Riga History

Be in no doubt, Latvia’s capital has been through the mill. Riga has been sacked, occupied, reoccupied and then sacked again, by everyone from the Teutonic Knights to the Polish.

But it all started so well. Its location next to the Daugava River made Riga an important trading hub from the moment the Vikings first laid their helmets down in the city.

Riga continued to flourish until the 13th century when the Bishop of Livonia, Albert, landed with his Teutonic Army and annexed the city. Save for the odd skirmish, Riga remained largely calm until the Livonian War in 1558. From here on Riga would have to endure constant tugs of war between neighbouring powers, who wrestled for control over the city.

The Livonian War dragged on for 25 years, during which Riga was annexed by the victorious Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. They proceeded to battle with the Swedish for the next 50 years, who eventually took control of Riga in 1625. Back then Sweden wasn’t the pacifist nation it is today and another conflict ensued with the Russo-Swedish War. Once again, Riga was dragged into the mud.

In spite of the endless run of conflicts, Riga continued to prosper. But in 1710, the city was attacked again with Tsar Peter the Great taking the city for Russia – a state of affairs that lasted until 1915 when the Germans attacked.

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918 effectively gave the Baltic States to Germany, but the ensuing armistice meant the Germans had to relinquish control, finally paving the way for Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to claim independence.

Latvia claimed sovereignty on 18 November 1918 and declared Riga its capital, swiftly distancing itself from Russia in the process. But independence proved short lived and by 1940, the Russians and then the Germans were back.

When the Nazis were defeated, the Russians returned. Hidden behind the Iron Curtain, Riga and the rest of Latvia would struggle under Communist rule until 1991 – official Latvian independence.

Did you know?
• The Daugava River was known as ‘the Amber Way’ by the Vikings.
• Arvids Blumentāls, the man on whom Crocodile Dundee was based, was born in Riga.
• In 2002, Riga broke the record for the largest ever serving of potato salad made, serving up 3.277 tonnes of the stuff at Riga Technical University.

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