of boulevards and parks. Further south lies the cathedral (built around 1220), built of brick, and St. Peter’s Church with a 135 meter high tower. Around and on the west bank are newer buildings.
Especially known is Riga for its Art Nouveau building, which constitutes a large proportion of the city center area. The city celebrated its 800th anniversary in 2001. The city’s historic center is listed on UNESCO’s List of World Cultural and Natural Heritage.
The Riga was founded in 1201 by the German Bishop Albert of Livland as bishop’s seat and support point for further German conquest and trade. The city was archbishopric from 1255. Riga became a Hanseatic city in 1282 and became one of the most important trading towns on the Baltic Sea. From 1330 the city was subject to the German order. After the dissolution of the order in 1561, Riga was a sanctuary until 1581, when the city became subordinate to Poland (the area around the city was subordinate to Poland all in 1561).
Riga was conquered by Sweden in 1621 and was one of the most important cities in the Swedish Empire during the Great Nordic War, when Riga in 1710 was placed under Russia (formally renounced in 1721). From around 1850, Riga, which still had a strong German character, rose strongly as Russia’s most important Baltic port, became a significant industrial city and center of Latvian cultural life and politics. Riga was the capital of independent Latvia in the period 1918–1940, in the Latvian Soviet Republic in 1940–1991 (German Shock in the years 1941–1944), and again in independent Latvia from 1991.
Under Soviet rule, the city gained a majority population of Russians; at independence in 1991, only a third of Riga’s residents were Latvian. In 2011, Latvians and Russians constituted 42 and 41 percent of the population respectively. Other major population groups are Belarusians, Ukrainians and Poles. Riga had the largest population in 1990 with 909,000 residents.
Riga has a rich cultural life with one Russian-language and several Latvian-language theaters, opera and ballet houses and the Baltic’s only permanent circus (from 1888). Several annual music festivals are organized.
Since 1873 there have been national singing festivals in Riga (since the 1940s also with dance), where many thousands of dancers and singers participate. The song and dance festival is held every five years and is on UNESCO’s list of the world’s non-material cultural heritage, just like the national song and dance festivals in Estonia and Lithuania.