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Riga is the capital city of Latvia and with a population of nearly 650,000 (one million in the metropolitan area),the largest. The city lies on the Gulf of Riga, at the mouth of the Daugava River on a flat and sandy plain. It is served by Riga International Airport, the largest airport in the Baltic states. As a modern and thriving European city, there is much on offer for the visitor. As well as the medieval old town, the centre has a large selection of Art Nouveau buildings to see.

Above: View overlooking the city from the Hotel Latvija

Whilst my visit was in the mid 90's, in recent years, the city has become a more popular destination for visitors, with a plethora of new trendy cafes and restaurants popping up, set amongst newly restored and redecorated building facades. The city has become far more cosmopolitan and fashionable again - a contrast to the Soviet days before 1991.

Above: Sun bathers on the banks of the Daugava river facing the old town

Riga is one of the oldest and most picturesque cities to be found around the Baltic coastline. The name was first mentioned in 1198. The area originally provided a natural harbour for tribal villages. It's strategic location near the sea and as a crossroads of different lands meant it gradually turned into an important centre of trade. The city was founded in 1201 (allegedly by Bishop Albert of Riga) and became one of the main ports of the  Hanseatic League in Eastern Europe from the 13th up until the 15th century. The city, which was fortified to protect the Bishop and his people, thrived during the late middle ages. It was then to fall under the rule and influence of various conquerors; the Poles (late 16th century), The Swedes (early 17th century) and the Russians (in the beginning of the 18th century). Only until the 20th century was a new period in the history and development of the city to begin - from 1918, Riga became the capital of the first independent Republic of Latvia. This lasted until 1940, during World War II, with a brief Soviet occupation followed by that of Nazi Germany (1941–1944). From 1944, some 46 years of Soviet occupation followed. During these Soviet times, the city fell away into partial international obscurity. With the breakup of the Soviet Union, Latvia once again became officially independent in 1991. With the new second Republic of Latvia, Riga was once again to become a national capital city. Latvia joined the EU on 1 May 2004 and in the more recent years of its history, the city has prospered, finding itself on the international stage as the host of the 2003 Eurovision Song Contest, the 2006 NATO Summit and as a European Capital of Culture in 2014 (along with Umeå in Sweden).

Above: The Hotel Latvija, formerly run by Intourist, the official state travel agency of the Soviet Union (it is now the Radisson Blu Hotel Latvija)

Some of the sights to be seen in the city are shown in the photo gallery below and these include the Riga Nativity of Christ Orthodox Cathedral [Lower left of Photo 1 and Photo 2], St Peter's Church [Photo 4], Līvu Square [Photo 6], the Freedom Monument [Photo 7], the Powder Tower, originally a part of the defensive system of the town [Photo 10], Jacob's barracks, the longest building in the old town [Photo 11], Riga Cathedral ('Dome Cathedral') -  the Evangelical Lutheran cathedral of the city and the seat of the Archbishop of Riga [Photo 13], the Vanšu (Cable-stayed) Bridge, crossing the Daugava river [Photo 14], Art Nouveau buildings - for which the city is particularly noted internationally (such as those by architect Michael Eisenstein, c. 1905) [Photo 15], and the Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum [Photo 16]. Also of note to see are the castle itself, the Swedish Gate, a wide variety of museums, theatres, the opera, universities and sporting venues, all of national importance.

Although little remains of the city's earliest buildings, the Historic Centre of Riga is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Besides having been an important Hanseatic League port, UNESCO note it for its unrivalled Art Nouveau buildings and 19th century wooden architecture. The city has changed a great deal since the visit featured on this web page. And so like so many other places, Riga is, in my opinion, one city worth returning to.

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