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History of Riga

Riga was founded by German traders, mercenaries and crusaders in the second half of the 12th century, by the junction of the Daugava and Ridzene lakes. Riga soon became a centre for trade between Europe and the Baltic nations and Russia. Riga was a member of the Hanseatic League, which was a loose political union of North German and Baltic cities.

The league gradually lost it's influence in the 16th century, around the same time Riga, Livonia and Prussia converted to Protestantism. The city became a target of foreign military, political and religious aspirations, it came first under the rule of the Polish-Lithuanian Union, then Sweden and later Russia in a period of 150 years. In the 19th century the Russian reforms dispossessed the peasants of their land, thus the numbers of urban population increased, and Riga became a large industrial centre and one of the largest cities in the Russian Empire. Latvia preserved it's national identity against forced Russification, but the uprising in 1905 was suppressed by the Tsar.

Russian influence weakened after the Grand Revolution, and Latvia retained independence after the First World War in a war against German and Russian forces. The devastated country had a brief period of democracy and economic recovery, but a coup in 1934 established a nationalist dictatorship. The new regime tried to keep it's neutrality and independency in the early years of the Second World War, but it's fate was decided by the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Soviet troops re-occupied Latvia, and remained there until 1994.

Latvia became independent from the collapsing USSR in 1991. The democratic government returned to the old currency, denationalized the state property, liberated the market and successfully reoriented the country to the Western states. Latvia has been a member of the European Union and the NATO since May 1, 2004.


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