Day 22 - Riga (LV)

Another incredibly beautiful city which we absolutely loved!

Yesterday afternoon we travelled by coach to Riga in Latvia and the journey took just 4 hours compared to 6 hours by train. It is still quite difficult to travel by train between the Baltic States as the connections are not very good between the different countries. Amazing again how we crossed an almost invisible line and found ourselves in another country where people speak another language! How does a line hold the languages in and keep them so distinct? Estonians and Latvians cannot understand each other! Estonian is in fact closer to Finnish and Latvian is related to Lithuanian but they are not mutually intelligible.

Fun facts:

  • Latvia is a country on the Baltic Sea between Lithuania and Estonia and it has a population of almost 2 million people.
  • Its landscape is marked by wide beaches (more than 500 kms of coastline) as well as dense, sprawling forests.
  • Latvia’s capital is Riga with a population of 620,000 people and is the largest Baltic city.
  • Latvian is one of the oldest Languages in Europe and there is a great similarity between some words in Latvian and Sanskrit, the oldest language in the world.

  • At least 1/5th of the country is covered in protected nature areas - there are 42 nature parks, 4 national parks, almost 300 nature reserves, 2,000 lakes, over 12,000 rivers and much more.

  • Ice hockey is the most popular sport in Latvia and every small town has an ice rink

  • There are more than 800 free wifi connection points in Riga and very fast internet speeds. The country has a target of 100 Mbps, upgradable to gigabit, for urban and rural areas as well as 5G coverage for all large urban areas. 

  • Latvia has one of the oldest flags worldwide and it dates back to the 13th century.

  • Like Estonia it holds a huge song festival every five years (Lithuania also has a song festival but every four years). The first song festival was held in Zurich in 1843 and then spread to Germany and eventually to the Baltic States. The festival in Latvia is song and dance.

  • The biggest celebration of the year is the summer solstice and during midsummer, Latvia gets at least 20 hours of daylight.

  • Latvia has the widest waterfall in Europe in Kuldiga.

  • The country has the tallest women in the world, as the average woman is at least over 170cm tall and the men are the fourth tallest in the world.

  • A Latvian-Jewish tailor named Jākobs Jufess invented the jeans and Levi Strauss backed him financially.

  • Minox Photo Camera - unofficial "spy camera" was first produced in Latvia

     

Latvia was originally inhabited by the ancient people known as Balts but in the 9th century the Balts were invaded by the Vikings. In the 12th and 13th centuries the Germans christianized the country and German landowners ruled over the Latvian peasantry. From the mid-16th to the early 18th century, Latvia was partitioned between Poland and Sweden and Riga was the largest and most developed city in Sweden until 1710, when the city was besieged by Russian Tsar, Peter the Great. By the end of the 18th century the whole of Latvia had been annexed by Russia.

Latvian nationalism grew rapidly in the early 20th century and following the Russian Revolution of 1917, Latvia declared its independence on November 18, 1918. As in Estonia and Lithuania, there followed a 2-year period of military conflict with Russia between 1918 and 1920 known as the Baltic War of Liberation. Finally the new nation was recognized by Soviet Russia in 1920. 

We started off visiting the Latvian Academy of Science (known as 'Stalin's birthday cake'. It was the first skyscraper in Latvia and until recently the tallest building in the country (now overtaken by the Swedbank headquarters). 'Stalin's birthday cake' was constructed in the communist 1950s and was partially funded by salary deductions from citizens. It has a combination of communist symbols like the hammer and sickle, alongside Latvian folk scenes. Its original purpose was as a dormitory for collective farm workers to stay in when visiting Riga but it was never used for this. You can visit the building and get an excellent view of the city from the 17th floor. On the ground floor there is the Riga concert hall.

There is an almost identical building in Warsaw (the Palace of Culture and Science) and a smaller version in Prague which is a hotel. All three buildings are cousins of the “Seven Sisters” in Moscow!

Riga central market is absolutely huge and is the largest in Europe. It is housed in 5 giant former Zeppelin hangars and has more than 3,000 traders! During World War I, the German army established Vaiņode Airport in Kurzeme, where several airships were permanently located. After the Latvian War of Independence, the hangars were dismantled and rebuilt in Riga to  house the market,

1905 Bloody Sunday Monument - on 9th January 1905 hundreds of peaceful protestors were killed in St Petersburg by order of the tsar and as a show of solidarity with the Russian workers, Latvians staged a strike whilst holding meetings, singing songs and making demands for greater autonomy. A few days later on January 13, a Russian military force fired shots near the River Daugava and altogether 70 people were killed and 200 injured. This statue stands on the spot where the carnage occurred and the street is also named after the incident.

The House of the Blackheads is situated in the old town of Riga. The original building was built 1334 for the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a guild for unmarried merchants, shipowners, and foreigners in Riga. The name of the house came from Saint Maurice, patron of the brotherhood, who was depicted as a dark-skinned figure.

The Town Hall Square in Riga has been completely rebuilt, because the square and its historic buildings were destroyed during World War II. Riga City Council which consists of 60 councillors holds its meetings in the town hall.

Riga Cathedral is an evangelical Lutheran cathedral and it is the seat of the Archbishop of Riga. It was built near the River Daugava in 1211 by Livonian Bishop, Albert of Riga, who came from Lower Saxony in northwestern Germany to convert the pagan inhabitants of the region to Christianity. The Germans then settled down as landowners and merchants and the city became a principal trading centre in the Hanseatic League.

It is considered the largest medieval church in the Baltic states and is renowned for its magnificent organ built in 1884. It has undergone many modifications in the course of its history. It is commonly called the Dome Cathedral, the word 'Dome' comes from the German Dom meaning 'cathedral'.

Riga Castle was built on the banks of the Daugava River in 1330, about 130 years after Albert of Rigafounded the city of Riga in 1201 after a German invasion.

The Three Brothers are a group of historical residential buildings and former warehouses. Each building was constructed in a different century and the 'older brother' (on the right) which has Gothic niches and steps was built around 1490.

The Saeima is the parliament of the Republic of Latvia. It has 100 members who are elected by proportional representation, with seats allocated to political parties which gain at least 5% of the popular vote. Elections are scheduled to be held once every four years, normally on the first Saturday of October. The main building now occupied by the Saeima was constructed between 1863 and 1867