Rigais the capital and largest city ofLatvia. It is the largest city of the Baltic states and home to more than one third ofLatvia's population. The city is an important seaport and a major industrial, commercial, cultural and financial centre of the Baltic Sea region, standing on theGulfofRiga, at the mouth of the Daugava.
Rigais experiencing a new Renaissance as the capital ofLatvia, and many large-scale restoration projects on old buildings have madeRigaone of the most attractive cities inEurope. Most famously,Rigais home to the largest concentration of Jugendstil (German Art Nouveau) architecture in the world.Rigahas become an increasingly popular destination for Europeans drawn by its old town, its historical importance, and its reputation as having one of the most sparkling nightlife scenes inEurope.
The river Daugava has been a trade route since antiquity, part of the Vikings' Dvina-Dnieper navigation route toByzantium. A sheltered natural harbour15 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. It was settled by the Livs, an ancient Finnic tribe.Rigabegan to develop as a centre of Viking trade during the early Middle Ages.Riga's inhabitants occupied themselves mainly with fishing, animal husbandry, and trading, later developing crafts (in bone, wood, amber, and iron).
Riga was founded in 1201 by Albert of Bremen as a base for the Northern Crusades. It developed as the major trade hub of the Eastern Baltic during the high days of theHanseatic League, ruled by the Archbishop of Riga. The Reformation reached Riga in 1522, which ended the Archbishops' power. After the fall of the Hansa, Riga became a part of first the Swedish and then the Russian Empires, before becoming the capital of independentLatviain 1918.Rigaremained as the capital of Latvian Socialist Soviet republic throughout the Soviet period, and emerged in the 1990s as the capital of newly-independentLatvia.
Germans have inhabited the city since its establishment by Albert, and throughout most of its history Germans were the elite while Latvians remained a lower class. Their position as the elite continued through the Imperial period ofRiga. As such, much of the architecture inRigahas been heavily influenced by Germany. The Germans were forcibly repatriated after the Nazi occupation of 1941-44.
Much of Riga was bombed during World War II and the ruins were mostly left to decay until independence, when the government, realizing the tourism potential, began to invest in reconstructing and restoring the old buildings. Because of this,Rigahas one of the most complete old towns inEurope.
Rigais divided into two parts by the river Daugava. Old (medieval) town is in the centre of the city on the east side of the river. It is surrounded by a ring of ~19th-20th centuries architecture, followed by a mix of private 2-floor house districts (many also pre-WW2) and Soviet-era 5-18 floor apartment districts, with an occasional factory (especially near railroad lines). The term "centre" loosely refers to quite a large area around Old town limited by the river to the west, the railroad lines to the east and south, and without a definite boundary to the north. The areas usually most interesting to tourists are theOldTown and the area around theFreedomMonument, located nearby.
Today there is something for everyone to see and to do while inRiga. This is one of the main advantages ofRigaover other European or Baltic cities. Riga has the both the historic merchant past and the old world charm of the nineteenth century and has a look and feel somewhat like Paris. Some have even refereed toRigaas the "Parisof the north". One can tale a walking tour of the romantic cobblestone streets of 800 year old and marvel at how well the buildings have withstood all these years. Or you can walk the length ofElizabetes streetfrom the train station to the North section of the city and tilt your head high to gaze at the remarkable Art Nouveau buildings erected in the expansion boom of the early 1900's. Be sure to tour the famous statues aroundRigalike the one of Barclay de Tolly located in the Esplanade Park close to the Gold Dome Cathedral Church.
The building of the Brotherhood of Blackheads is one of the most iconic buildings of Old Riga. One part of this building is the tourist information office, the rest is a fascinating museum. The upper levels house grand ballrooms while the basement has a wine cellar and several exhibits relating to the Riga trade.
St. PetersChurch, dating to 1209, isRiga's oldest church. Besides its ensemble of architecture, the church has an elevator to the tower from where you can see all ofRiga. One can also peep into some curious museums, such as thePorcelainMuseumor theSunMuseum, which one covers the history of sun mythology and its role in Latvian culture.
Among theRiga’s landmarks are the Statue of Roland, (In the center of theTown Square) and the famous House of the Black Cat, Next to the Big Guild. This building (also housing a pub of no particular note) is most famous for the two statues of black cats on the roofs. The legend has it that a disgruntled tradesman who was not accepted into the Big Guild, built this house and put the cats on it with their tails pointing towards the Big Guild, thus expressing his scorn.
Rigawas a home to the first Christmas Tree (documented use of an evergreen tree in a Christmas celebration) in the year 1510. Its historical centre is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, noted for its Jugendstil architecture and 19th century wooden architecture. The city is the European Capital of Culture in 2014, along with Umeå inSweden.