History of Latvia: a Brief Survey
History is one of the
cornerstones of Latvian identity
Although archaeological excavations prove that present day territory of Rīga was inhabited already in the 11th century, the official year of foundation of Rīga is 1201, when German bishop Albert (Albrecht von Buxthoeven) started to build a fortification and a castle near the Gulf of Rīga. From that point on Rīga became the centre of German crusades in the territory of present day Latvia with Cēsis being another important city.
During the so called Age of German Rule (12th-19th century) the rulers of Rīga changed from bishops and Brothers of the Sword to Knights of the Sword (Livonian Knights). However, these changes were only a beginning since throughout the centuries Rīga was ruled also by Poland, Sweden, and Russia, though it must be noted that the German nobility continued to maintain their position and influence.
In 1510, the first decorated Christmas tree in the world was erected in the City Hall Square by the men of the brotherhood of the Blackheads, who were rich and unmarried tradesmen and ship captains. In 2010, Rīga celebrated the 500th Anniversary of the Christmas tree.
Despite changing rulers, Rīga nonetheless maintained its status as a growing trade and industrial city. Unfortunately, in addition to World War I Rīga has also seen the destruction of World War II and three occupations of Latvia by foreign forces.
Rīga was also the centre of proclamation (1918) and restoration of the independent Republic of Latvia (1990). From the beginning of the 1920s, Rīga started developing into a centre of trade, light and food industries, and it became an important cultural and educational centre.
In the 1930s, Rīga and Latvia excelled in Europe in various economic sectors, most notably in agriculture. After this successful period of development the World War II and 50 years of Soviet occupation followed with collectivism, and it had a devastating effect on Latvian economy. During that time Rīga maintained its role as the capital of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic.
|Latvia in the 20th Century
Explanation of the main
facts of Latvia's history
in the 20th century
When the movement for independence came in the late 1980s, Rīga was again a centre of political events with mass demonstrations taking place on 11. Novembra krastmala and famous barricades in the Old Town and the city centre. When the Independence of the Republic of Latvia was regained in 1990, Rīga naturally became the capital of the state. After recoveries from several economic crises in the 1990s, Rīga began to gain its current outlook to a large extent as a result of a booming economy and construction for several years in the mid-2000s. The city today is a popular tourist destination as well as a host for various political, musical and business events.
For more information, please see the Latvian Tourism website.