July 13, 2013

Must-See Capitals of Eastern Europe: Riga

Founded in 1201, Riga is the capital of modern-day Latvia. As the largest city in the Baltic region, it is home to more than one third of Latvia’s population—roughly 700,000 people. Riga sits on the mouth of the river Daugava, making it home to the biggest seaport in the Baltics. With vibrant industrial, commercial, cultural, and financial centers, Riga continues to be an attractive destination for tourists from all around the world.

One of the many reasons travelers aim to visit this European city is its beautiful architecture. It is generally recognized that Riga has the finest and largest collection of art nouveau buildings. This is due to the fact that the end of the 19th and beginning of 20th centuries marked an unprecedented financial and demographic boom for the city. During this time period, the population of Riga almost doubled, to roughly half a million, making it the fourth largest city in the Russian Empire (after Saint Petersburg, Moscow, and Warsaw). In that period, more than 800 art nouveau building were erected by Latvian architects adopting the styles of Western Europe.

During the Second World War, Latvia was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940. After a four year occupation by Nazi troops, the Soviet Army reentered Riga on 13 October 1944. In the following decades, the inflow of Russian laborers, administrators, and military personnel into the region was continuous. Latvia regained its independence in 1991, but the multiculturalism created by its history of immigration remains apparent today. In Riga, As surprising as it may seem, ethnic Latvians lead ethnic Russians in the majority by only 5%, with roughly 44% and 39% of the population respectively.

The elaborate history of a vibrant capital that has been conquered and reconquered throughout the decades makes visiting Riga a must-do for any travel enthusiast.