History of Latvia
Latvia is the middle state of the three Baltic Republics and has been a member of the European Union since 2004 and part of the Eurozone since 2014.
4000 years ago, the Finn-Ugric tribes that settled here were ousted by Indo-European tribes. In the early Middle Ages, the area was divided into numerous small principalities. In 1202 they were conquered by the Order of the Brothers of the Sword, which was integrated in the Teutonic Order in 1237.
For centuries the Germans then represented the upper class of town bourgeoisie and landowners. During the Reformation, Latvia became Lutheran, only parts of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth remained Catholic.1795 Latvia was annexed to the Russian Empire and declared its independence in 1918. During the Second World War Latvia was occupied first by the Soviet Union, then by the German Reich and most recently by the Soviet Union.
History of Riga
Riga is the capital of Latvia with around 700,000 inhabitants. Today it is famous for more than 700 well-preserved Art Nouveau buildings. The center of the old town center makes a clean and well-kept impression.
Riga was founded in 1201 after the merchants of Gotland had been trading there regularly since 1150. Until 1492 there were often civil war-like constellations, as the German Order and the archbishops fought each other. The trade did not detract from this and the city, which belonged to the Hanseatic League, grew rapidly. It was not until 1492 that the Teutonic Order was recognized as a protective power.
In 1621, the Swedish king Gustav II Adolf conquered the city and withstood the Russian siege in the Russo-Swedish War in 1658. Until the capture by Russian troops in 1710 Riga received largely self-government. But the German upper class influenced the culture until the 19th century.
In the two world wars, the balance of power changed several times and the city experienced several times a violent exodus. At present, the city loses again inhabitants because of emigrating to the European foreign countries, in the environment of Riga, and by a low birth rate.
First steps in Riga
We stayed at the Wellton Riga Hotel & SPA* and so we can easily explore the old town on foot. As usually on arrival, we look for an ATM and find what we are looking for in the Galerija Centrs shopping center.
Shortly thereafter, we can admire the first Art Nouveau buildings.
Over a coffee at the Amatnieku tirgus, a square with little park and arts and crafts market, we watch tourists taking the Segways city tour.
We continue to the outdoor recreation park EGLE (Brīvdabas atpūtas parks) where there is also an entrance to the town hall. Again and again, we admire the well-preserved architecture.
At Rätslaukums we reach the actual center of the city. One side is bordered by the Town Hall, the second by the Latvian Occupation Museum, a gray rectangular block, and the third side by the Blackheads House (Melngalvju nams), the landmark of the city.
It was built in 1334 as the New House of the Great Guild in the Gothic style and served as a meeting place for both merchants and citizens. In World War II it was destroyed by German bombardment and blasted in 1948. From 1993 to 1999 it was rebuilt true to the original.
The name goes back to the name of the Black Head Company, to which the building was leased in 1447 and passed over in 1713. The patron saint of this covenant is St. Mauritius, who is always depicted with black skin color. In the background is St. Peter’s Church (Rīgas Sv. Pētera baznīca).
From here it is only a few steps to the bank of the Daugava. On the other bank, we see a futuristic building with a curved facade, the Latvian National Library.
In its heyday in the 1920s, Latvia published the second highest number of books (in terms of population) in Europe after Iceland. In 1922 over 300 municipal libraries were built in the country.
On the way back through the narrow streets with their medieval facades, we pass the Saint James’s Cathedral, a Lutheran basilica.
After a visit to the city hall, we go back to our hotel, which is opposite the main train station.
Please read on > City walk in Riga
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