The first, indelible impression that most visitors get of the Latvian capital is its majestic skyline, as viewed from the left bank of the Daugava River. The slender Gothic spires of the Old Town’s many churches attest to the city’s long history,which stretches back to the 13th century. The panorama’s pleasing harmony is just the most visible indication of the superb aesthetic sense that has shaped much of the city’s architecture up to the present day. Nowhere is that aesthetic more pronounced than in Centres, the central part of Riga,which is the city’s economic, financial and cultural core, as well as a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site.
One will find a breathtaking range of architectural styles in the historical centre – from Baroque to Classicism, from Renaissance to Art Deco, from Romanesque to National Romanticism. Furthermore, Riga’s wealth of Jugendstil or Art Nouveau buildings, complete with their fantastically ornate flourishes, stands out as unparalleled anywhere in the world.
Yet equally unique are the many 19th-century wooden buildings that have proudly withstood the pressures of commercialisation and gentrification, retaining their place in Riga’s architectural cornucopia and currently undergoing state-of-the-art facelifts.But Riga is much more than just its history.
Proud of its heritage, it is a thoroughly modern city with a highly developed infrastructure and opportunities for a variety of activities and entertainment. A city with rich musical traditions, today it boasts an excellent opera, several world- class choirs and outstanding classical orchestras, not to mention jazz, rock and blues ensembles, plus a variety of other popular music bands performing in both concert halls and clubs.
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 РигаEurope, 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 recognises 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.